What is a Civil Protective Order?
A civil Protective Order is a legal document that prohibits an individual who has victimized a spouse, intimate partner, or other member of the household by committing family violence in the past against them and who is likely to commit family violence again in the future against them from getting close to the victim and threatening, harming, and/or harassing the victim. An applicant applies for a Protective Order in Civil District Court, not Criminal Court, and it is valid for up to a two-year period. A civil Protective Order can be criminally enforced and the police can arrest an individual for violating the order. In addition, a civil Protective Order can be enforced via contempt of court and the violator can be monetarily fined.
What can a Protective Order Do?
A Protective Order may prohibit an abuser from the following:
- Committing family violence;
- Communicating with the victim in a threatening or harassing manner;
- Communicating with the victim in any manner, including emails, text messages, and communication through third parties;
- Coming within a specified distance of the victim’s residence;
- Coming within a specified distance of feet of the victim’s place of employment;
- Encumbering or disposing of mutually owned property;
- If children are included in the protective order, coming within two hundred (200) feet of the child’s school and/or daycare;
- Possessing a firearm or ammunition.
Note, this is not an all-inclusive list but highlights some of the prohibitions that can be put in place via a civil Protective Order.
***Please note, a Protective Order can only deter someone from committing future family violence and punish those who violate a protective order, but a protective order cannot prevent family violence from occuring.
Who is eligible to apply for a Protective Order?
An individual is eligible to apply for a civil protective order if he or she has been a victim of family violence or dating violence committed by a family member or someone whom they have had a dating relationship with, and if their abuser is likely to be violent against them in the future. Both parties must be living in separate residences at the time of filing the Protective Order in District Court.
“Dating Violence” and “Family Violence” are defined in the Family Code as:
- An act intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, or
- A threat that places you in fear of eminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault
Note: Acts done to protect and defend yourself from your abuser are not acts of family violence.
A “family member”, for purposes of obtaining a Protective Order, is someone who:
- The victim has had a relationship through marriage or blood (this includes past relationships), or
- An individual that lives in the same home or that has lived in the same home with the victim, or
- An individual whom the victim has had children with
A “dating relationship”, for purposes of obtaining a Protective Order, is between individuals who have had a continuing intimate/romantic relationship
Can children be included in a Civil Protective Order?
Depending on the facts of the case and the severity of the abuse towards the applicant and the children, children may be included in a civil Protective Order. The Court may make orders with regard to child visitation whether or not the children are included in the Protective Order if the applicant and the respondent have minor children together.
For minor victims of domestic violence, an adult can file a Protective Order on behalf of the minor child.
How long does a Protective Order last?
A civil Protective Order can be put in place for a period of up to two (2) years.
Who can lift a Protective Order?
Once a Protective Order has been signed by a District Court Judge, only the District Court Judge can lift the constraints and prohibitions or modify the term of the Protective Order. Even if the victim voluntarily returns to the respondent and resumes a relationship, if there is a protective order in place, the respondent will be in violation of the terms of the Order.
What is the difference between a Protective Order and a Magistrate’s Order for Emergency Protection or a No-Contact Order?
A Protective Order is a civil remedy, ordered by a District Court Judge. A civil Protective Order is independent of any criminal charges that may or may not be pending with regard to the family violence. A Magistrate’s Order for Emergency Protection (MOEP) and a No-Contact Order are remedies utilized by the Criminal Courts to temporarily protect the victim. MOEPs generally have a length of sixty to ninety days only.
What is the difference between a Protective Order and a Restraining Order?
A Restraining Order, although a civil remedy, is primarily designed to maintain the status quo between litigating parties in divorce and custody cases and focuses on restraining disparaging and alarming behavior and restraining detrimental action towards property and assets. It can only be enforced through a civil contempt of court action; whereas, a civil Protective Order is issued as a result of a finding of family violence and is both criminally and civilly enforceable.