Legal Information: Virginia

Restraining Orders

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November 18, 2016

Steps for getting a protective order

Step 1:  Go to court to file and obtain a petition You can file a petition for a permanent order at a juvenile and domestic relations court or circuit court.  Go to the clerk of court and tell him or her you want an application for a protective order. You can also find links to these forms online by going to our 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 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.

Step 2: Bring identification and information about your abuser.

It is sometimes helpful to bring the following information about your abuser:

  • a photo
  • addresses of home, job, and other places that person may be
  • phone numbers
  • a description and plate number of your abuser's car
  • history of drugs or gun ownership

Remember also to bring some form of personal identification (a driver's license or other identification that includes your picture).

Step 3: Fill out the necessary forms

The clerk will provide you with the forms that you need to file. On the complaint for protective order form, you will be the "petitioner" and your abuser will be the "respondent." Write briefly 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. It will also be important to write any previous court action you have taken against your abuser.

Be sure to write your name and a safe mailing address and phone number. If you are staying at a shelter, give a Post Office Box, not a street address.

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.

You will find links to the forms you will need at our Download Court Forms page or from the courthouse in your area

Note: Be sure to sign the forms in front of the court clerk. Once you have completed your paperwork, return them to the clerk. The probation department will then run a "check" of your abuser's criminal and protective order history.

Step 4:  A judge will review your petition 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 if you seek a permanent order the judge will set a date for a hearing.

Step 5:  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 your 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 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.

Step 6:  The Hearing Your hearing will 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. This is likely to happen if the abuser had not received notice of the hearing.

Continuance. You have the right to bring a lawyer to represent you at the hearing. If you show up to court and your 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.

It is a good idea to see a lawyer if you think your abuser will challenge custody or child support, or if you have been severely injured or expect an injury to last a long time. If the court does issue a continuance, the court should also reissue or extend your preliminary order since your original one will probably expire before the rescheduled hearing.