What is a protection order?
A protection order is an order that is signed by a judge and tells someone who is harming you to stop or face serious legal consequences. It offers civil legal protection for victims of:
- domestic abuse committed by a family or household member;
- sexual assault committed by anyone; and
- stalking committed by anyone.1
Victims of these offenses can apply for a protection order if they have been subjected to, threatened with, or placed in fear of the acts listed above or of sexual exploitation of a minor or a human trafficking offense.2
1 TN ST § 36-3-602(a)
2 TN ST §§ 36-3-602(a); 36-3-601(7)
What is the legal definition of domestic abuse?
For purposes of getting a protection order, “domestic abuse” is defined as when someone who has a specific type of relationship to you does any of the following:
- physically hurts you, tries to physically hurt you, or puts you in fear of physical harm;
- threatens you with serious physical harm;
- physical restraint, which means s/he confines your movements or imprisons you in any way, such as locking you in a room;
- destroys or damages your property on purpose; or
- injures, attempts to injure, or puts you or your minor child in fear that s/he will injure any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by you or your minor child.1
1 TN ST § 36-3-601(1)
What is the legal definition of sexual assault?
In terms of getting a protection order, “sexual assault” is defined as when anyone commits, threatens to commit, or puts you in fear that s/he will commit any of the following acts:
- aggravated rape;
- mitigated statutory rape;
- statutory rape;
- aggravated statutory rape;
- rape of a child;
- aggravated sexual battery;
- sexual battery; or
- authority figure sexual battery.1
In addition, a victim of sexual exploitation of a minor or a human trafficking offense would also be able to file for a protection order.2
1 TN ST § 36-3-601(10)
2 TN ST §§ 36-3-602(a); 36-3-601(7)
What is the legal definition of stalking?
Stalking is when someone repeatedly harasses you and it reasonably makes you feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or bothered (“molested”). Harassment is when someone contacts you without your consent, in a way that reasonably causes you emotional distress. It includes actions such as:
- following you or appearing within your sight;
- approaching you or confronting you in a public place or on private property;
- contacting you by phone, mail, or email, text messages, or any other type of electronic message sent using the Internet, web sites, or a social media platform;
- showing up at your house or job (whether or not s/he comes inside);
- entering or remaining on property that you own or lease or occupy; and
- sending or placing an object on your property.1
The harassment must be part of a “course of conduct,” which is a pattern of conduct made up of two or more separate acts that are committed by the stalker directly, indirectly, or through third parties.1
Note: For the purposes of getting a protection order, you’re also considered a victim of stalking if anyone, regardless of your relationship with that person, has threatened to stalk you or put you in fear that s/he is going to stalk you.2
1 TN ST § 39-17-315(a)(3)-(a)(5)
2 TN ST § 36-3-601(11)
What protections can I get in a protection order?
A temporary protection order can do any or all of the following:
- order the abuser to stop committing or threatening to commit domestic abuse, stalking, sexual assault, sexual exploitation of a minor, or a human trafficking offense against you or your minor children;
- order the abuser not to call you, or otherwise contact you or communicate with you, directly or indirectly;
- order the abuser not to come near you;
- direct the abuser to immediately and temporarily leave the home shared with you, until your hearing for the protection order;
- give you custody of an animal that belongs to you, the abuser, or a child living in the home;
- if the judge decides that continuing to live in the place you rent may put your or your children’s life, health, or safety at risk, and you breach a lease or rental agreement, the judge can order the abuser to reimburse you for all costs, expenses, and fees associated with breaking the lease; and
- order your cell phone company (“wireless service provider”) to transfer to you any wireless telephone number where you or your children are the primary users if the account is not in your name. Note: You would be responsible for paying the bill for those numbers.1
An extended protection order can:
- give you all of the protections listed above; and
- in addition:
- give you possession of the home, specifically allowing you back in the home if you had left;
- order the abuser to leave the home;
- direct the abuser to provide suitable alternative housing for you when the abuser is the sole owner or lessee of the home;
- award temporary custody or temporary visitation rights of any minor children born to, or adopted by, you and the abuser;
- award financial support to you if you and the abuser are married;
- award financial support to anyone else who the abuser has an obligation to support, such as any children you have together;
- direct the abuser to attend available counseling programs that address violence and control issues or substance abuse problems;2
- direct the abuser to get rid of all firearms in his/her possession within 48 hours by giving them to a third party who is not prohibited from possessing firearms, selling them, or disposing of them in any other legal way. In addition, the order of protection will include language warning the abuser that s/he is prohibited from possessing firearms while the order of protection is in effect.3
1 TN ST §§ 36-3-606(a); 36-3-621(a)
2 TN ST § 36-3-606(b)
3 TN ST § 36-3-625(a)(2), (b)(1)
What types of protection orders are there? How long do they last?
In Tennessee, there are two types of protection orders.
Temporary Protection Orders (TPOs)
Temporary protection orders can be issued for “good cause,” which usually means that the judge believes that there is an immediate and present danger of abuse. Temporary protection orders are short-term orders that are designed to protect you until you are issued an extended protection order. The order can be granted ex parte, which means that the order is issued without prior notice to the abuser and without him/her being there in court. You can ask for a temporary protection order at the same time as you ask for an extended protection order. A temporary protection order lasts 15 days, or until the full hearing for your extended protection order.1
Extended Protection Orders (EPOs)
Extended protection orders are issued after a full court hearing where both sides have the opportunity to appear in court. And extended protection order lasts up to one year and can be extended for one-year periods.2 It’s possible, however, that you can get a lifetime order of protection if the abuser was convicted of committing a felony crime against you related to assault, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or sexual assault that is listed in Title 39, Chapter 13, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, or Part 5 of the Tennessee Code.3
1 TN ST § 36-3-605(a), (b)
2 TN ST §§ 36-3-605(b); 36-3-608(a)
3 TN ST § 36-3-627(a)(1), (e)
How much does it cost? Do I need a lawyer?
There are no fees for filing for a protection order. Domestic abuse, stalking, or sexual assault victims do not need have to pay to file, issue, register, serve, dismiss, appeal, or enforce an ex parte order of protection, an extended order of protection, or a lifetime order of protection.1
If after a hearing, the judge gives you an order or extends an order of protection, the abuser may have to cover the costs related to the order.
You do not need a lawyer to file for a protection order. However, you may wish to have a lawyer, especially if the abuser has a lawyer. If you can, contact a lawyer to make sure that your legal rights are protected. If you cannot afford a lawyer but want one to help you with your case, you can find information on legal assistance on the TN Finding a Lawyer page. Domestic abuse organizations in your area also may be able to help you through the legal process and may have lawyer referrals. To find an organization, please visit the TN Advocates and Shelters page.
If you are going to be in court without a lawyer, our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section may be useful to you.
Note: If the judge does not give you an order or does not extend an order of protection,in some rare situations, the judge may make you pay the costs but only if the judge decides there is clear and convincing evidence that both of the following are true:
- You are not a victim of domestic abuse, stalking, sexual assault, or one of the relevant felony offenses related to assault, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or sexual assault that is listed in Title 39, Chapter 13, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, or Part 5 of the Tennessee Code. ; and
- You knew that the domestic abuse, stalking, sexual assault, or the above-explained felony offense did not happen when you filed the petition for the order of protection.2
However, the judge cannot order you to pay costs based only on the fact that you requested that your petition be dismissed, you did not go to a hearing, or you did not fill out the forms right.2
1 TN ST § 36-3-617(a)(1)
2 TN ST § 36-3-617(a)(2)
In which county can I file for a protection order?
If the abuser lives in Tennessee, file the petition in the county where the abuser lives, or in the county in which the domestic abuse, stalking, sexual assault, sexual exploitation of a minor, or human trafficking offense took place. If the abuser does not live in Tennessee, you can file the petition in the county where you live.1
1 TN ST § 36-3-602(c)