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.