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How do I Get a Domestic Violence Protection Order in Montana?

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Recently updated on April 9th, 2024 at 12:59 am

Introduction

Protection from abuse order is a kind of restraining order in Montana for domestic situations. It is governed by the Family Court. The formal name and fine print of restraining orders varies from state to state but the basic idea is the same: a judge issues an order to an abuser to stay away from and not contact their victim who the abuser is harassing, abusing, threatening, stalking, or physically hurting.

In other words it's a last legal warning to stay away or else face criminal charges. If the abuser disobeys the PFA order, then the abuser can be formally charged with committing a crime and can be jailed.

Different types of PFA orders apply in situations of domestic violence, stalking, harassment, or situations where there is a credible threat to an individual’s safety.

If a person believes their situation qualifies for PFA order as defined in the Montana Code, they can apply for one through the Family Court in their county of residence. The process involves filing a set of standard court forms, attending a hearing, and presenting evidence to support the request for the order.

 

Definition of Domestic Violence in Montana

MT Code § 40-15-403 (2022) In Montana, Domestic violence is when you fear bodily harm from a partner or family member, or when they commit certain crimes against you, such as assault, stalking, or kidnapping. Victims of sexual assault or incest are also protected.

You can also seek protection against anyone who commits crimes like assault or sexual assault against you, regardless of your relationship. Additionally, parents can seek protection for their children against adults who pose a risk, even without domestic violence involved.

 

Comparison with Criminal Case

If you're victims of domestic violence, then you can file the following legal cases:

  • Criminal Case: In a criminal case, the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt, the highest burden of proof.
  • Domestic Violence Protection Order: This is considered a family law case, and the victim has to give some evidence and generally the burden is low and the victim must establish “reasonable proof of a past act or acts of abuse”. For Domestic Violence Protection Order, you just need evidence to support that abuse occur which is defined as bodily injury or fear that you will get bodily injury.

The court considers accusations of abuse leniently, and favors on issuing orders as long as there is some evidence.

Does my situation qualify for a Domestic Violence Protection Order?

Here's a summary of the different types of protection orders.  There are a few different types of protection orders and typically only one of them may apply to your situation. The first step is to see if any of the different types of protection order applies to your situation or is remotely related as that might help you decide whether to apply.

The types are:

1. Orders of Protection (for domestic violence victims)

This court order protects a person who has been abused by a family or household member or by a current or former sexual or intimate partner as defined in Mont. Code § 40-15-102(1)​.

In addition to victims of domestic violence, you can file for an order of protection against anyone who commits one of the following crimes against you, regardless of your relationship to the offender:

  • assault;
  • aggravated assault;
  • assault on a minor;
  • stalking;
  • incest;
  • sexual assault;

2. Orders of Protection (for crime victims)

Under Montana law, anyone who was the victim of one of the following crimes can file for an order of protection, regardless of the relationship to the offender:

 

What if I am under 18 years of Age?

Protective orders can be requested by anyone 12 years or older, and without your parent's permission.  If you are under 18, then in some situations, a judge may ask you to have a trusted adult help you in your case after you have filed for the petition. such as a parent a counselor or a neighbor.

If you are under 18, you can go to your local court's Self-Help Center for help. For support and safety tips, you can chat at loveisrespect.org, text "LOVEIS" to 22522, or call 1-866-331-9474.

If you are 12 or older and someone has asked for a protection order against you, you can go to court without a parent. In some situations, the judge may ask you to have a trusted adult help you in your case.

Situation Examples

Example 1:  Husband is sexually and verbally abusive, and controlling  

My husband doesn't allow me the option to say no to sex, and often that warning is not explicit but I know bad things will happen if I say no such as bullying, threats and immense tension. As a couple we have been having sex everyday for nearly two decades now.  He verbally abuses me by calling me a whore if I don't sleep with him.  During this time he is intoxicated so I am fearful of having a discussion as his anger will quickly get out of control, and he will hurl things at home thereby inducing more fear in me. Such behavior has been going on for over a decade now so I am not sure about the date of the first incident now. One day I very carefully chose my words and mentioned that maybe we are not a right fit, and should seek counseling. He was enraged and threated me that he will utterly destroy me, my work reputation, and expose some minor things I did to the immigration authorities.  Since about six months, I have been sleeping in a separate room. He comes there routinely and tries to sleep with me forcefully.   Often times I feel that if I resist, or decline his advances that my reputation, our property, or even my life will me in danger.  I feel little, humiliated and disgusted with myself.

Example 2:  Boyfriend blackmails and destroys property to control and induce fear

Today, Michael was armed with a pistol and seemed to be under the influence of an unidentified substance. He made threats to create false narratives with the aim of jeopardizing my 28-year accounting career, stating he would falsely accuse me of engaging in illegal financial activities. His menacing statement, "if you mess with me, I'll retaliate," was accompanied by destructive actions, such as damaging property in my home, including creating a hole in the wall. Michael's behavior becomes particularly alarming when he is under the influence of drugs.

Example 3: Ex-boyfriend stalks 

Jenna's ex-boyfriend shows up at Jenna's work unexpectedly and drives around. Jenna is fearful, and had earlier clearly asked him to leave her alone.

 

Is a protection order helpful?

The purpose of a protection order is to restrict the contact or proximity of one person (the respondent or alleged perpetrator) to another person (the petitioner or victim) in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the petitioner.

The specific terms of a protection order can vary depending on the circumstances of the case e.g. if the people live together then it might require one party to vacate the place.

Typically, a protection order may prohibit the respondent from

  1. Approaching or contacting the petitioner including via text or social media
  2. Staying away from the usual places petitioner is at such as home, work or school
  3. Prohibit stalking, or surveillance of any kind
  4. In situations where they lived together, provide custody or access to
    • Children
    • Pets
    • Important documents
    • Personal items such as clothes, medications, cell phones
    • Cars
  5. Extending the protections to others living with the petitioner

 

Research findings on benefits of protection orders

Here’s the top three findings from a study on domestic violence and protection orders from the University of New Hampshire

Reduce Violence

Civil protective orders (such as a DVPO) are effective in reducing partner violence for many women. For half the women in the sample, a protective order stopped the violence. For the other half, the orders significantly reduced violence and abuse.

Cost Effective

They are a relatively low-cost solution, particularly when compared with the social and personal costs of partner violence.

Urban Vs. Rural

The impact of civil protective orders on reducing violence and abuse did not differ for rural and urban women. In rural areas where resources and services for partner violence may be more limited, the protection orders hold greater importance.

 

Process for getting a Protection Order

Step 1: Gather Evidence

The first step is to gather the evidence to support your case. The following are considered as evidence of domestic violence

Evidence Type 1: Pending Criminal Case

Judges are also more likely to issue an order if there is an ongoing criminal case; therefore it's important to call such cases out when seeking a temporary Protective order.

When a judge sees that there's a criminal case happening, they might think it means the police or the district attorney are pretty sure they can prove the crime happened.

Evidence Type 2: Photos of violence, injuries, damage

These are the most common types of evidence submitted. These can be photos of victim's injuries inflicted by the abuser. It is helpful to add photos next to the related incident description to help create a complete picture for the judge.

Evidence Type 3: Print outs of messages, emails or transcripts of voicemail

You can take screenshots of text messages and attach them. Similarly you can print emails and attach them as pictures or PDF files. While in most cases you cannot submit digital files such as

Evidence Type 4: 911 Calls

Rather than just saying you called 911 or any specific hotline, you can make your case stronger by listing the following items

  • The number dialed in case of the domestic hotline
  • The date and time (or approximate date and time) when the call was made
  • Who made the call
  • What was reported on the call
  • Any specific details of the person who answer the 911 call e.g. male/female voice

Evidence Type 5:  Medical Records

You can attach documentation of previous medical emergencies or injuries that resulted from the actions of the abuser. These could be hospital visit records, print outs from your hospital portal (E.g.mychart) showing details of your visit.

Evidence Type 6:  Police reports

You can attach a copy of the police reports filed against abuser for domestic violence.

Evidence Type 7:  Testimony

A testimony from a witness. The witness can be anyone such as a family member, neighbor a co-worker or a bystander. The testimony is just an essay written describing the incidents witnessed, with as many specifics as possible.

Step 2: Get a copy of court forms 

In order to apply for a civil protection order, you need to fill and submit a specific set of official court forms. These have questions aimed at understanding your situation and the people involved.

The complete set of documents is at the Montana Courts website. While these forms are used in most courts, certain courts use modified versions of these forms, and its important to uses those versions.

Tip: You can check your local court's website to see the exact versions and set of court forms needed. You need to prepare these forms. Courts also offer a free self help center where you can take forms. Alternatively you can use a free website such as LegalAtoms to prepare the protection orders paperwork online.

 

Nothing happens until you file the forms. So it’s a good idea to step through the forms even if you think you don't plan to file for a protection order right now, to get

You can then file them online when you've thought through all aspects.  There are special protections for victims, and you're protected even if your immigration status is undocumented in the United States.

Step 3: File the Court Forms 

Submit your case documents at the court such that the clerk reviews their corrects and accepts them is called filing.

Identify the court at your county

In Montana, if you need to apply for a Domestic Violence Protection (DVP) order, you'll typically go to the Montana District Court in your county.

The District Courts where you can apply for Domestic Violence Protection (DVP) orders in some of the major counties in Montana:

  • Yellowstone County District Court (Billings):

Address: Yellowstone County Courthouse, 217 N 27th St, Billings, MT 59101

  • Missoula County District Court (Missoula):

Address: Missoula County Courthouse, 200 W Broadway St, Missoula, MT 59802

  • Gallatin County District Court (Bozeman):

Address: Gallatin County Courthouse, 311 W Main St, Bozeman, MT 59715

  • Flathead County District Court (Kalispell):

Address: Flathead County Courthouse, 800 S Main St, Kalispell, MT 59901

  • Lewis and Clark County Justice Court (Helena):

Address: Lewis and Clark County Courthouse, 228 Broadway St, Helena, MT 59601

 

Methods of Filing

Method # 1: In Person:

Your court location would accept the forms to be submitted in person at the court hours.

Tip: All courts have lunch hours when they are closed for an hour

When you submit your case documents at the court, typically you take 3 copies.

The clerks review it, and if everything is ok, they formally enter it into the court system and put a stamp near the top of the documents. That acceptance is called filing.

Method # 2:  Electronically via a portal

Some counties now have one or more online portals where you create an account for free, and then you can upload documents and hit submit. You will be required to pay around $5-$10 filing fees.

Method # 3:  Via another person 

Some counties accept filing via a friend or legal courier. These companies or individuals charge a flat or hourly fee and file the documents at the court.

Step 4: Get a Temporary Order 

Depending on the facts and evidence presented, a Judge can issue a protection order with immediate effect until the hearing, called an Emergency Temporary Order.  In relatively less risky situations, a temporary order is issued in a few days.

If there are no grounds or if the application is incomplete or the jurisdiction is incorrect the application may be rejected.

The temporary order is only valid for about 3 weeks which is the amount of time until the hearing. If the hearing is delayed for any reason, you need to check with the court to ensure the temporary order is renewed until the hearing.

Step 5: Serve the abuser 

If you were successful in getting a temporary order only then this step is necessary, otherwise you will have to wait until you get one.

In the Montana legal system, whenever one party initiates a protection order it needs to inform or serve the other party formally by delivering the court documents. That step is called serving the respondent, and is often seen in movies and TV shows as "You've been served".

Under the Montana law there are multiple ways in which the other party can be served.

You cannot  serve your papers yourself.

Option 1:  Ask a Cop (FREE)

A sheriff or marshal can serve the opposing party for you which is a big help. This service is offered for FREE. You will however need the address of the abuser. To ask the sheriff to serve your papers, you must have an address or location for the other side (restrained person). If the other side is in jail, the sheriff can serve them. If the other side is in prison, prison staff, not the sheriff, will serve your papers. Follow the instructions by the Montana Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for serving someone in prison

 

Option 2: Ask a friend, relative or any adult (FREE)

You ask someone you know to be your server

  • 18 or over, and
  • not part of your case

Think about safety when choosing your server. Get step-by-step instructions for how to have someone else, not the sheriff, serve your court papers in the County.

 

Option 3: Hire a specialized courier

You can also hire a courier called  professional process server. You can search on Yelp or Google to get a list of options near you. Yelp Example. An example is ABC Legal Services.

You cannot hire regular couriers such as UPS, FedEx or US Postal Service unless in exceptional scenarios where the judge authorizes service by mail, but that's a whole different topic altogether.

Step 6: Present Evidence in a Court Hearing 

Attend a hearing: The court holds a hearing within a couple of weeks where the evidence is examined. If there is sufficient supporting evidence as determined by a Judge, a full protection order is issued. At this point it becomes a crime for the abuser to break the conditions of the protection order.

Step 7. Collect the Final Order

After the hearing, a final order may be issued. You can take a paper copy of the order with you. The order is typically valid for five years.

Costs

There are no costs associated with a Domestic Violence Protection Order.

  • FREE forms : You can get the court forms for free, or prepare them using the guided experience below.
  • FREEfiling: There is fees for filing. Online filing platforms may charge a service fees

 

Process Duration

You can get a temporary protection order the same day as you file.

Courts can have a cutoff of around 2 p.m.  for the same day service, so you need to file before then. Otherwise, the order would be issued the following day when courts open.

Courts are generally open Monday-Friday and closed on Saturday-Sunday.

The temporary order is valid until a formal hearing is held in which both parties need to be present. Typically a hearing is scheduled in 2 weeks of filing.

At the hearing a formal order may be issued

 

Risks

It is conceivable that following the submission of a civil protection order, the abuser particularly in domestic violence situations may react with anger due to the perceived loss of control over you and your household. In certain instances, the abuser may portray themselves as the victim and shift blame onto the actual victim they were mistreating.

The response of your abuser after the filing of a protection order is unpredictable. While a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO) can provide legal protection, one should not automatically assume that it guarantees safety. The initial weeks post-filing can be particularly precarious, contingent on your abuser's reaction.

Despite the safeguards intended by a DVPO, abusers may retaliate through various means, such as:

  1. Physical assault or violence
  2. Harming or taking away children
  3. Damaging jointly owned property
  4. Disregarding the order and persisting with threats, possibly through intermediaries
  5. Inflicting harm or causing harm to pets
  6. Harassing your loved ones for information
  7. Engaging in stalking behavior
  8. Initiating a retaliatory restraining order against you
  9. Spreading false information about you in court documents, online, or publicly

Following the submission of a domestic violence protection order, it's important to continuously assess your situation and prepare for the potential escalation of your case into more violent territory.

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