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Part II: How Can a Victim of Domestic Violence Seek Protection?

If you are a victim who has determined to take the courageous step to seek help, there is a powerful legal tool that will protect you from your abuser-the Order of Protection.

All fifty states and the District of Columbia have statutes for some form of protective order. In Tennessee the form is called an Order of Protection, whereas in Florida it is called an Injunction for Protection Against Domestic Violence. A protection order is a paper signed by a judge to protect you (the victim) from abuse, threats of abuse, sexual assault, or stalking. You can get an order of protection against a spouse (past or present), someone with whom you have co-habited, a relative, someone you have dated, or your child's other parent. There are no fees for filing a protective order. The order may include various provisions:

  • A Counseling Provision that orders the abuser to attend counseling sessions
  • A Stay Away Provision that orders the abuser to stay a specified distance (usually100) yards away you at all times
  • A Move Out Provision that requires an abuser to move out of your place of residence
  • A Firearms Provision that prevents an abuser from purchasing a firearm or having one in his/her possession
  • A No Contact Provision that prohibits an abuser from attacking, stalking, or harassing you

It is possible to include children, family members, others who may reside in the home, and even pets in a protective order. In order to do this, you must prove that such individuals are exposed to the same or similar threat that you are exposed to by your abuser. It is important that you list additional victims to be included in the order when the request form is initially filed.

If you are under the age of 18, you may get a protection order if you meet the following requirements:

  • You must be a victim of domestic abuse, stalking, or sexual assault and
  • One of your parents or a legal guardian will need to sign the petition forms before you turn them into the court

The Department of Children's Services or a guardian ad litem can file on your behalf if they have been involved in your case.

There is no time limit for filing an order of protection after you have removed yourself from an abusive environment. However, it is a good idea to file as soon as possible. If the abuser lives in Tennessee, you need to file the petition in the county in which the abuser lives or in the county where the abuse took place. If the abuser lives outside the state of Tennessee, you can file at your local courthouse. There is no fee for filing. You do not need a lawyer to file for a protective order, but it is wise to retain one in order to protect your rights, particularly if you believe that your abuser will be represented by an attorney. You may need to sign the petition in front of a notary public or court official.

If you or others living with you are in immediate danger, request a temporary or ex parte protection order that will stay in effect until a full court hearing is scheduled. When the full hearing occurs you must attend and prove to the judge that you are truly in danger. If you choose to have an attorney represent you, he/she will prepare questions about abusive events that took place and you should be prepared to give short, simple answers. You must be totally honest regarding your abuse allegation, for stretching the truth will not only hurt your case, but the judge may rule that you must pay court costs if he/she determines in a hearing that you have lied. The judge may also ask questions. If there are witnesses who have seen firsthand the abuse that has occurred in your relationship, their testimony would be a great asset to your case.

If the presiding judge determines that you are in actual danger, he/she will sign an extended order of protection which will be in effect for up to a year or longer. The judge may also require the abuser to move out of your residence, give you temporary custody of any children, prepare visitation schedules (which could be limited to supervised visitation if the judge believes that the abuser is a threat to your children), order child support and/or spousal support if you and your abuser are married. If you decide to proceed with a divorce after the order of protection is issued, the order of protection is extended until the judge presiding over your divorce changes the expiration date.

Although an order of protection is a powerful tool, it is just a piece of paper if not enforced. Make copies of the protection order immediately and keep a copy of it with you at all times. Provide copies of the order and a photo of the abuser to neighbors, fellow employees, apartment managers, friends and family members, your children's school, or anyone else who is a regular part of your daily life or within your inner circle.

It is a crime to violate the protection order. If your abuser does violate the order, call the police, sheriff, or 911 immediately. In many states, police policy is to arrest violators automatically. A violator may be fined, jailed, or charged with a misdemeanor or felony.

Any person, regardless of age, who is a victim of domestic violence, may call the Nationwide Domestic Violence Hotline or the Tennessee Domestic Violence Hotline for immediate assistance. Any teen involved in a relationship that includes dating violence may also call the Nationwide Domestic Violence Hotline or the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline for immediate assistance.

NATIONWIDE HOTLINE: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

TENNESSEE HOTLINE: 1-800-356-6767

NATIONAL TEEN DATING ABUSE HELPLINE: 1-866-331-9474

If you have a question related to domestic abuse or are in the process of seeking legal assistance to extradite yourself from an abusive relationship, Cole Law Group would be happy to help you. You may contact us via our website atcolelawgrouppc.com or call one of our family law attorneys at 615-490-6020.

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