The ones we love and trust should be the last to hurt us—but sometimes partners, family members and exes are the first in line to lash out.
You may be afraid, but you can get help and get out of a dangerous situation. If you’re ready to take the first step, consider filing for an order for protection, commonly called a restraining order. This blog will walk you through what orders of protection do, who qualifies, and how you can get one in Missouri.
What Are Orders of Protection?
An order to protection is a legal form that a judge signs. It stipulates that the person who is threatening or hurting you has to stop.
Generally, orders of protection protect against your abuser:
- Hurting you physically
- Forcing you to do something you don’t want to do
- Threatening to hurt you
- Harassing you, i.e. following you around when you’re in public or contacting you repeatedly
- Forcing you to stay in one place, like confining you to your home
- Stalking you, which is defined as when an abuser purposely causes you fear
Orders of protection are filed in civil court, meaning they don’t carry criminal charges, though your abuser could go to jail if he or she violates the order. You can drop your case at any time if you change your mind. You can pursue criminal charges against your abuser at the same time as filing for an order of protection if you wish.
Who Qualifies for an Order of Protection?
If you’re being stalked, you can file for an order of protection against that person, no matter who he or she is. However, if you’re being abused, orders of protection only apply to family or household members. This includes:
- Immediately family, like siblings or parents
- Current and previous spouses
- Current and previous intimate or romantic partners, such as an ex-boyfriend
- People you currently live with or have lived with
- Anyone who is the other parent of your child
If you’re not sure if you can get an order of protection against your abuser, speak with an attorney or a victim advocate—many counties in Missouri have victim advocates on staff to help victims for free.
To file, you need to be at least 17 years old. Minors who are emancipated—meaning they can legally make decisions for themselves—like if they’re in the military or married, can also file. If the victim is your child and is under 17, you can file for him or her.
How Can You Get an Order of Protection?
You can file for an order of protection for free at your county’s courthouse. Go to the Circuit Clerk’s office and ask to fill out a “Petition for Order of Protection.” You’ll be asked for information about your reasons for the order, including descriptions of the first, last, and worst violent events. To make your case, be as specific as possible about what happened and why you were or are afraid of your abuser.
After you’ve filled out the petition, it will go to a judge. If you’re in immediate danger, the judge may grant you an ex parte order of protection, meaning that you’re granted protection right away until you can have a formal hearing in court. If you’re not in immediate danger, you’ll wait until your court date, which usually takes place in about two weeks from when you file the petition. At your hearing, you and your abuser will both tell your sides of the story to the judge, who will make a decision. If you’re granted an order of protection, it will last for 180 days to a full year, and you may be able to get the order extended at the end of that time period.
You can file for an order of protection on your own or with a victim’s advocate. However, you’ll benefit from having an experienced attorney on your side to help you decide what evidence to present at your hearing to best state your case. Contact the Lowry Law Firm today for help with your order of protection so you can be safe again.