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Legal Information: Virginia

Virginia Restraining Orders

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Updated: 
December 19, 2019

What is the legal definition of domestic violence in Virginia?

This section defines domestic violence for the purposes of getting a protective order.

In Virginia, domestic violence is referred to as family abuse. “Family abuse” is when a family or household member commits any act involving violence, force, or threat that results in physical injury or places you in reasonable fear of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury. Such acts include, but are not limited to, any forceful detention, stalking, criminal sexual assault or any criminal offense that results in bodily injury or places you in reasonable fear of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury.1

1 Va. Code § 16.1-228

What types of protective orders are there? How long do they last?

A family abuse protective order is a civil court order that is designed to stop violent behavior and keep the abuser away from you. There are three types of protective orders for family abuse:

Emergency Protective Order: An emergency protective order is designed to give you immediate protection, and can be given on the weekends or after business hours when the courthouse is not open. It also can be given ex parte by a judge, if s/he believes that you are in immediate danger. Ex parte means the abuser does not have to be present or know that the order has been requested. However, the abuser will have to be served (given the order) before it takes effect.

You can petition for an emergency order with a magistrate at the Court Service Unit of a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, or at a General District Court or Circuit Court. A law enforcement official may also request that one be given to you.

An emergency order expires at the end of the third day following issuance. If it expires at a time when the court is not in session, the order will be extended until the end of the next business day the court is in session. An additional three days extension may also be granted, if you are hospitalized or otherwise incapacitated.1

The judge or magistrate should provide written information regarding protective orders that shall include the telephone numbers of domestic violence agencies and legal referral sources on a form prepared by the Supreme Court.1

Preliminary Protective Orders: A preliminary protective order is the first step in obtaining a (permanent) protective order. It is similar to an emergency order, but law enforcement officials cannot request a preliminary order for you. You must file a written petition yourself at the intake office of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations courthouse. You can fill out the forms through the courthouse website system called I CAN.

A preliminary order lasts up to 15 days until the court hearing for a final protective order. If the court is closed on the 15th day, it would last until the next day that the court is open. If the respondent fails to appear at this hearing because the respondent was not personally served, the court may extend the protective order for a period not to exceed six months. The extended protective order shall be served as soon as possible on the respondent.2

Protective Orders: A (final) protective order can last up to two years.3 It can only be granted after a full court hearing where both you and the abuser have an opportunity to tell your own sides of the story to a judge. However, you can file to extend it before your order expires. See How do I change or extend the permanent order? for more information.

A permanent protective order takes effect after it has been served (given) to the abuser. You should be notified when the abuser is served.

1 Va. Code § 16.1-253.4
2 Va. Code § 16.1-253.1(B)
3 Va. Code § 16.1-279.1(B)

What protections can I get in an emergency protective order?

An emergency protective order can:

  • prohibit acts of family abuse or criminal offenses that result in injury to a person or property;
  • prohibit any contact by the abuser with you or your family or household members, including prohibiting the abuser from being in your/their “physical presence” (Note: “physical presence” includes intentionally maintaining eye contact with you or unreasonably being within 100 feet from your home or work);
  • grant you possession of a pet or companion animal (if you are considered an owner of the pet); and
  • grant you possession of the home that you and the abuser share and exclude (remove) the abuser.1

1 Va. Code § 16.1-253.4(B), (J)

What protections can I get in a preliminary protective order?

A preliminary protective order can:

  • prohibit acts of family abuse or criminal offenses that result in injury to a person or to property;
  • prohibit any contact by the abuser with you or your family or household members that the judge believes is necessary to protect your/their safety;
  • grant you possession of the home that you and the abuser share;
  • remove (exclude) the abuser from a home you share and order that the abuser cannot turn off any necessary utility services to the home (or order him/her to get them turned back on if s/he terminated them);
  • require that the abuser provide suitable alternative housing for you and any other family or household member (and possibly require the abuser to pay deposits to connect or restore necessary utility services in the alternative housing provided);
  • grant you temporary possession/use of vehicle that you own by yourself or that you jointly own with the abuser;
  • grant you possession of a pet or companion animal (if you are considered an owner of the pet);
  • grant you (and, where appropriate, any of your family or household members) exclusive use and possession of a cell phone number or electronic device and order that the abuser cannot turn off your cell phone or electronic device before the contract with the third-party provider ends;
  • prohibit the abuser from using a cell phone or other electronic device to locate you (by putting a tracking app on your phone, for example); and/or
  • give you anything else that is necessary for the protection of you and your family or household members.1

1 Va. Code § 16.1-253.1(A)

What protections can I get in a (final) protective order?

A protective order can:

  • order the abuser to stop abusing you;
  • order the abuser to stop contacting you or your family or household members;
  • order the abuser to leave your house, and give you temporary possession of the house (Note: This does not change who owns the house on paper);
  • order the abuser to not shut off the utilities, and to restore utilities, if applicable;
  • require the abuser to provide suitable alternative housing for you and other family/household members, and to pay deposits to have utilities connected or restored in this housing;
  • give you temporary possession of any jointly owned motor vehicles, prevent the abuser from using the vehicle, and order the abuser to keep insurance policies, taxes, and registration current (Note: Getting possession of the car does not affect the title/ownership of the car);
  • grant you (and, where appropriate, any of your family or household members) exclusive use and possession of a cell phone number or electronic device and order that the abuser cannot turn off your cell phone or electronic device before the contract with the third-party provider ends;
  • prohibit the abuser from using a cell phone or other electronic device to locate you (by putting a tracking app on your phone, for example);
  • order the abuser to participate in treatment, counseling or other programs;
  • grant you temporary custody of your children or temporary visitation for any children you have in common with the abuser;
  • grant you a temporary child support order for the support of any children you have with the abuser;
  • grant you possession of a pet or companion animal (if you are considered an owner of the pet); and
  • provide any other relief necessary to protect you and your family.1

Whether a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.

Note: Be sure to tell the judge if the abuser owns any weapons. However, even if it not written into the order, federal law states that someone with a protective order against him/her cannot own, purchase or transport firearms.

1 Va. Code § 16.1-279.1

How much does it cost to get a protective order? Do I need a lawyer?

Nothing.  There is no filing fee to get a protective order.1

You do not need a lawyer to file for a protective order, but it may be helpful to have a lawyer, especially if the abuser has a lawyer.  Even if the abuser does not have a lawyer, if you can, it is recommended that you 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 and domestic violence organizations on the VA Places that Help page. In addition, the domestic violence organizations in your area and/or court staff may be able to answer some of your questions or help you fill out the necessary court forms.

 1 Va. Code § 16.1-279.1

If you are going to be in court without a lawyer, our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section may be useful to you.

In which county can I file for a protective order?

You can file a petition in the county where you live, in the county where the abuser lives, or in the county where the abuse took place. If there is already another protective order in effect that protects you or your family or household member(s), you have the option of filing your petition in that county.1

1 Va. Code § 16.1-243(A)(3)

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.