What is a Temporary Protective Order?
Frequently an issue leading up to a divorce or family law case are Temporary Protective Orders – also known as TPOs. A TPO is a legal document implemented by the court to prevent evidentiary patterns of abuse, stalking, or harassment. In the state of Georgia one may file a TPO either as a family violence protective order, Mutual Restraining Order (MRO), or a Stalking / Harassment Protective Order. Each type of order can provide protection, but each may do it in a different way and some are better options in particular situations – especially if the parties are in the family court system due to divorce or child custody.
In general the TPO will absolutely prohibit contact between the two parties and can enforce restrictions on the encroachment of residence. The TPO will make violators of the order subjected to criminal punitive repercussions and serious fines. Although a TPO is a civil court action it is serious because of the short amount of time to prepare for court, the possible limitation of rights, and the possibility of future jail time if the order is violated or if the protective order is abused and used as a legal tool for control.
How Do I File for a TPO and What is the Process?
A TPO may be issued through the superior court system in the county in which the respondent or perpetrator lives or where the abuse occurred. The clerk’s office may direct you to obtain a TPO in particular cases through a county office, sheriff’s department, or through a domestic violence agency / shelter. Once you have filed out your form and filed it with the clerk’s office you will be required to have an Ex parte (meaning the other party is not present) hearing where you are allowed to have your case heard before the judge without the perpetrator being present. The motion is then either temporarily granted or denied. No matter if the case is immediately granted or denied the case will be permitted to have a secondary hearing in which the perpetrator will be present and will be permitted to give contrary testimony.
After the Ex parte hearing the Judge will give the motion to the sheriff’s department to serve the perpetrator / respondent with his or her paperwork / court date. A court date will generally be scheduled within 7 days of the initial filing or maybe set on the next available docket /calendar. During the court case both individuals will be able to present evidence to substantiate their claims. If the petitioner does not have a substantial case then the case will be dismissed, but if the case is upheld then a more permanent order will replace the original extending the protection for 6 months to 12 months. An order may also be renewed following its expiration on the basis of another court hearing for any amount of time necessary. A TPO generally does not involve any costs to the person filing – such as a filing fee or service fee.
What are the Standards / Requirements to Obtain a TPO?
Yes, there are many standards that must be met prior to the filing of a TPO. These factors are dependent on the last known incident of violence, harassment, stalking, etc. and may also be dependent on the relationship between the parties and the specific claims made in regards to the incidents made within the pleadings. If the evidence is not strong enough to obtain a TPO then the case will be dismissed.
The following is a list of necessary terms to obtain a TPO:
• There has been a recent act of violence, stalking, or harassment – generally within the last 30 days.
• The victim must be in “reasonable fear of their safety”, must feel that they are placed in immediate physical danger, and fear for the safety of their loved ones.
• The victim must provide detailed accounts of all instances that incidents occurred including specific dates, times, and all actions that took place.
• If police reports or arrest were made regarding the event the petitioner should attach all reports to the petition.
• You must provide identifying details of the respondent and information concerning the county in which they reside.
• In your request for relief you may ask the court to enforce particular measures to resolve the situation including: how far, yards, the respondent must stay away, if the respondent should receive special classes i.e. domestic abuse or psychiatric counseling, and may ask for attorney’s fees – the judge will select all that he or she feels are appropriate.
• The respondent of the restraining order would generally share a current or previous intimate / family relationship to the petitioner i.e. boyfriend / girlfriend, spouse / ex-spouse, parents/stepparents, parents / children, stepparents / children, foster parents / foster children. In situations where cohabitation did not take place or there aren’t minor children; such as, girlfriends and boyfriends that have not lived together – a TPO will generally be denied / dismissed. In these situations, the victim should immediately seek the help of the police.
What a TPO can provide:
1) For the perpetrator / respondent to stay away or refrain from stalking or harassment.
2) Can grant either spouse possession of the current residence and to expel the perpetrating spouse.
3) Can grant for one spouse to provide alternative residence for the petitioner and or minor children.
4) Can award temporary custody of minor children and establish temporary visitation rights if appropriate.
5) May allow for the eviction of one party or permit for the petitioning party to retrieve his or her possessions from the residence – but needs to be part of court order.
6) May allow for the courts to establish marital support or child support under law – if part of court order.
7) May allow for the protection of property by either party and may allow for either party to maintain/ obtain that property from the residence.
8) May allow for attorney’s fees if appropriate.
9) May provide for the perpetrator to obtain court ordered classes; such as, AA meetings, Domestic Violence Classes, Psychiatric Counseling, Parenting Classes, etc.
Where Can a TPO Protect?
A TPO can legally protect you under (VAWA U.S. Code Section 2265) in any state either foreign or domestic including the Native American Territories. Although a TPO can protect you it is not a guarantee of safety in all situations as a TPO is only enforceable once the Police Department is aware of a violation. In order to ensure your safety be sure to have a backup plan in case of emergencies and keep a bag packed of all necessary items you may need if you need to vacate your residence and go into hiding. In the event that you feel it is necessary to go into hiding inform the courts of your situation and or the District Attorney’s Office to make them aware of the situation and the reasons for your need to hide your current location- these legal professionals may be able to offer additional protections or investigate probable violations to the court order.
What do I do if a TPO is violated?
If a TPO has been willfully violated then the perpetrator or respondent may be subjected to criminal charges and harsh fines as outlined in the granted Protective Order and under Georgia Law (O.C.G.A. 16-5-91, 16-5-95). If a TPO has been violated then it is important to notify the Sheriff’s department immediately and if there is an emergency or you feel that you are in immediate danger call 911 to report the violation. Violation of an order may be a felony offense and the perpetrator may be arrested and or prosecuted for their actions.
In Order to enforce your Protective Order You Will Need:
• A copy of your protective order- keep a copy at home, school, work, day care, automobile, relative’s home, etc.
• Maintain all evidence that demonstrates the nature of the violation – photos, caller ID, Phone records, letters, or other documented forms of contact. If you believe you are being followed by the perpetrator try to obtain a license plate or visual confirmation, call 911, and drive to the nearest police department.
• Do not allow for the perpetrator to violate the court order and do not contact the perpetrator during the TPO. If contact is necessary communicate do it via attorneys any other type of contact may invalidate the Temporary Protective Order.