Step 1: Go to court to file the petition.
In family court, you can file your petition in the county where either you or the abuser lives, or where one of the family offenses (acts) alleged in your petition took place. However, one thing to consider is that if you are living in a domestic violence shelter or other confidential location that is in a different county than where the abuser lives and where the violence took place, you may not want to file your petition in the county where you are living. If you do, the abuser will likely figure out that you filed in that county because you are living in that county and it might be easier for the abuser to find you if s/he knows what county you are living in. To find the courthouse in your area, go to NY Courthouse Locations. Note: NY State has an Address Confidentiality Program (“ACP”), which helps a victim who registers with the program to keep his/her address confidential when filing court petitions. To register, click here.
Depending on where you live, you may have the option to file your petition electronically (at a local family justice center or other organization) and make an “electronic appearance” so that the judge can question you and issue an ex parte temporary order. This electronic filing and first appearance is aimed at accommodating victims for whom going to court to file for an ex parte order would create an undue hardship or risk of harm.1
If the incident was reported to the police, you may want to bring the police report to court, if possible. Remember to bring some form of identification (a driver’s license or another picture I.D.).
At the courthouse, ask the clerk for the forms that you need to file. You can also find links to online court forms on our NY Download Court Forms page. You may be able to get help with this process through one of the domestic violence agencies listed on our NY Advocates and Shelters page.
1 NY Fam Ct Act § 153-c
Step 2: Fill out the forms.
In family court, the petition that you file for an order of protection is called a “family offense petition.” Carefully fill out the petition. You will be the “Petitioner” and the abuser will be the “Respondent.”
Many judges will automatically issue an immediate temporary ex parte order of protection on the first court date (also known as the “intake date”). Other times, the judge might issue only a summons for the other party to appear in court before issuing a temporary order or protection. If you feel that you need a temporary order to protect you right away, you should speak up and ask for one.
Read the petition for an order of protection carefully and ask questions if you don’t understand something. Describe in detail how the abuser (respondent) injured or threatened you. Explain when and where the abuse or threats occurred. You will usually be asked to include details about the most recent incident of violence as well as prior incidents. It is important to use descriptive language (slapping, hitting, grabbing, strangling, threatening, etc.) and include details about injuries or pain you suffered, dates of the incidents, and even the specific language of threats made by the abuser if possible. For example, instead of just saying “the Respondent physically abused me and I got hurt,” it would be more informative to the judge to explain what happened, such as “the Respondent hit me in the face approximately 3 times with a closed fist causing me to get a black eye that lasted for a week.”
Note: Do not sign the form until you have shown it to a clerk. The form might need to be signed in front of a notary public or a judge.
If you do not want to put your address on the forms, the court should have a way for you to keep it confidential. Be sure to bring this to the clerk’s attention. Another possibility may be to register for NY State’s Address Confidentiality Program (“ACP”). The ACP allows a victim who registers with the program to keep his/her address confidential when filing court petitions. All mail is sent to the ACP and the ACP will send it to your actual (confidential) address. To register, click here.
Step 3: A judge will review your petition.
After you finish filling out your petition, bring it to the court clerk. The clerk will take it to a judge who may issue either a summons for the abuser to appear in court on a certain date, or a warrant for his or her arrest, depending upon the circumstances.
The judge may also issue a temporary order of protection and, if requested, the judge can also issue a temporary order of custody. The judge can also temporarily order child support in an amount sufficient to meet the needs of the child, without having to prove an immediate or emergency need for the money. The judge can make this order of temporary child support even if you do not know the respondent’s income.1 Furthermore, the judge may issue temporary custody during the term of the order of protection to either parent or an “appropriate relative.”1
In order to get final order of protection, there are two possibilities. The first possibility is that the case will go to trial. During a trial, or hearing, both you and the abuser will have an opportunity to be heard (through testimony) and either party can present evidence in support of their case. The judge would then make his/her decision after hearing the evidence. In order to get a five year order of protection, the judge must make a “finding” that aggravating circumstances existed. The second possibility is that the parties (you and the abuser) come to an agreement or settlement under which the respondent (the abuser) consents to you having a final order of protection against him/her. An order of protection issued “on consent,” as it may be called, is usually only given for up to two years since the respondent can usually consent to the order of protection without admitting any wrongdoing. If you believe that you can prove “aggravating circumstances,” and you are willing to go through a trial, you can ask for a trial and try to seek a five-year order rather than agree to get an order on consent which would only last up to two years. (Check the section entitled What types of orders of protection are there? How long can they last? to read about aggravating circumstances)
1 See NY Fam Ct Act § 842(j)
Step 4: Service of process
The court will give you instructions on how the summons, petition, and order of protection can be served on the abuser. The court should also tell you that you have the right to have the Police Department serve the summons, petition, and order. In many counties, you can also use the Sheriff’s office instead of the police department - call your local Sheriff’s office for their hours of operation and to make sure there is no fee involved. Note: NY state has an Order of Protection Notification System, which allows you to be notified by e-mail, text, iPhone/iPad app, telephone, fax or web query, when law enforcement serves your family court order of protection upon the abuser.
Service of process is important because an order of protection does not go into effect (is not valid) until it is served. Furthermore, the respondent (the abuser) has to be given notice of the court date since the respondent has the right to appear in court on the next court date.
Please remember that if you are using a friend, relative or a process server to serve the papers, that person has to be over 18 years of age. Since you are what is called a “party” to the case, you cannot serve the court papers yourself. The police are required by law to help with service and have to try more than once to find the respondent if they cannot find him/her on the first attempt.
It is important that no matter who serves the court papers, you ensure that the person who serves the papers fills out the affidavit of service that the court will give to you and that you bring the completed affidavit to court with you on your return court date. This is your proof that the respondent was served even if s/he doesn’t show up in court. The affidavit of service usually asks for the time and date that the respondent was served as well as other identifying information about the respondent such as his/her physical appearance, etc. The affidavit of service must be notarized. If you are using the police or sheriff to serve the papers, they usually will fill out what is called an affirmation of service and it does not need to be notarized. If you have a question as to whether the form needs to be notarized, you should check with your local court clerk.
You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question called What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?
Step 5: The hearing
It is very important that you attend all of the court dates. If you find out you absolutely cannot attend, contact the court clerk immediately and ask how you can get a “continuance” or an “adjournment” for a later court date. If you do not attend, the judge may dismiss your case and any temporary orders of protection will stop being effective.
If the court case does not settle, it will go to a hearing (trial). At the hearing, you will be able to testify in court about the abuse and harassment you have experienced, present witnesses and other evidence to support your case. The abuser will be allowed to do the same. If you are not represented by a lawyer, you may want to consult with a lawyer before the hearing to understand what documents and evidence is legally admissible in court. You can also find tips on our Preparing Your Case page.
If the abuser does not attend the hearing, the court may issue a “default judgment” and you may receive an order of protection against him/her in his/her absence. The judge may hold what is called an “inquest,” which is a one-sided trial where you present your evidence and testimony and the judge decides the case based on that alone. It is also possible that the judge may decide to reschedule the hearing for a different day.
If you have a temporary order of protection, it may expire on the next court date and another temporary one may be issued that is effective until the following court date. Be sure to look at the expiration date of the order before each court date so you know if the judge should be issuing another temporary order of protection on your return court date. If the judge does not mention that the order of protection is extended or continued, be sure to ask the judge if a new order is being issued on your behalf. Once the case goes to a hearing or trial, if you win your case, the judge would issue a final order of protection.