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:
What is the legal definition of domestic abuse?
This section defines domestic abuse for the purposes of getting a protection order.
For purposes of getting a protection order, you must allege that the abuser has done one or more of these things to you:
- physically hurts you, tries to physically hurt you, or puts you in fear of physical harm;
- threatens you with serious physical harm;
- physical restraint (i.e., confines your movements or imprisons you in any way, such as locking you in a room);
- destroys or damages your property on purpose (maliciously); 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
Note: The abuser must also have a specific type of relationship to you to qualify for a protection order.
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 when anyone commits, threatens to commit, or puts you in fear that s/he will commit any form of rape (aggravated rape, rape, mitigated statutory rape, statutory rape, aggravated statutory rape, rape of a child) or sexual battery (aggravated sexual battery, sexual battery, authority figure sexual battery).1
1 TN ST § 36-3-601(10)
What is the legal definition of stalking?
Stalking is when someone repeatedly and willfully (intentionally) harasses you and it reasonably make you feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested (bothered). 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
For the purposes of getting a protection order, you’re considered a victim of stalking if anyone (regardless of your relationship with that person) has:
- stalked you;
- threatened to stalk you; or
- put you in fear that s/he is going to stalk you.2
Harassment is when someone contacts you without your consent (“unconsented conduct”), 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;
- sending to that person mail or any electronic communications; and
- sending or placing an object on your property.1
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, or sexual assault against you or your minor children;
- order the abuser not to call you, contact or otherwise 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;
- direct the care, custody, or control of any animal of either party or of a child living in the home either to you or to an appropriate animal foster situation (it cannot be given to the abuser);
- direct the abuser to reimburse you for all costs, expenses, and fees if you breach a lease or rental agreement if the judge decides that continuing to live in the place you rent may put your life, health, or safety at risk (or that of your children). However, this cannot be interpreted as a change in the terms, liability, or parties of the lease or rental agreement; 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 and order the abuser to leave the home (and allow you back in the home if you had left);
- 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) and other persons 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 for victims of domestic abuse, stalking and sexual assault:
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. Extended protection orders last up to one year. Orders can be extended for one-year periods – see How do I change or extend the protection order? for more information.2
1 TN ST 36-3-605(a), (b)
2 TN ST 36-3-605(b)
In which county can I file for a protection order?
If the abuser lives in Tennessee, you have to file the petition in the county where the abuser lives, or in the county in which the domestic abuse, stalking, or sexual assault 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(d)
If the abuser lives in a different state, can I still get an order against him/her?
When you and the abuser live in different states, the judge may not have “personal jurisdiction” (power) over an out-of-state abuser. This means that the court may not be able to grant an order against him/her.
There are a few ways that a court can have personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state abuser:
- The abuser has a substantial connection to your state. Perhaps the abuser regularly travels to your state to visit you, for business, to see extended family, or the abuser lived in your state and recently fled.
- One of the acts of abuse “happened” in your state. Perhaps the abuser sends you threatening texts or harassing phone calls from another state but you read the messages or answer the calls while you are in your state. The judge could decide that the abuse “happened” to you while you were in your state. It may also be possible that the abuser was in your state when s/he abused you s/he but has since left the state.
- If you file your petition and the abuser gets served with the court petition while s/he is in your state, this is another way for the court to get jurisdiction.
However, even if none of the above apply to your situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get an order. If you file, you may be granted an order on consent or the judge may find other circumstances that allow the order to be granted.
You can read more about personal jurisdiction in our Court System Basics - Personal Jurisdiction section.
Note: If the judge in your state refuses to issue an order, you can file for an order in the courthouse in the state where the abuser lives. However, remember that you will likely need to file the petition in person and attend various court dates, which could be difficult if the abuser’s state is far away.