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

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Recently updated on May 8th, 2024 at 12:43 am

Overview

A domestic violence protective order is a legal shield for those facing abuse from spouses, partners, cohabitating individuals, family members, and intimate or dating relationships, regardless of living arrangements.  It keeps the abuser to stay away and refrain from contact, aiming to ensure the victim's safety.

These orders have a fixed duration but can be extended if the threat persists. Violating the terms of the order carries severe penalties, such as fines or imprisonment, emphasizing the legal repercussions.

These orders provide essential protection for victims, offering a pathway to safety and empowerment. Seeking a protective order requires filing a petition with the court, supported by evidence of abuse.

Protective orders serve as a crucial tool in breaking the cycle of abuse and reclaiming control over one's life. They offer a sense of security and support for individuals facing difficult situations of domestic violence.

Definition of Domestic Violence in Tennessee

TN ST § 36-3-601(1) Domestic abuse in Tennessee occurs when someone with a specific relationship to you:

  1. Physically harms, threatens to harm, or restrains you.
  2. Deliberately damages your property.
  3. Engages in financial abuse, which involves controlling or limiting your access to money or assets, exploiting your financial resources, or exerting undue influence over your financial decisions.

 

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. Order of Protection

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.  It aims to prevent contact and can include provisions regarding residency, custody, and financial support. (Tennessee Code § 36-3-605)

2. No Contact Order for Sexual Assault Victims

This court order is designed to safeguard individuals who have experienced sexual assault. It restricts contact or communication with the offender. (Tennessee Code § 40-11-106)

3. Restraining Order for Stalking or Sexual Assault

It offers protection from stalking or sexual assault. This order prohibits contact and certain behaviors from the offender. There does not need to be a special relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant.  A person who has been stalked by a family member, household member, or current or former intimate partner might also qualify for a Domestic Violence Order of Protection. (Tennessee Code § 39-17-315):

4. Workplace Violence Restraining Order

Only an employer can ask for a workplace violence restraining order to protect an employee who has suffered stalking, serious harassment, violence, or a credible (real) threat of violence at the workplace. An employee cannot ask for this restraining order. (TN ST § 20-14-102)

5. Orders of Protection for Elderly or Vulnerable Adults

This is aimed at senior citizens (over 70) or other disabled persons. This protection order is aimed at protection them from someone who is mistreating them or exploiting them financially or an abusive caregiver. (Tenn. Code §§ 71-6-124(f)(2); 39-15-501(6), (14))

 

What if I am a minor (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 abusive

Emma has been married to David for two years. David often makes inappropriate comments about Emma's appearance and belittles her in front of others. He also controls what she wears and who she talks to. Recently, David has been pressuring Emma into intimate activities that she's not comfortable with. Emma feels trapped and scared because David doesn't listen to her and makes her feel like she has no say in their relationship.

Example 2: Partner blackmails 

Sophie's boyfriend, Jake, has been acting strange lately. Whenever Sophie tries to spend time with her friends or family, Jake threatens to reveal personal secrets about her. One day, when Sophie refuses to cancel her plans, Jake becomes furious and breaks her favorite belongings, including her laptop and keepsakes. Sophie feels terrified and helpless because Jake's actions make her feel like she can't escape his control.

Example 3: Ex-boyfriend stalks

Max recently ended his relationship with Chris because it wasn't working out. Since the breakup, Chris has been showing up uninvited to places where Max is, like their workplace, gym, and even their favorite coffee shop. Chris constantly calls and sends messages, even though Max has asked them to stop. Max feels uneasy and anxious because Chris's persistent stalking behavior is making it hard for them to move on and feel safe.

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 finding 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 Tennessee 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 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 Tennessee, if you need to apply for a Domestic Violence Protection (DVP) order, you'll typically go to the Tennessee Circuit Courts and General Sessions Court in your county.

The Circuit Courts and General Sessions Court where you can apply for Domestic Violence Protection (DVP) orders in some of the major counties in Tennessee:

  • Davidson County Circuit Court (Nashville):

Address: Davidson County Courthouse, 1 Public Square, Nashville, TN 37201

  • Shelby County Circuit Court (Memphis):

Address: Shelby County Courthouse, 140 Adams Ave, Memphis, TN 38103

  • Knox County General Sessions Court (Knoxville):

Address: Knox County Courthouse, 400 Main St, Knoxville, TN 37902

  • Hamilton County General Sessions Court (Chattanooga):

Address: Hamilton County Courthouse, 625 Georgia Ave, Chattanooga, TN 37402

  • Rutherford County Circuit Court (Murfreesboro):

Address: Rutherford County Judicial Building, 20 N Public Square, Murfreesboro, TN 37130

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 Tennessee 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 Tennessee 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 Tennessee 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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Prepare your Tennessee Family Violence Protection Order Answer a few questions to see info from your county court
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