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Legal Information: Virginia

Virginia Restraining Orders

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Restraining Orders

Protective Orders (for Family Abuse)

Basic information

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.

Who is eligible for a protective order

Who can get a family abuse protective order?

You can get a protective order if you have been abused by a family or household member, which is defined as:

  • A current or former spouse;
  • A parent, child, stepparent, stepchild, brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, grandchild, or grandparent, regardless of whether or not you live together;
  • Your mother-in-law, father-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law or sister-in-law, but only if you live with that person;
  • Anyone you have had a child with, whether or not the two of you have been married or have ever lived together; or
  • Any individual who lives with you (“cohabits”) or has lived with you within the past 12 months (or his/her child who also lives in the home).1  Note: The law uses the word “cohabit” and the definition of “cohabit” generally implies there is an intimate or sexual relationship.

To read the exact terminology, please see the VA Legal Statutes page.

1 Va. Code § 16.1-228

Can I get a protective order against a same-sex partner?

In Virginia, you may apply for a family abuse protective order against a current or former same-sex partner as long as the relationship meets the requirements listed in Who can get a family abuse protective order?  You must also be the victim of an act of domestic violence, which is explained here What is the legal definition of domestic violence in Virginia?

You can find information about LGBTQIA victims of abuse and what types of barriers they may face on our LGBTQIA Victims page.

What if I do not qualify for a family abuse protective order?

In Virginia, family abuse protective orders generally do not cover people who are/were not family or household members.

However, assault, stalking, and harassment are against the law. If one of these crimes is being committed against you, you may want to consider calling the police. If criminal charges are pressed against the abuser and a warrant is issued for the abuser’s arrest, a judge may be able to order him/her to stay away from you. You can also visit our Safety Tips page for ways to increase your safety.

If you do not qualify for a protective order based on domestic violence, you may be able to file for a Protective Order for an Act of Violence, Force or Threat.

If you are being stalked or harassed, go to the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center website for more resources related to stalking and harassment, as well safety planning information.

Protective orders also do not cover many types of emotional or mental abuse. If you’re being mentally or emotionally abused, please contact a domestic violence organization in your area. They can help you figure out your options and offer you support. See: VA Places that Help.

Steps for getting a protective order

Step 1: Go to court to file a petition.

You can file a petition for a protective order at a juvenile and domestic relations court or circuit court.  Go to the clerk of court and tell him/her you want an application for a protective order. You can also find links to these forms online by going to our VA Download Court Forms page. You can complete the form online and take it with you to the court.  For the location of a court near you, go to our VA Courthouse Locations page.  If you are in immediate danger of abuse and the court is closed, you may get an emergency order by going to the nearest police department. If you are issued this order, it will only be good for 72 hours, or until the court is open again.

On the complaint for protective order form, you will be the “petitioner” and the abuser will be the “respondent.”  Write about the most recent incidents of violence, using descriptive language - words like “slapping,” hitting,” “grabbing,” threatening,” “choking,” etc. - that fits your situation.  Include details and dates, if possible.  Be specific.

If you need assistance filling out the form, ask the clerk for help. Some courts may have an advocate that can assist you. Another option is to find help through one of the domestic violence organizations listed on our VA Advocates and Shelters page.

Note:  Remember to bring some form of personal identification (a driver’s license or other identification that includes your picture).  Be sure to sign the forms in front of the court clerk when you have completed the paperwork.

 

Step 2: A judge will review your petition and may grant a preliminary order.

After you finish filling out your application, bring it back to the court clerk. The clerk will forward it to a judge. The judge may wish to ask you questions as he or she reviews your application. The judge will decide whether or not to issue the preliminary order, and will set a date for a hearing for the final protective order.

Step 3: Service of process

The court will send a copy of your preliminary protective order (if the judge granted you one) and a notice of hearing to the sheriff or police so that they can serve the abuser with these papers. The abuser must be served with the notice of hearing before the hearing can take place. If the sheriff cannot find the abuser to serve him/her with this notice, then the judge may wish to postpone the hearing. Be sure to have your preliminary order extended, if this is the case.

You may wish to stay in touch with the sheriff or police to see if they received your paperwork from the court, and to see if the abuser has been served or not.

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 4: The hearing

Your hearing will generally take place within 15 days from the time you file the petition.  You must go to the hearing.  If you do not go to the hearing, your preliminary order will expire and you will have to start the process over.  If you do not show up at the hearing, it may be harder for you to get a protective order in the future. 

If the abuser has received notice of the hearing, but does not show up, the judge will most likely continue with the hearing without the abuser present. The judge may, however, decide to reissue the preliminary protective order and schedule a new hearing.

You have the right to bring a lawyer to represent you at the hearing if you can get a lawyer to represent you.  If you show up to court and the abuser has a lawyer and you do not, you may ask the judge for a continuance to set a later court date so you can have time to find a lawyer for yourself.  For legal referrals, see our VA Finding a Lawyer page.  See our At the Hearing page for ways you can show the judge that you were abused.

After the hearing

Can the abuser have a gun?

Once you get a protection order, there may be laws that prohibit the respondent from having a gun in his/her possession.  There are a few places where you can find this information:

  • first, read the questions on this page to see if judges in Virginia have to power to remove guns as part of a temporary or final order;
  • second, go to our State Gun Laws section to read about your state’s specific gun-related laws; and
  • third you can read our Federal Gun Laws section to understand the federal laws that apply to all states.

You can read more about keeping an abuser from accessing guns on the National Domestic Violence and Firearms Resource Center’s website

What should I do when I leave the courthouse?

Here are some things you may want to consider doing. However, you will have to evaluate each one to see if it works for your situation.

  • Review the order before you leave the court room.  If something is wrong or missing, ask the clerk to correct the order before you leave.
  • Make several copies of the protective order as soon as possible.
  • Keep a copy of the order with you at all times.
  • Leave copies of the order at your work place, at your home, at the childrens school or daycare, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on.
  • Give a copy to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work.
  • Give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order.
  • The court should file a copy of your order with the local law enforcement agency.  Check and make sure a copy has been filed. Take one of your extra copies and deliver it to the police if necessary.
  • You may wish to consider changing your locks (if permitted by law) and your phone number, as well as taking other security precautions.

You may also wish to make a safety plan.  People can do a number of things to increase their safety during violent incidents, when preparing to leave an abusive relationship, and when they are at home, work, and school.  Many abusers obey protective orders, but some do not and it is important to build on the things you have already been doing to keep yourself safe.  Click on the following link for suggestions on Staying Safe.  Also, advocates at local domestic violence organizations can assist you in designing a safety plan and can provide other forms of support.  To find a shelter or advocate in your area please visit the VA Advocates and Shelters page.

I was not granted a protective order. What can I do?

If you are not granted a protective order, there are still some things you can do to stay safe.  It might be a good idea to contact one of the domestic violence resource centers in your area to get help, support, and advice on how to stay safe.  They can help you come up with a safety plan and help connect you with the resources you need.  You will find a list of resources on our VA Places that Help page.  You can also find safety planning tips on our Safety Tips page.

You may also be able to reapply for a protective order if a new incident of domestic violence occurs after you are denied the order.

What happens if the abuser violates the order?

If the abuser violates the protective order, there are two general options. You can file for a violation petition in the court that issued the order and ask the judge to hold him/her in civil contempt. Another option is that you can call the police and the abuser can be arrested, fined and even jailed for violating the protective order. Even if you think it is a minor violation, it can be a crime and contempt of court if the abuser knowingly violates the order in any way.

It can be a Class 1 misdemeanor when s/he violates the part of the order that prohibits the abuser from:

  • going or remaining upon land, buildings, or premises;
  • committing family abuse;
  • committing a criminal offense; or
  • contacting you or your family or household members.1

It can be a Class 6 felony crime if the abuser:

  • secretly enters your home while you are there;
  • secretly enters your home while you are not there but remains until you arrive;
  • commits an assault and battery against you, which results in bodily injury;
  • stalks you;
  • violates any provision of the protective order while knowingly armed with a firearm or other deadly weapon;2
  • is convicted of a third or subsequent offense of violating the protective order (within 20 years of the first conviction) and any of the offenses are based on an act or threat of violence.1

The abuser can be prosecuted in the county where the protective order was issued or in the county where the violation took place.3

It is a good idea to write down the name of the responding officer(s) and their badge number in case you want to follow up on your case. You should also make sure the police or sheriff write a report on the incident even if the abuser is not arrested. The report could be valuable documentation if you try to modify or extend your order.

1 Va. Code § 16.1-253.2(A)
2 Va. Code § 16.1-253.2(B), (C)
3 Va. Code §§ 16.1-253.2(E); 18.2–60.4(F)

How do I change or extend the permanent order?

Only a judge can modify a protective order. If you or the abuser wish to change the terms of the order, a motion to modify can be filed. If you wish to cancel the order, a motion to dismiss can be filed. The court may be less willing to offer you its protection in the future if you have an order dismissed (canceled).

If you want to extend the order, you can file a motion to extend. This must be filed before your protective order expires. Proceedings to extend a protective order are supposed to be given high priority by the court. If you were a member of the respondent’s family or household at the time the initial protective order was issued, the court may extend your protective order for a period of up to two years to protect the health and safety of the you or your current family or household member(s). You can file to extend your order more than once.1

For any of the above motions that are filed, the court will set a date for a hearing and the abuser will be served with a copy of the motion and a request to be present. You must attend this hearing and tell the judge why the change, extension, or dismissal (cancellation) is necessary.

1 Va. Code § 16.1-279.1(B)

What happens to my order if I move? Is it still valid?

Your order is valid and enforceable wherever you go throughout Virginia.

Additionally, the federal law provides what is called “full faith and credit,” which means that once you have a criminal or civil protection order, it follows you wherever you go, including U.S. territories and tribal lands.  Different states have different rules for enforcing out-of-state protection orders.  

If you are moving out of state, please check the Restraining Orders pages for that state on this website for information on how to have your order enforced there.

Please see our Moving to Another State with a Protective Order section for more information about moving out of Virginia with your protective order.

Note: For information on enforcing a military protective order (MPO) off the military installation, or enforcing a civil protection order (CPO) on a military installation, please see our Military Protective Orders page.

Protective Orders (for an Act of Violence, Force, or Threat)

Basic information

What is the definition of an act of violence, force, or threat?

For the purposes of getting this protective order, an act of violence, force or threat means any act that involves violence, force, or threat; and

  • results in physical injury; or
  • reasonably makes you fear death, sexual assault, or physical injury.1

Some examples of acts that could qualify as acts of violence, force or threat are:

  • forceful detention;
  • stalking;
  • any criminal sexual assault crime (including, rape, sexual battery, sodomy, and more - all are listed here in Article 7); or
  • any criminal offense that results in physical injury to the body or reasonably makes you fear death, sexual assault, or physical injury.1

1 Va. Code § 19.2-152.7:1

What types of protective orders for an act of violence, force, or threat are there? How long do they last?

Emergency protective order
An emergency protective order can be requested by you or by a police officer if you are/were the victim of an act of violence, force, or threat.  This is usually done orally in front of a judge or magistrate without filing a written petition.  It is an ex parte order, which means that the abuser is not present in court or notified beforehand.  A judge or magistrate can give you an emergency protective order if:

  • there is probable danger of another act of violence, force, or threat against you; or
  • there is a petition or a warrant for the arrest of the abuser for any crime resulting from the act of violence, force, or threat against you.1

An emergency protective order will only last for 3 days after the judge grants it.  If the third day is a day that the court is not in session, it will be extended until the end of the next day that the court is in session.2

Preliminary protective order
A preliminary protective order can be granted when you file a petition in court.  To get a preliminary protective order, you must allege in your petition that:

  • You are or have recently been the victim of an act of violence, force, or threat; or
  • There is a petition or warrant for the arrest of the abuser for any crime resulting from the act of violence, force, or threat against you.3

A judge can give you the order in an ex parte proceeding, meaning that the abuser is not notified ahead of time and is not present when the judge grants you the order.  To get this order, the judge must believe that there is enough evidence to prove that there is an immediate and present danger of any act of violence, force, or threat, or that there is evidence that it is likely that an act of violence, force, or threat has recently occurred.3

This order will last until there is a full court hearing, which generally is within 15 days.  However, if you are unable to have the abuser served with the petition, the preliminary order can be extended up to six months while you attempt to serve him/her.4

Final protective order
This protective order can be given:

  • if there is a petition, warrant, or conviction of any crime resulting from the act of violence, force, or threat; or
  • after a hearing is held where you prove that you have been (within a reasonable period of time) the victim of an act of violence, force, or threat.5

This (final) protective order will last up to 2 years (but it can be extended for two-year periods).  If there is no expiration date given on the order, it will end 2 years from the date it was issued.  However, during those 2 years, either party can file a motion in court asking that it be modified (changed) or dissolved (canceled).6

1 Va. Code § 19.2-152.8(B)
2 Va. Code § 19.2-152.8(C)
3 Va. Code § 19.2-152.9(A)
4 Va. Code § 19.2-152.9(B)
5 Va. Code §§ 19.2-152.10(A), 19.2-152.9(D)
6 Va. Code § 19.2-152.10(B),(G)

What protections can I get in a protective order for an act of violence, force or threat?

Emergency, preliminary and final protective orders can order the abuser to:

  • not commit acts of violence, force, or threat, or crimes resulting in injury to a person or damage to property;
  • prohibit any contact by the abuser with you or your family or household members (and, for emergency orders only, this can include prohibiting the abuser from being in your/their “physical presence,” which includes intentionally maintaining eye contact with you/them or unreasonably being within 100 feet from your/their home or work);
  • grant you possession of a pet or companion animal (if you are considered an owner of the pet); and/or
  • follow any other orders the judge decides are necessary to prevent:
    • acts of violence, force, or threat,
    • crimes resulting in injury to a person or damage to property, or
    • communication or other contact of any kind by the abuser.1

1 Va. Code §§ 19.2-152.8(B),(J); 19.2-152.9(A); 19.2-152.10(A)

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.

Getting the order

Who is eligible for this protective order? In which court is it filed?

You may be eligible to file a petition for a protective order against anyone who committed an act of violence, force or threat against you. You do not have to have a family or household member relationship to get this protective order.1  

If you are filing against someone who you do not have a family or household member relationship, you would file your petition in the General District Court.1  If you are filing against a family or household member, you would file in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.2

The steps for filing are similar to the steps for filing for a family abuse protective order, as described in VA Protective Orders for Family Abuse.

You can find the petition for a protective order online, and instructions for how to fill the petition out on Virginia’s Courts Website.

1 See “Protective Orders: What does the new legislation mean?
2 See “What You Need to Know About Protective Orders.

Can the abuser find out my address and/or phone number from the order?

No. The court officials (as well as police officers) are not allowed to tell anyone the residential address, phone number, or place of employment of you or your family members if they are included in the order.1

1 Va. Code §§ 19.2-152.8(H); 19.2-152.9(F); 19.2-152.10(H)

How much does a protective order for an act of violence, force, or threat cost?

Nothing. Filing for a protective order is free.1

1 Va. Code §§ 19.2-152.8(J); 19.2-152.9(E); 19.2-152.10(I)

After the hearing

How do I change or extend the final protective order?

Only a judge can modify a protective order. If you or the abuser wish to change the terms of the order, a motion to modify can be filed. If you wish to cancel the order, a motion to dismiss can be filed.1 However, there may be a chance that if you have an order dismissed (canceled), that may possibly be considered if you re-file for another order in the future.

If you want to extend the order, you can file a motion to extend. This must be filed before your protective order expires. Proceedings to extend a protective order are supposed to be given high priority by the court. The judge can extend your protective order for a period of up to two years to protect the health and safety of you or your current family or household member(s). You can file to extend your order more than once.2

For any of the above motions that are filed, the court will set a date for a hearing and the abuser will be served with a copy of the motion and a request to be present. You must attend this hearing and present evidence to convince the judge why the change, extension, or dissolution (cancellation) is necessary.

1 Va. Code § 19.2-152.10(G)
2 Va. Code § 19.2-152.10(B)

What happens if the abuser violates the order?

If the abuser violates the protective order, there are two general options. You can file for a violation petition in the court that issued the order and ask the judge to hold him/her in civil contempt. Another option is that you can call the police and the abuser can be arrested, fined and even jailed for violating the protective order. Even if you think it is a minor violation, it can be a crime and contempt of court if the abuser knowingly violates the order in any way. However, the law says that if a person is criminally prosecuted for violation of a protective order for an act of violence, force, or threat, s/he cannot also be found guilty of contempt for the same act.1

It can be a Class 1 misdemeanor if the abuser knowingly violates any provision of the the order.1

Additionally, it can be a Class 6 felony crime if the abuser:

  • secretly enters your home while you are there;
  • secretly enters your home while you are not there but remains until you arrive;
  • commits an assault and battery against you, which results in bodily injury;
  • stalks you;
  • violates any provision of the protective order while knowingly armed with a firearm or other deadly weapon;2 or
  • is convicted of a third or subsequent offense of violating the protective order (within 20 years of the first conviction) and any of the offenses are based on an act or threat of violence.1

It is a good idea to write down the name of the responding officers and their badge numbers in case you want to follow up on your case. You should also make sure the police or sheriff write a report on the incident even if the abuser is not arrested — this is required under Virginia law.3 The report could be valuable documentation if you try to modify or extend your order.

1 Va. Code § 18.2-60.4(A)
2 Va. Code § 18.2-60.4(B),(C)
3 See Va. Code § 19.2-81.3(D)

Substantial Risk Orders

Basic info

What is a substantial risk order?

A substantial risk order is a civil court order prohibiting an individual (called the respondent) from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm while the order is in effect.1

1 VA Code § 19.2-152.14(A)

Who can file for a substantial risk order?

A law enforcement agency or an attorney for the state can file for an extreme risk protection order if the respondent poses a significant risk of causing personal injury to himself/herself or another person by having or getting a firearm.1

If you are a person who is concerned about the safety of someone else but cannot file to have his/her firearms removed, you may be able to speak to a law enforcement officer or agency to let them know of your concern and ask that they file for an extreme risk protection order to have the firearms removed.

1 VA Code § 19.2-152.13(A)

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

There are two types of substantial risk orders: emergency substantial risk orders and final substantial risk orders.

Emergency substantial risk orders – A judge or a magistrate can issue an emergency substantial risk order if s/he finds that the respondent poses a significant risk of causing personal injury to himself/herself or another person by having or getting a firearm. Emergency substantial risk orders are issued ex parte, which means the respondent does not have notice of the case or appear at the hearing. The emergency order lasts until the hearing for the final order, which must be scheduled within 14 days.1

Final substantial risk orders – A final substantial risk order can be issued after the respondent has received notice and had the opportunity to participate in a hearing. A final substantial risk order can be issued for up to 180 days.2

1 VA Code §§ 19.2-152.13(A), 19.2-152.14(A)
2 VA Code § 19.2-152.14(A), (C)

What protections can I get in a substantial risk order?

In an emergency substantial risk order, the judge can order that the respondent not do any of the following with a firearm:

  • purchase
  • possess; or
  • transport.1

The order will also state that the respondent must give up any concealed handgun permit if s/he has one and give up any firearms in his/her custody to the law-enforcement agency that serves the order.1

If the judge orders a final substantial risk order, the judge will order that any firearms that the respondent gave up when the emergency substantial risk order was issued must continue to be held by the agency that has the firearms. If there was no emergency substantial risk order issued, the judge can still order the respondent to not purchase, possess, or transport a firearm if the judge issues a final order. The judge will also inform the respondent that a law-enforcement officer can get a search warrant to search for firearms if the officer has a reason to believe that the respondent has not given up all firearms in his/her possession.2

1 VA Code § 19.2-152.13(A)
2 VA Code § 19.2-152.14(B)

Getting the order

How do I get a substantial risk order?

Only a law enforcement agency can file for a substantial risk order. A petition cannot be filed unless law enforcement has done an independent investigation that determines that there are grounds to start a case.1

If you are a person who is concerned about the safety of someone else but cannot file to have his/her firearms removed, you may be able to speak to a law enforcement officer or agency to let them know of your concern and ask that they file for a substantial risk order to have the firearms removed.

1 VA Code § 19.2-152.13(A)

How will a judge make a decision about whether to grant the order?

When deciding whether to grant a substantial risk order, the judge must consider any relevant evidence, including any recent act of violence, force, or threat towards the respondent or another person.1 An act of violence force or threat is any act that:

  • involves violence, force, or threat that results in bodily injury; or
  • places a person in reasonable fear of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury.2

1 VA Code § 19.2-152.14(A)
2 VA Code § 19.2-152.7:1

Can a gun violence restraining order be renewed?

Before the final gun violence restraining order expires, an attorney for the Commonwealth or a law enforcement officer or agency can file a motion in writing asking for a hearing to have the order extended. The judge can extend the order for up to 180 days if the judge finds that the respondent continued to pose a significant risk of causing personal injury to himself/herself or another person by having or getting a firearm.1

1 VA Code § 19.2-152.14(C)

Moving to Another State with a Protective Order

If you are moving out of state or are going to be out of the state for any reason, your protective order can still be enforceable.

General rules

Can I get my protective order from Virginia enforced in another state?

Yes. If you have a valid Virginia protective order that meets federal standards, it can be enforced in another state.  The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is a federal law, states that all valid protective orders granted in the United States receive “full faith and credit” in all state and tribal courts within the US, including US territories.  See How do I know if my protective order is good under federal law? to find out if your protective order qualifies.

Each state must enforce out-of-state protective orders in the same way it enforces its own orders.  Meaning, if the abuser violates your out-of-state protective order, s/he will be punished according to the laws of whatever state you are in when the order is violated.  This is what is meant by “full faith and credit.”

How do I know if my protective order is good under federal law?

A Virginia protective order is good anywhere in the United States as long as:

  • It was issued to prevent violent or threatening acts, harassing behavior, sexual violence, or it was issued to prevent another person from coming near you or contacting you.1
  • The court that issued the order had jurisdiction over the people and case. (In other words, the court had the authority to hear the case.)
  • The abuser received notice of the order and had an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story.
    • In the case of ex parte temporary and emergency orders, the abuser must receive notice and have an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story at a hearing that is scheduled before the temporary order expires.2

Note: For information on enforcing a military protective order (MPO) off the military installation, or enforcing a civil protection order (CPO) on a military installation, please see our Military Protective Orders page.

1 18 U.S.C. § 2266(5)
2 18 U.S.C. § 2265(a), (b)

I have a preliminary (ex parte) order. Can it be enforced in another state?

Yes. An ex parte preliminary order can be enforced in other states as long as it meets the requirements listed in How do I know if my protective order is good under federal law?1

Note: The state where you are going generally cannot extend your ex parte preliminary order or issue you a permanent order when the temporary one expires. If you need to extend your preliminary order, you will have to contact the state that issued the order and arrange to be at the hearing in person or by telephone (if that is an option offered by the court). However, you may be able to reapply for one in the new state that you are moving to if you meet the requirements for getting a protective order in that state – but, if you apply for one in a new state, the abuser would know what state you are living in, which may put you in danger.

Getting your protective order enforced in another state

How do I get my protective order enforced in another state?

Federal law does not require you to take any special steps to get your protective order enforced in another state.

Many states do have laws or regulations (rules) about registering or filing of out-of-state orders, which can make enforcement easier, but a valid protective order is enforceable regardless of whether it has been registered or filed in the new state.1 Rules differ from state to state, so it may be helpful to find out what the rules are in your new state. You can contact a local domestic violence organization for more information by visiting our Advocates and Shelters page and entering your new state in the drop-down menu.

Note: It is important to keep a copy of your protective order with you at all times. It is also a good idea to know the rules of states you will be living in or visiting to ensure that your out-of-state order can be enforced in a timely manner.

 1 18 U.S.C. § 2265(d)(2)

Do I need anything special to get my protective order enforced in another state?

In some states, you will need a certified copy of your protective order. A certified copy says that it is a “true and correct” copy; it is signed and initialed by the clerk of court that gave you the order, and usually has some kind of court stamp on it. In Virginia, if you are given a certified copy at the time your protective order is issued, the order will have the judge’s original signature on it. However, if you need to get another certified copy for any reason, or if you were not given one originally, you can call or go to the courthouse that issued your order. The clerk’s office will be able to help you get a certified copy of your order, which will have a stamp on it from the court clerk’s office. There is no fee to get a certified copy of your order.

Note: It is generally a good idea to keep a copy of the order with you at all times. You may also want to leave copies of the order at your work place, at your home, at the children’s school or daycare, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on. You may want to give a copy to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work along with a photo of the abuser. You may also want to give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order.

Can I get someone to help me? Do I need a lawyer?

You do not need a lawyer to get your protective order enforced in another state.

However, you may want to get help from a local domestic violence advocate or attorney in the state that you move to. A domestic violence advocate can let you know what the advantages and disadvantages are for registering your protective order, and help you through the process if you decide to do so.

To find a domestic violence advocate, go to our Advocates and Shelters page.  To find an attorney in the state you are moving to, go to our Finding a Lawyer page.

Do I need to tell the court in Virginia if I move?

It may be a good idea to give the court that issued your protective order an up-to-date mailing address in case court personnel needs to communicate with you if anything happens to your protective order (for example, if the abuser asks the court to dismiss/modify the order). If you will not be receiving mail at your old address, you may want to provide the court with a new address where you can receive mail. If you feel unsafe giving your new address, you may want to use the address of a friend you trust or a P.O. box instead.

Enforcing custody provisions in another state

I was granted temporary custody with my protective order. Can I take my kids out of the state?

It may depend on the wording of the custody provision in your protective order (if there is a custody provision). You may have to first seek the permission of the court before leaving. If the abuser was granted visitation rights with your children, then you may have to have the order changed, or show the court that there is a fair and realistic alternative to the current visitation schedule.

If you are unsure about whether or not you can take your kids out of the state, it is important to talk to lawyer who understands domestic violence and custody laws, and can help you make the safest decision for you and your children. You can find contact information for local domestic violence organizations and legal assistance in the Virginia area on our VA Finding a Lawyer page.

I was granted temporary custody with my protective order. Will another state enforce this custody order?

Yes. Custody, visitation, and child support provisions that are included in a protective order can be enforced across state lines. Law enforcement and courts in another state are required by federal law to enforce these provisions.1

1 18 USC § 2266

Enforcing Your Out-of-State Order in Virginia

If you are planning to move to Virginia or are going to be in Virginia for any reason, your protection or restraining order can be enforced.

General rules for out-of-state orders in Virginia

Can I get my protection order enforced in Virginia? What are the requirements?

Yes. Your protection order can be enforced in Virginia as long as:

  • It was issued to prevent violent or threatening acts, harassing behavior, sexual violence, or it was issued to prevent another person from coming near you or contacting you.1
  • The court that issued the order had jurisdiction over the people and case. (In other words, the court had the authority to hear the case.)
  • The abuser received notice of the order and had an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story.
    • In the case of ex parte temporary and emergency orders, the abuser must receive notice and have an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story at a hearing that is scheduled before the temporary order expires.2

Note: For information on enforcing a military protective order (MPO) off the military installation, or enforcing a civil protection order (CPO) on a military installation, please see our Military Protective Orders page.

1 18 U.S.C. § 2266(5)
2 18 U.S.C. § 2265(a), (b)

Can I have my out-of-state protection order changed, extended, or canceled in Virginia?

No. Only the state that issued your protection order can change, extend, or cancel the order.  You cannot have this done by a court in Virginia.

To have your order changed, extended, or canceled, you will have to file a motion or petition in the court where the order was issued.  You may be able to request that you attend the court hearing by telephone rather than in person, so that you do not need to return to the state where the abuser is living.  To find out more information about how to modify a restraining order, see the Restraining Orders page on our website for the state where your order was issued by entering your state in the drop-down menu. 

If your order does expire while you are living in Virginia, you may be able to get a new one issued in Virginia but this may be difficult to do if no new incidents of abuse have occurred in Virginia. To find out more information on how to get a protective order in Virginia, visit our VA Protective Orders (for Family Abuse) page.

I was granted temporary custody with my out-of-state protection order. Will I still have temporary custody of my children in Virginia?

Yes.  As long as the child custody provision complies with certain federal laws,1 Virginia can enforce a temporary custody order that is a part of a protection order.

To have someone read over your order and tell you if it meets these standards, contact a lawyer in your area.  To find a lawyer in your area go to our VA Finding a Lawyer page.

1 The federal laws are the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA) or the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1980.

Registering Your Out-of-State Order in Virginia

If I don’t have a hard copy of my out-of-state order, how can law enforcement enforce it?

To enforce an out-of-state order, law enforcement typically may rely on the National Crime Information Center Protection Order File (NCIC-POF). The NCIC-POF is a nationwide, electronic database that contains information about orders of protection that were issued in each state and territory in the U.S. The Protection Order File (POF) contains court orders that are issued to prevent acts of domestic violence, or to prevent someone from stalking, intimidating, or harassing another person. It contains orders issued by both civil and criminal state courts. The types of protection orders issued and the information contained in them vary from state to state.1

There is no way for the general public to access the NCIC-POF. That means you cannot confirm a protection order is in the registry or add a protection order to the registry without the help of a government agency that has access to it.

Typically, the state police or criminal justice agency in the state has the responsibility of reporting protection orders to NCIC. However, in some cases, the courts have taken on that role and they manage the protection order reporting process.2 NCIC–POF is used by law enforcement agencies when they need to verify and enforce an out-of-state protection order. It is managed by the FBI and state law enforcement officials.

However, not all states routinely enter protection orders into the NCIC. Instead, some states may enter the orders only in their own state protection order registry, which would not be accessible to law enforcement in other states. According to a 2016 report by the National Center for State Courts, more than 700,000 protection orders that were registered in state protection order databases were not registered in the federal NCIC Protection Order File.2 This means that if a law enforcement officer is trying to enforce a protection order from another state that is missing from the NCIC, the victim would likely need to show the officer a hard copy of the order to get it immediately enforced. If you no longer have a copy of your original order, you may want to contact the court that issued the order to ask them how you can get another copy sent to you.

1 National Center for Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit
2 See State Progress in Record Reporting for Firearm-Related Background Checks: Protection Order Submissions, prepared by the National Center for State Courts, April 2016

How do I register my protection order in Virginia?

To register your protection order in Virginia, you will need to fill out the appropriate forms at the family courthouse in your county or online on the Virginia Judicial System website.

You will need to attach a certified copy of your order to the form, and take it to any juvenile and domestic relations district court in Virginia.  See our VA Courthouse Locations page to find a court near you.  The court staff will index your protection order in their system, issue a certificate of filing, and forward a copy to the local law enforcement agency, which will put your protection order into the Virginia Crime Information Network (VCIN), which is a statewide registry that keeps records of all protective orders issued in (or registered in) Virginia.1

Your order may also be entered into the National Crime Information Center Registry (NCIC), which is a nationwide database of criminal records and protection orders.

If you need help registering your protection order, you can contact a local domestic violence organization in Virginia for assistance. You can find contact information for organizations in your area here on our VA Advocates and Shelters page.

1Virginia Judicial System website

Do I have to register my protection order in Virginia to get it enforced?

No. According to federal law,1 all states, including Virginia, must enforce an out-of-state protection order. Virginia state law gives full protection to an out-of-state protection order as long as you can show the officer a copy of the order and can truthfully tell the officer that you believe the order is still in effect.2

It does not have to be entered into the state or national registry in order to be enforced by a Virginia police officer, but the officer does need to believe that it is a valid (real) order.

1 18 U.S.C. § 2265
2 Va. Code §16.1-279.1(E)

Will the abuser be notified if I register my protection order?

Under the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which applies to all U.S. states and territories, the court is not permitted to notify the abuser when a protective order has been registered or filed in a new state unless you specifically request that the abuser be notified.1  However, you may wish to confirm that the clerk is aware of this law before registering the order if your address is confidential.

However, remember that there may be a possibility that the abuser could somehow find out what state you have moved to.  It is important to continue to safety plan, even if you are no longer in the state where the abuser is living.  We have some safety planning tips to get you started on our Staying Safe page.  You can also contact a local domestic violence organization to get help in developing a personalized safety plan. You will find contact information for organizations in your area on our VA Advocates and Shelters page.

1 18 USC § 2265(d)

Does it cost anything to register my protection order?

There is no fee for registering your protection order in Virginia.1

1 VA Code § 16.1-279.1(I)