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Legal Information: Texas

Texas Restraining Orders

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Updated: 
November 5, 2020

What is the legal definition of "family violence" in Texas?

This section defines family violence for the purposes of getting a protective order. Family violence is defined as:

  1. any act committed by one family or household member against another family/household member that is:
    • intended to cause:
      • physical harm;
      • bodily injury, which is defined as physical pain, illness, or damage to your physical condition;
      • assault; or
      • sexual assault; or
    • a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of:
      • physical harm;
      • bodily injury, which is defined as physical pain, illness, or damage to your physical condition;
      • assault; or
      • sexual assault.1
  2. any of the following acts committed by a family or household member against a child of the family or household member:
    • physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child (or that has a real risk of resulting in substantial harm)
    • sexual conduct harmful to a child’s mental, emotional, or physical welfare (including acts that come under the offense of continuous sexual abuse of young child, indecency with a child, sexual assault, or aggravated sexual assault)
    • forcing or encouraging the child to engage in sexual conduct, trafficking (under sections (a)(7) or (8) of the law), prostitution (under section (b) of the law), or compelling prostitution (under section (a)(2) of the law);
    • causing, permitting, encouraging, engaging in, or allowing pornographic or obscene photographing, filming, or depicting of the child;
    • use of a controlled substance (drug) that the use results in physical, mental, or emotional injury to a child;
    • causing, encouraging, or expressly (specifically) permitting a child to use a controlled substance (drug);
    • causing, permitting, encouraging, engaging in, or allowing sexual performance by a child;
    • forcing or coercing a child to enter into a marriage;2 or
  3. dating violence.3 Please read What is the legal definition of “dating violence” in Texas? for more information.

Note: If you commit violence to protect yourself or your children and the court believes you acted in self-defense, then this is not family violence.4

1 Tex. Penal Code § 1.07(a)(8); Tex. Fam. Code § 71.004(1)
2 Tex. Fam. Code §§ 71.004(2); 261.001(1)(C), (E), (G)-(K)
3 Tex. Fam. Code § 71.004(3)
4 Tex. Fam. Code § 71.004(1)

What is the legal definition of "dating violence" in Texas?

Dating violence is when an abuser commits an act that is:

  • intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury (physical pain, illness, or damage to your physical condition)1, assault or sexual assault; or
  • a threat that reasonably places you in fear of immediate physical harm, bodily injury (physical pain, illness, or damage to your physical condition),1 assault or sexual assault.2

The act must be committed against:

  • someone with whom s/he has or had a “dating relationship;” or
  • the new spouse or intimate partner of someone the abuser is/was married to or in a “dating relationship” with.2

A dating relationship is defined as a relationship between people who have or had a continuing romantic or intimate relationship. To determine if a dating relationship exists, the judge will consider:

  1. the length of the relationship;
  2. the nature of the relationship; and
  3. the frequency and type of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship.2

If you meet the definition of dating violence, as explained above, continue reading this section for more information about applying for a family violence protective order.3

Note: If you commit violence to protect yourself or your children and the court believes you acted in self-defense, then this is not dating violence.2

1 Tex. Penal Code § 1.07(a)(8)
2 Tex. Fam. Code § 71.0021
3 Tex. Fam. Code § 71.004(3)

Can the abuser be removed from the home?

A judge can consider excluding the abuser from the home and allow you to stay in the home (grant you “exclusive possession”) if the home is:

  • jointly owned or leased by you and the abuser;
  • owned or leased by you; or
  • owned or leased by the abuser and s/he has an obligation to support you or to support your child.1

If you are asking that the abuser be excluded as part of a temporary ex parte protection order, you must prove all of the following through your affidavit and testimony:

  • you currently live in the residence or you have lived there within the 30 days before you filed the application;
  • the abuser has committed family violence against you or a member of the household within the 30 days before you filed the application; and
  • there is a clear and present danger that the abuser is likely to commit family violence against you or a member of the household again.2

Note: If you are asking for exclusion as part of a temporary ex parte order, the judge can postpone the hearing until the end of the same day in order to call the respondent and give him/her the opportunity to be present in court when the court resumes the hearing.2

1 Tex. Fam. Code § 85.021(2)
2 Tex. Fam. Code § 83.006

What protections can I get in a protective order?

A protective order can order the abuser to:

  • stop committing acts of family or dating violence or any acts that are reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass you or a family/household member;
  • stop all communication with you or a family member (directly or through a third party) or stop communication made in a threatening or harassing manner;
  • stay away from your home or place of employment or those of your family or household member;
  • stay away from a school or daycare center that a child protected under the order attends;
  • complete a battering intervention and prevention program or attend counseling with someone who specializes in family violence;
  • follow any custody/visitation terms in the order (Note: The judge can establish temporary custody and visitation for any children you share with the abuser);
  • not remove your child from your possession or from the jurisdiction of the court;
  • stop any transfer or disposal of property that you own or lease with the abuser;
  • not remove a pet, companion animal, or assistance animal from your possession;
  • pay child support or spousal support for the time you have the protective order;
  • leave your home or other specified property (if certain conditions are met) and allow you to remain there - see Can the abuser be removed from the home? for more information;
  • not possess any firearms (unless the person is a peace officer actively engaged in employment as a sworn, full-time paid employee of a state agency) and the judge is supposed to suspend the abuser’s license to carry a handgun if s/he has been found to have committed family violence;
  • not harm, threaten, or interfere with the care, custody, or control of your pet, companion animal, or assistance animal, or that of your family or household member; and
  • perform any other acts that are necessary to prevent or reduce the likelihood of family or dating violence.1

Whether a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case. The court may not grant all of your requests, so be sure to read your order carefully to see what specific protections the judge ordered.

Note: Even if the order doesn’t specifically say that the abuser has to turn over his/her firearms, possession of a firearm by a non-police officer who is a respondent in a protective order case is illegal under Texas state law and federal law. Please see TX State Gun Laws and Federal Gun Laws for more information

1 Tex. Fam. Code §§ 85.021, 85.022

In which county can I file for a protective order?

You can file a petition in the county where you live, the county where the abuser lives, or any county where the family violence took place.1 However, if you have a divorce case pending or a pending case affecting the parent-child relationship, you must file for the protective order in the court in which that case is pending or in the court in the county in which you reside (and you must notify the clerk of the pending case).2

1 Tex. Fam. Code § 82.003
2 Tex. Fam. Code § 85.062(a),(b)

Can I keep my personal information confidential?

Yes. If you request it (or your family or household member can request it), the judge can order the address and phone number of the following places to be removed from the protective order:

  1. your home (or the home of anyone protected by the order) - the order will only state the county in which you live;
  2. your workplace (or the workplace of anyone protected by the order); and
  3. the daycare center or school of any child protected by the order.1

The judge can also require the court clerk to:

  • remove the address and phone number of the three places mentioned above from the public court records and keep a confidential record of them for court use only;
  • remove your mailing address from the public records of the court (if different than your home address), keep a confidential record of it for court use only, and not show it to the respondent. (Note: If you choose to keep your mailing address confidential, you will have to include the mailing address of someone else, such as a family member or friend, that can be shown to the respondent for the purpose of receiving mail associated with the case.)2

Therefore, if you do not want the abuser to know this type of personal information, make sure to tell that to the clerk when filing your petition and/or check the box to keep addresses and telephone numbers for residences, workplaces, schools, and childcare facilities confidential.

1 Tex. Fam. Code § 85.007(a)
2 Tex. Fam. Code §§ 82.011; 85.007(b)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.