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Orders of Protection In Tennessee

Under Tennessee law, any person who is a domestic abuse victim, stalking victim, or sexual assault victim who has been subjected to, threatened with, or placed in fear of domestic abuse, stalking, or sexual assault, may petition a Tennessee court of competent jurisdiction for an order of protection.

Where Can I File For An Order of Protection?

Venue for an order of protection proceeding is in the county where the respondent resides or the county in which the domestic abuse, stalking, or sexual assault occurred. In cases where the respondent is not a Tennessee resident, the petition for the order of protection may be filed in the county where the petitioner resides.

If an order of protection proceeding is pending and one of the parties to the order of protection proceeding files for divorce, the order of protection remains in effect until the court to which the divorce action is assigned does one of the following: (1) modifies the order; (2) dissolves the order; or (3) makes the order part of the divorce decree.

Although violating an order of protection can result in criminal penalties, in Tennessee orders of protection are civil orders and are fundamentally civil, rather than criminal, proceedings.

Who Is Eligible To Obtain An Order of Protection?

When examining whether a person is eligible to obtain an order of protection under Tennessee law, it is very important to understand the applicable legal definitions of the terms pertaining to eligibility. For example, to be eligible to obtain an order of protection in Tennessee, the petitioner generally must be a "domestic abuse victim," "stalking victim," or "sexual abuse victim," as those terms are defined under Tennessee law.

"Domestic abuse victim" means any person who falls within one of the following categories:

  • Adults or minors who are current or former spouses;
  • Adults or minors who live together or who have lived together;
  • Adults or minors who are dating or who have dated or who have or had a sexual relationship ("dating" and "dated" in this context does not include fraternization between two (2) individuals in a business or social context);
  • Adults or minors related by blood or adoption;
  • Adults or minors who are related or were formerly related by marriage; or
  • Adult or minor children of a person in a relationship described in one of the categories above.

"Sexual abuse victim" means any person, regardless of the relationship with the perpetrator, who has been subjected to, threatened with, or placed in fear of any form of rape or sexual battery.

"Stalking victim" means any person, regardless of the relationship with the perpetrator, who has been subjected to, threatened with, or placed in fear of the offense of stalking. In this context, Tennessee law defines "stalking" as a willful course of conduct involving repeated or continuing harassment of another individual that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested, and that actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested.

Additionally, the law defines "course of conduct" in this context to mean a pattern of conduct composed of a series of two (2) or more separate, noncontinuous acts evidencing a continuity of purpose, including, but not limited to, acts in which the defendant directly, indirectly, or through third parties, by any action, method, device, or means, follows, monitors, observes, surveils, threatens, or communicates to a person, or interferes with a person’s property.

"Abuse" means inflicting, or attempting to inflict, physical injury on an adult or minor by other than accidental means, placing an adult or minor in fear of physical harm, physical restraint, malicious damage to the personal property of the abused party, including inflicting, or attempting to inflict, physical injury on any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by an adult or minor, or placing an adult or minor in fear of physical harm to any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by the adult or minor.

How Do I Apply For An Order Of Protection?

If a domestic abuse victim, stalking victim, or sexual assault victim wants to apply for an order of protection, he or she must initiate the process by filing a petition for an order of protection in a Tennessee court of competent jurisdiction in the proper venue. Upon the filing of a petition for an order of protection, the court may immediately, for good cause shown, issue an ex parte order of protection (i.e., an order of protection issued without a hearing and without notice to the respondent). A petitioner can meet this "good cause" requirement upon a showing of an immediate and present danger of abuse to the petitioner. Sometimes, an ex parte order of protection is referred to as a temporary order of protection, since it only remains in effect on a temporary basis until the court holds a hearing and gives the respondent an opportunity to present his or her case.

Following the issuance of a temporary order of protection, the court is required to hold a hearing within fifteen (15) days of service of the temporary order of protection on the respondent. If, after the hearing, the court finds that the petitioner has proved the allegation of domestic abuse, stalking, or sexual assault by a preponderance of the evidence (i.e., that the allegation is more likely than not to be true), then the court must extend the order of protection for a definite period of time, not to exceed one (1) year.

If the court initially declines to issue a temporary order of protection but finds that, following a hearing, the petitioner has proven the allegation of domestic abuse, stalking, or sexual assault by a preponderance of the evidence, the court may, at that time, issue an order of protection for a definite period of time, not to exceed one (1) year.

If the court issues or extends an order of protection on behalf of a petitioner after a hearing on the petition, all court costs, filing fees, litigation taxes and attorney fees must be assessed against the respondent. Under federal law and Tennessee law, the respondent is generally required to promptly dispossess himself or herself of any firearms upon the issuance of the order of protection.

Do I Need Legal Representation If I Am Involved In An Order Of Protection Proceeding?

If you are the petitioner or the respondent in a Tennessee order of protection proceeding, it is extremely important to take the proceeding very seriously. The outcome of an order of protection proceeding can have serious consequences on an individual’s safety and legal rights. If there are children involved, the outcome of the order of protection proceeding may also result in the court assigning custody of a child to the petitioner, and this could have a long-lasting and significant impact on more protracted custody or divorce proceedings.

If you or a loved one is involved in an order of protection proceeding or feel that an order of protection is needed to protect against domestic abuse, stalking, or sexual assault, you should seek legal advice immediately. Contact a Nashville attorney with Cole Law Group today at (615) 490-6020 to schedule a consultation and learn about the legal rights and protections that may be available to you through an order of protection in Tennessee.

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