What is an Order of Protection?

Order of Protection:

An Order of Protection (a.k.a. Protective Order and OP) is a powerful legal document granted by a judge. It protects victims of abuse (referred to as the “Petitioner” of the OP) by applying certain rules to abusers (referred to as the “Respondent” of the OP) that they must obey.

GROUNDS for an Order of Protection:

You may be granted an Order of Protection if someone is:

  • Inflicting, trying to inflict, or placing you and/or your children in fear of physical injury or physical restraint
  • Maliciously damaging your personal property
  • Harming, trying to harm, or threatening to harm your pet(s)
RELATIONSHIP CRITERIA for an Order of Protection:

You may be granted an Order of Protection against someone if you:

  • Are married to them currently or were married to them in the past (g., spouses and ex-spouses)
  • Are dating currently or dated in the past (g., boyfriends, girlfriends, and ex-s)
  • Have sexual relations currently or had sexual relations in the past (whether consensual or non-consensual)
  • Are related by blood or adoption (g., parents, grandparents, siblings, etc.)
  • Are related by marriage currently or were related by marriage in the past (g., in-laws)
  • Currently live together or lived together in the past (g., roommates)

*There are NO relationship criteria for stalking or sexual assault

SCOPE of an Order of Protection:

An Order of Protection can:

  • Prohibit the abuser/Respondent from abusing, assaulting, stalking, or threatening the victim/Petitioner or Petitioner’s minor children
  • Prohibit the Respondent from “coming about” the Petitioner for any purpose or contacting them in any way, directly or indirectly
  • Award the Petitioner temporary custody of minor children and control of any pets
  • Grant the Petitioner possession of the home (or direct the Respondent to provide alternate housing if the Respondent is the sole owner or lessee of the residence)
  • Direct the Respondent to bear any costs associated with the Petitioner breaching a lease/rental agreement because of the abuse
  • Award the Petitioner financial support as the Respondent has a duty to pay
  • Order a wireless service provider to transfer responsibility for/rights to phone number(s) to the Petitioner
  • Direct the Respondent to go to counselling
Other Order of Protection Information:
  • If you are in immediate danger, you can file for an ex parte OP, which means an emergency OP.
  • Ex parte OPs are effective as soon as the Respondent is served, without a court hearing, and are valid for 15 days from service.
  • Within 15 days of service, there will be a court hearing during which the ex parte OP will either be ended or made into a full OP, based on evidence.
  • Full OPs are valid for up to 1 year.
  • Full OPs prohibit the Respondent from possessing firearms for as long as the OP is in effect.
  • If the Respondent violates the OP, they can be arrested, with or without a warrant.
  • There can be both civil and criminal penalties for OP violations.
  • Upon the first violation, the OP can be extended for up to 5 years.
  • Upon the second violation, the OP can be extended for up to 10 years.
  • If there are no violations, there must be another court hearing to extend the OP past 1 year.
  • There is no fee to file for an OP.
  • You can file for an OP after business hours and over weekends and holidays with the Judicial Commissioner.

Order of Protection vs. Restraining Order

Restraining Order:
  • A Restraining Order (RO), on the other hand, is a legal document that can be granted against anyone for anything, as long as the judge decides that it is needed and appropriate based on evidence provided.
  • There are no relationship criteria. You can file for an RO against anyone.
  • An RO has no set scope. You must be very specific when you file for an RO about what you want the other person (known as the “Adverse Party”) to be restrained from doing (for example, “I want my neighbor to be restrained from walking their dog on my property”).
  • A temporary (emergency) RO may be granted before a court hearing if there is an immediate threat. Temporary ROs are valid for 15 days. Otherwise, an RO is not in effect until there is a court hearing and a judge grants the RO, which can be valid for up to 10 years.
  • There may be vision and/or distance limitations in an RO (for example, the other person may not be allowed within eyesight or so many feet of you), whereas, with OPs, the Respondent is prohibited from being anywhere in your vicinity or contacting you even indirectly.
  • If the other person violates the RO, they are given a citation rather than arrested, and they must then appear in court.
  • There are only civil, not criminal, penalties for RO violations.
  • There are filing fees for ROs, and you can only file for one during business hours.

What to Expect When Getting an Order of Protection:

Although courts across Tennessee vary in the specific format of Orders of Protection, we thought it would be helpful for you to have a preview of the information your advocate will need to complete the filing of your protective order.  Use this link to visit the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts’ website, where general forms are provided in English, Spanish, Arabic, Korean, Russian, Somali, and Vietnamese.

The Tennessee Supreme Court also created a website, called Justice for All, where you can find answers to general legal questions if you don’t have a lawyer. This website can also help you find a lawyer or other legal resources.

Fourth Circuit Court made an informative video about what you can expect when obtaining an Order of Protection here in Knox County.

Disclaimer: This content is for general informational purposes only. It is not meant and should not be used as legal advice. Laws regarding Orders of Protection and Restraining Orders vary by state.

Refer to the Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-3-601 et al. and the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 65 et al. for more detailed information about Orders of Protection and Restraining Orders.