Step 1: Go to the district attorney's office or the courthouse to file.
You will generally file your application in the county where you or the abuser lives or in any county where the abuse took place.1 However, if you have a divorce case pending or another pending case that affects 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 in this case, you must notify the clerk of the pending case).2
In many counties, the county attorney or district attorney will help you file for a protective order and represent you in court. If the prosecutor will not file on our behalf, you can file on your own, using the online pro se protective order kit. While these forms are legally valid in all courts, some counties prefer their own forms. However, if at all possible, you may want to first contact the legal advocate at your local family violence program to get information about where and how to file in your county since the process varies by county. A legal advocate can explain your county’s process and may be able to assist you in completing the tool kit’s forms. Note: If you go to an advocate for help, the conversations that you have with the advocate will be confidential/privileged and the advocate cannot reveal what you tell him/her unless an exception applies.3
To find the courthouse in your area or the district attorney’s office, go to TX Courthouse Locations.
Please note that the steps listed below vary from county to county. These instructions are meant as a general guide and do not reflect county-specific procedures. As mentioned earlier, if possible, you might consider first going to your local domestic violence organization or prosecutor’s office, to find out how to get a protective order in your county.
1 Tex. Fam. Code § 82.003
2 Tex. Fam. Code § 85.062(a),(b)
3 Tex. Fam. Code §§ 93.002; 93.003; 93.004
Step 2: Fill out the forms.
Carefully fill out the application. When you apply for a protective order, you must supply the following information:
- The name of each petitioner (victim) and the county where each petitioner (victim) resides; (Note: You can request that your children be included as petitioners, but it may not be ordered if there was no violence against the children);
- The name, address, and county of residence of each individual who has committed family violence;
- The relationship between the victim(s) and the abuser;
- A request for one or more protective orders;
- If you are receiving services from the state child support division, you must indicate this and give the case number (if you know it) for each open case.1
Read the application carefully and ask questions if you don’t understand something. Describe in detail how the abuser (respondent) injured or threatened you. If you are using the pro se protective order kit online, TexasLawHelp.org has an available chat function at certain hours during the week so you can ask an attorney questions about the forms. Explain when and where the abuse or threats occurred. Write about the most recent and severe incidents of violence, using descriptive language (slapping, hitting, grabbing, choking, threatening, etc.) that fits your situation. Be specific. Include details and dates that relate to the abuser’s violence and threats, if possible. If you are in immediate danger and want to apply for a temporary ex parte order, you must include a detailed description of the facts and circumstances concerning the family violence and the need for the immediate protective order.
You must sign the application under oath that the facts and circumstances contained in the application are true to the best of your knowledge. However, do not sign the application until you have shown it to a clerk. The form must be signed in front of a notary public or a judge at the courthouse. Be aware that once you file the documents, they become public record, and are accessible by the respondent and his/her attorney.
1 Tex. Fam. Code § 82.004
Step 3: A judge will review your petition.
The judge may wish to ask you questions as s/he reviews your petition. If you are applying for a temporary ex parte order, a judge will decide whether there is an immediate danger that the abuser will commit family violence based on the facts included in your application. If so, you may get a temporary order that usually lasts up to 20 days. Before getting a permanent order, you need to have a full court hearing where the abuser has the opportunity to be present and both you and the abuser have an opportunity to present evidence and testimony.
Step 4: Service of process
The clerk of the court will issue a Notice of an Application for a Protective Order. The clerk will generally arrange for service of this notice to the abuser along with the petition that you filed as well as any temporary ex parte orders that were issued. This notice states that the abuser has been accused of committing family violence. The abuser may get an attorney to defend himself/herself against this allegation. The notice also informs the abuser of the hearing date.
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 for a permanent protective order
It is very important that you attend the court hearing. If you find out you absolutely cannot attend, you can contact the court clerk immediately and ask how you can get a “continuance” for a later court date.1 If you do not show up, the judge may dismiss your case and you will lose your protective order. You do not need an attorney at the hearing; however, having an attorney can be to your advantage. Also, if you think the respondent will have one or if it would make you feel safer, you can consider getting one. If the prosecutor files the protective order on your behalf, s/he will usually represent you in court. If the prosecutor is not filing on your behalf, you may be able to get free legal representation through a legal services program. Go to our TX Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals. Also, your local family violence program can give you more information about what to expect at the hearing, and may be able to send an advocate with you for support, and provide an attorney referral. Go to our TX Advocates and Shelters page for organizations in your area.
For the judge to grant a permanent protective order, the judge has to believe that it is more likely than not (more than 50% chance) that the abuser:
- committed family violence against you (see What is the legal definition of family violence?); and
- will likely commit another act of family violence again in the future.2
If the abuser does not show up for the hearing, the judge can still grant you a protective order or the judge may order a new hearing date.3
See the At the Hearing page for ways you can show the judge that you were abused.
1 See Tex. Fam. Code § 84.001
2 Tex. Fam. Code § 85.001(a)
3 See Tex. Fam. Code § 82.041(b)