How to get a Protection Order

Find out how to get a protection order, additional domestic violence resources and victims' rights.

About

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior within an intimate relationship intended to gain power and control over the victim. This can include physical violence, sexual abuse, threats, humiliation, constant criticism or name-calling, isolating the victim from others, or limiting the victim’s access to money, transportation, or employment. Both men and women can be perpetrators and victims of domestic violence.

I am a victim of domestic violence. What resources are available to me?

If you are in immediate danger, you should call 911. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).

What is a Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVPO)?

A Domestic Violence Protective Order, often called a “DVPO” or a “50B order,” is a court order that requires a perpetrator of domestic violence to stay away from the victim. Law enforcement can arrest the perpetrator on the spot for violating the order. In North Carolina, a “permanent” DVPO can last for up to one year, but can be renewed for up to two years at a time.

What do “plaintiff” and “defendant” mean?

A plaintiff is a person who files a case in civil court, including a protective order. A defendant is a person a court case is filed against.

Is a DVPO like a criminal conviction?

A DVPO is not a criminal conviction and does not appear on the defendant’s criminal record. However, all documents filed in the case are public record. A defendant can be arrested and criminally charged for violating a DVPO.

Filing for a Domestic Violence Protective Order

Who can file for a DVPO?

Anyone living in North Carolina, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, can file for a DVPO.

What type of relationship do I need to have with the perpetrator to file for a DVPO?

You can file for a DVPO against anyone with whom you have one of the following relationships: spouse or ex-spouse; a person who currently or previously lived with you or in the same household as you; a person with whom you have a child; a person of the opposite sex with whom you have had a dating relationship; or a parent, child, grandparent, or grandchild.

What if I don’t have a qualifying relationship with the perpetrator?

If you are a victim of sexual assault or stalking and do not have a relationship qualifying for a DVPO, you can file for a no-contact order, often called a “50C order,” against the perpetrator. The process for getting a 50C order is similar to the process for getting a DVPO. The main difference between the two orders is that the police will not arrest a defendant for violating a 50C order. Instead, 50C orders can be enforced by the judge holding the defendant in contempt of court. You can get the form needed to file for a 50C order from the clerk of court in your county or online here.

What kinds of domestic violence qualify for a DVPO?

In order to get a DVPO, the plaintiff needs to show that the defendant committed an act of domestic violence as defined by North Carolina law. The law provides for a judge to give a DVPO if the defendant intentionally committed one of the following acts against the plaintiff or a child in the plaintiff’s custody:

  1. Causing or attempting to cause physical injury.
  2. Placing in fear of “imminent serious bodily injury” (for instance, by pointing a gun).
  3. Continued harassment, by committing at least two wrongful acts against the plaintiff with no legitimate purpose, and which causes “substantial emotional distress” (for instance, by calling 50 times per day, causing the victim significant fear and anxiety).
  4. Sexual assault.

How do I file for a DVPO?

Local domestic violence agencies assist victims in filing for DVPOs. You can find your local agency here. In some counties, victims can file from the agency’s offices without needing to go to court. In these counties, victims have a videoconference with a judge. In other counties, victims begin the process by visiting the clerk of court’s office at their local courthouse to ask for the DVPO paperwork.

Some counties allow magistrates to grant emergency DVPOs outside of business hours, but others only grant DVPOs on business days when the courthouse is open. Your local domestic violence agency can give you more information about your county’s process.

The clerk will give you a copy of the DVPO paperwork. You can also find the complaint form online here.

Is there any charge to file for a DVPO?

No. Clerks of court provide the DVPO paperwork free of charge, and there are no court costs.

 

Domestic Violence Court

What is the process for getting a DVPO?

First, the plaintiff (the person filing the case) fills out the DVPO paperwork and gives it to the clerk of court. A judge then holds an “ex parte hearing,” which is a short conversation between the judge and the plaintiff. The judge will ask the plaintiff what acts of domestic violence the defendant committed. If the judge finds that the defendant (the person the case was filed against) committed domestic violence, the judge will grant an “ex parte order.” This is a short-term DVPO that lasts until the next hearing. The judge will include the date for the next hearing on the order.

Next, the sheriff must “serve” the defendant, by personally delivering a copy of all court paperwork, including the complaint filled out by the plaintiff and the ex parte order. The case can move forward only after the defendant has been served.

On the hearing date, the judge will expect to see both the plaintiff and defendant in court. The judge may ask the plaintiff if he or she wants to move forward with the case, and the defendant if he or she wants to consent to the order. If the plaintiff wants the DVPO for one year and the defendant does not consent, the judge will hold a trial to decide if the DVPO should be granted. Both parties can present evidence, including witnesses and documents, about whether the defendant committed an act of domestic violence against the plaintiff.

What is the difference between civil and criminal domestic violence court?

In most counties, civil and criminal courts are separate, so there may be two court dates related to the same incident: one to determine if the defendant is criminally responsible and to decide on any consequences, such as jail time or probation, and a separate court date for the DVPO. In other counties, civil and criminal domestic violence courts are combined and the judge will decide on the criminal case and the DVPO at the same time.

What if the plaintiff doesn’t go to court on the hearing date?

The plaintiff’s request for a DVPO will usually be dismissed if the plaintiff is not in court on the hearing date. However, in some circumstances the case may be “continued,” or rescheduled for a different date.

What if the defendant hasn’t been served by the hearing date?

The judge cannot decide on the one-year DVPO until after the defendant is served. If the plaintiff wishes to move forward with the case, it will be “continued,” or rescheduled for another date, until the sheriff is able to serve the defendant.

What if the defendant doesn’t go to court on the hearing date?

Because DVPO cases are civil, not criminal, the defendant will not be arrested for failing to appear in court for a DVPO. If the defendant has been served but is not in court on the hearing date, the judge can hear the plaintiff’s case and decide whether to grant a one-year DVPO without hearing from the defendant.

I filed a DVPO but want to dismiss it. What can I do?

You can file a dismissal form in the clerk of court’s office before the hearing date, or tell the judge in court that you want to dismiss your case. The clerk of court can give you a copy of the dismissal form, or you can find it online here.

I missed court and my case was dismissed, but I still want a DVPO. What can I do?

When a plaintiff does not appear in court, the judge will usually dismiss the case for “failure to prosecute.” If this happens, you can begin the process again by filing a new case for a DVPO.

Can a defendant agree to the DVPO?

Yes. If the defendant agrees to the DVPO, both parties and the judge can sign the order without a trial. This order is binding and has the same legal effect as if the judge had held a trial. Hiring an attorney can allow parties to negotiate an order that meets their needs.

Can I get a continuance?

Each party may ask the judge for a “continuance,” or a rescheduled court date, for “good cause,” such as for the opportunity to hire an attorney or to bring evidence or witnesses to court. However, North Carolina law limits the circumstances under which a judge can give a continuance in a DVPO case, so continuances may be granted more rarely than in other types of cases. Plaintiffs and defendants should both be prepared to present their case on their court date.

Can the judge give both parties a DVPO against each other?

The judge can only do this if both parties have filed for a DVPO, and only under certain specific circumstances.

What type of evidence do I need in domestic violence court?

The testimony of the plaintiff and of the defendant is evidence. Both parties also have the right to bring additional evidence, including witnesses, pictures, documents, or recordings. You should bring all evidence and witnesses that you have to court with you. Once the hearing begins, you will not have the opportunity to stop the hearing to get additional evidence or witnesses. An attorney can discuss with you the evidence needed to prove your case.

What can a DVPO include?

DVPOs typically require that the defendant have no contact with the plaintiff and stay away from places such as the plaintiff’s home, school and workplace. DVPOs can also include specific requirements depending on the circumstances of the case. In some circumstances, judges may decide additional issues, such as who can stay in the home or use a shared car while the DVPO is in effect.

What can the judge decide about child custody in domestic violence court?

If the parties do not already have a child custody order, the judge can decide on temporary custody of the parties’ children, including joint custody or visitation. This decision can only last for up to one year, and is replaced by any child custody order given in family court.

Legal Representation

Can I represent myself in civil domestic violence court?

The process of filing for a DVPO is designed to be accessible to people representing themselves. However, court officials, such as judges and clerks of court, cannot provide you with legal advice about your rights and obligations or the likely outcome of your case based on your situation. If you represent yourself in court, you will be held to the same rules of procedure and evidence as a licensed attorney.

How do I get Legal Aid representation?

Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide nonprofit organization that represents some victims in DVPO cases. You can apply for Legal Aid representation either through your local domestic violence agency, by calling 1-866-219-5262, or by applying online.

Can I get a court-appointed attorney to represent me?

No. The court does not appoint attorneys to represent parties in civil domestic violence cases. See the Find an Attorney Help Topic for information about how to find a private attorney to represent you in your case.

Enforcement

I have a DVPO against someone else, and that person has violated the order. What can I do?

If you are in immediate danger, you should call 911. Violation of a DVPO is a crime, and you can take out charges either by calling the police or by visiting the magistrate. If there are no criminal charges for the violation, a judge can hold the defendant in contempt of court for violating a court order. To begin this process, you can file a “Motion for Order to Show Cause.” The clerk of court can provide a copy of the form, which can also be found here.

Someone else has a DVPO against me, and that person has violated the order. What can I do?

A DVPO is an order against the defendant, not the plaintiff, and so it is not generally a crime for the plaintiff to contact the defendant. However, the plaintiff may be held in contempt of court for violating a provision that applies to both parties, such as a temporary child custody order.

I have a DVPO from another state. Do I need to do anything?

Law enforcement in North Carolina can enforce out-of-state DVPOs, and registration of orders is not required. If you choose to register an out-of-state order in North Carolina, you can do so with the following form.

Renewal

How do I file to renew a DVPO?

You can file a motion to renew a DVPO in the clerk’s office in the county where the original case was decided. This motion must be filed before the DVPO expires. The clerk will provide a Motion to Renew, or you can find the form online here. A copy of the motion must be mailed to the defendant at his or her last known address, and the clerk of court will set a hearing date.

What are the requirements to renew a DVPO?

A judge must find that there is “good cause” to renew the DVPO. This does not require a new act of domestic violence. If the defendant appears in court and does not agree to the renewal, the judge will hold a hearing on whether there is good cause.

How long can a renewal last?

The judge can renew a DVPO for up to two years. There is no limit to the possible number of renewals, but a judge must find good cause each time.

Modification

There is a DVPO in my case, and I want to change it. What can I do?

You can file a motion to modify with the clerk’s office. The clerk will give you the form, or you can find it here. A copy of the motion must be mailed to the other party, and the clerk of court will set a court date for a judge to decide on the modification.

There is a DVPO in my case, and I want the judge to cancel it. What can I do?

You can file a motion to set aside with the clerk’s office. The clerk will give you the form, or you can find it here. A copy of the motion must be mailed to the other party. The clerk of court will set a court date for a judge to decide whether to grant the motion. You must present legal grounds to set aside the order, not simply the fact that you want the order set aside.