How do I Get a Protection from Abuse (PFA) Order in Alabama?
Protection from abuse order is a kind of restraining order in Alabama for domestic situations. It is governed by the state's circuit 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 Alabama Code, they can apply for one through the Superior 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 Abuse in Alabama
AL Code § 13A-6-130 (2022) “Domestic abuse” is abuse perpetrated against any of the following persons:
- A spouse or former spouse.
- A cohabitant or former cohabitant, as defined in Section 30-5-2(a)(1)
- A person with whom the respondent is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship
- A person with whom the respondent has had a child, where the presumption applies that the male parent is the father of the child of the female parent under the Alabama Code.
- A child of a party or a child who is the subject of an action under the Alabama Code, where the presumption applies that the male parent is the father of the child to be protected.
- Any other person related by consanguinity or affinity within the second degree.
Comparison with Criminal Case
If you're a victim of domestic violence in Alabama, there are several legal actions you can take to protect yourself and seek justice. Here are the options simplified with legal codes and sections:
- File for a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order:
You can file for a PFA order, also known as a restraining order, to legally require the abuser to stay away from you. The legal language in the Alabama Code regarding Protection From Abuse (PFA) orders is "In Title 30, Chapter 5, Article 7A of the Alabama Code, the provisions for 'Protection Orders' or 'Protective Orders' detail the procedures and requirements for obtaining relief against domestic abuse. This includes the formulation of specific terms and conditions aimed at protecting victims and any affected children. The language used in these orders is formal and precise, outlining measures to restrain the abuser from contacting or approaching the victim, temporary custody arrangements, and consequences for violations of the order."
- File Criminal Charges:
You can report the abuse to law enforcement and file criminal charges against the abuser.
Legal Code: Various criminal statutes may apply, depending on the nature of the abuse, such as assault, battery, sexual assault, stalking, or harassment.
- Request Civil Remedies:
You can seek civil remedies, such as monetary damages for medical expenses or emotional distress caused by the abuse.
Legal Code: Alabama Code Section 6-5-70 et seq. (for civil actions).
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 Protection from Abuse Order (PFA Order)?
Here's a summary of the different types of PFA orders. There are a few different types of PFA 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 PFA order applies to your situation or is remotely related as that might help you decide whether to apply.
The types are:
Domestic Violence is for situations involving domestic violence which is when a victim has been abused by a romantic partner (spouse, domestic partner, girlfriend/boyfriend) or a family member. For a complete overview of what is domestic violence please review: What is the legal definition of Domestic Violence in Alabama?
Civil harassment applies to situations involving repeated irritating behavior, stalking, abuse, or threatened by someone you are not as close to as is required under domestic violence cases, like a roommate, a neighbor, or more distant family members like cousins, aunts or uncles, or nieces or nephews.
Elder Abuse: A senior citizen (or an adult who cannot function independently) is being abused by a caretaker, neighbor or child .
Gun Violence: Typically, a police officer or sheriff who thinks someone might hurt themselves or someone else with a gun. This can stop that person from buying or owning a gun. It can't order them to stay away from someone.
Workplace Violence: An employer usually requests these to protect their employee(s) from a person who has stalked, harassed, been violent or threatened violence at the workplace.
School Violence involves violence, or threat of, against one or more students of a private postsecondary (after high school) school. This type of PFA order may only be granted if the threat of violence is for an act that would likely take place on the school's campus, and is requested by school official.
What if I am Under 18 years of Age?
Even if you're under 18, you can seek a PFA order through the court to keep the abuser away from you. The court may appoint a guardian or allow you to represent yourself, depending on the circumstances.
You can report the abuse to the police or child protective services. Law enforcement and social services can investigate and take action to ensure your safety.
Reach out to domestic violence shelters, hotlines, or organizations that specialize in helping young victims of abuse. These organizations can offer counseling, shelter, and other resources tailored to your needs.
This ensures your voice is heard and your interests are protected throughout the legal process.
Your privacy and confidentiality will be respected throughout legal proceedings.
Courts and agencies handling your case will take measures to ensure your safety and well-being.
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 from abuse (PFA) order helpful?
The purpose of a PFA 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 PFA 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 PFA order may prohibit the respondent from
- Approaching or contacting the petitioner including via text or social media
- Staying away from the usual places petitioner is at such as home, work or school
- Prohibit stalking, or surveillance of any kind
- In situations where they lived together, provide custody or access to
- Important documents
- Personal items such as clothes, medications, cell phones
- Extending the protections to others living with the petitioner
Research findings on benefits of restraining orders
Here's the top three findings from a study on domestic violence and PFA orders from the University of New Hampshire
Civil protective orders (such as a PFA Order) 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.
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 restraining orders hold greater importance.
Process for getting a restraining 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 restraining 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 PFA order, you need to fill and submit a specific set of official Alabama court forms. These have questions aimed at understanding your situation and the people involved.
The complete set of documents is at the Alabama Courts website. While these forms are used in most courts, certain courts use modified versions of these forms, and it’s 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 restraining orders paperwork online.
Nothing happens until you file the forms. So its 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 Alabama, each county has its own court system.To identify the court in a specific county in Alabama, you would need to know the name of the county and then inquire about the Circuit Court (or other relevant courts) within that county. For example:
- In Jefferson County, the primary trial court would be the Jefferson County Circuit Court.
- In Madison County, it would be the Madison County Circuit Court.
- In Mobile County, it would be the Mobile County Circuit Court.
Each county's Circuit Court typically handles legal matters for that particular county.
Please consult a lawyer if your situation is uncommon e.g. the abuser is overseas or you are overseas and the abuser is in Alabama.
In Alabama, the trial courts are typically referred to as Circuit Courts rather than Superior Courts. Each county has its own Circuit Court. Here are some examples of locations of Circuit Courts in different counties of Alabama:
- Jefferson County Circuit Court:
Address: 716 Richard Arrington Jr Blvd N, Birmingham, AL 35203
- Mobile County Circuit Court:
Address: Mobile Government Plaza, 205 Government St, Mobile, AL 36602
- Montgomery County Circuit Court:
Address: Montgomery County Courthouse, 251 S Lawrence St, Montgomery, AL 36104
- Madison County Circuit Court:
Address: Madison County Courthouse, 100 North Side Square, Huntsville, AL 35801
- Shelby County Circuit Court:
Address: Shelby County Courthouse, 112 N Main St, Columbiana, AL 35051
- Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court:
Address: Tuscaloosa County Courthouse, 714 Greensboro Ave, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401
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.
The stamp may look something like this:
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 PFA order with immediate effect until the hearing, called an Emergency 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 about10 days 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 Alabama legal system system, whenever one party initiates a restraining 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 Alabama 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 in Alabama, prison staff, not the sheriff, will serve your papers. Follow the instructions by the Alabama 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.
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 restraining order is issued. At this point it becomes a crime for the abuser to break the conditions of the restraining 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.
There are no costs associated with a Protection from Abuse 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
You can get a temporary protection order the same day as you file. And at the hearing, a formal order may be issued.
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.
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 Protection from Abuse Order (PFA Order) 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 PFA Order, abusers may retaliate through various means, such as:
- Physical assault or violence
- Harming or taking away children
- Damaging jointly owned property
- Disregarding the order and persisting with threats, possibly through intermediaries
- Inflicting harm or causing harm to pets
- Harassing your loved ones for information
- Engaging in stalking behavior
- Initiating a retaliatory restraining order against you
- Spreading false information about you in court documents, online, or publicly
Following the submission of a Protection from Abuse order, it's important to continuously assess your situation and prepare for the potential escalation of your case into more violent territory.