Domestic Violence

Seeking justice for victims is part of the core mission of the Office of the Attorney General. 

Domestic violence includes physical injury, sexual abuse, assault, or threats to physically injury, sexually abuse or assault. Each victim of domestic violence has legal options and may request the court to issue a protective order which can limit or stop all contact with an abusive individual.

The respondent or abuser can be a spouse, ex-spouse, parent, child, stepchild, grandparent, grandchild, brother, sister, son/daughter-in-law, spouse's parent, spouse's grandparent, spouse’s brother, spouse's sister, members of an unmarried couple (and children of this couple), or individuals formerly or currently living together.

How do I file a petition?

A petition is filed in the circuit clerk's office in your county of residence, or current residence if you have fled domestic violence. You may file for your protection or the protection of your children. If you are younger than 18 years of age and not married, an adult family member may file the petition for you.

In the petition, you should describe the most recent act(s) of abuse and/or threatening behavior. Be certain to note any instances in which a weapon or dangerous instrument were used or threatened.

Additionally, you should provide accurate home and work addresses of the respondent, so the order may be served.

What types of protection are available?

If you believe you are in immediate and present physical danger of injury or assault, you may request an Emergency Protective Order (EPO). An EPO, which is effective until a hearing is held, may require the respondent to:

  • Have no contact or communication with the petitioner
  • Stop the abuse
  • Leave the residence you share
  • Award petitioner temporary custody of the children
  • Keep from disposing of or damaging property
  • Any other orders

If you are not in immediate danger, but protection is needed, the court may issue a summons for both people to appear in court for a full hearing within 14 days.

To determine if a summons or EPO has been served, you may call the circuit clerk or the agency assigned service.

You must be present at the court hearing. Be certain to know the time, date and place. Keep a copy of the order and instructions with you at all times.

During a full hearing you should be prepared to:

  • Describe abuse and threats (note use of weapons or dangerous instruments)
  • Provide photos, medical and police records, if available
  • Identify safety needs for you and your children, and
  • Describe what protection and/or other needs you require (i.e. child support, treatment for respondent, etc.)

A Domestic Violence Order (DVO) may be issued during a full hearing. A DVO is effective as long as ordered by the judge, but no longer than three years. The conditions of a DVO vary and may include:

  • No contact or communication with the petitioner
  • Dismissal of the case
  • Stop abuse and threats
  • Do not dispose or damage any property
  • Respondent must leave the residence you share
  • Temporary custody of children
  • Temporary child support
  • Required counseling for respondent, you, or both
  • Other relief

What if a violation of an order occurs?

If a violation of an EPO or DVO occurs, immediately inform law enforcement and the circuit clerk. Violation of a protective order may be classified as a Class A misdemeanor or contempt of court and the respondent can be arrested.

What if my needs for protection changes?

If there is any reason to change a protective order, you must first return to the circuit clerk's office and file a Motion for Amendment. Failure to do so may result in a penalty against you.

What are my options?

You may be able to file a criminal complaint against the respondent for abusive or threatening behavior. The circuit clerk can tell you how and where to file the criminal complaint. The county attorney can advise you as to your legal rights in a criminal action. A copy of the protective petition will be forwarded to the local Department for Social Services. You should expect a social worker to contact you to offer assistance to you and your family.​