What to Know About Restraining Orders ("Protective Orders") in Virginia Divorce

Virginia judges and magistrates have the authority to issue protective orders to ensure the health and safety of abuse survivors. The legal basis for the court’s authority to do this is found in the Code of Virginia, which defines certain terms that are necessary to understand when pursuing a protective order. A “protective order” is basically the same thing as a “restraining order,” but the Virginia legal system does not use the term “restraining order.”

According to Section 16.1 -279.1 of the 1950 Code of Virginia, as amended, “In cases of family abuse […] the court may issue a protective order to protect the health and safety of the petitioner and family or household members of the petitioner.”

In this case, “petitioner” refers to the person who is requesting protection from abuse (the abusive person would be known as the “respondent”). While this Section of the Virginia Code only addresses family abuse, Virginia law allows you to obtain a protective order over any person who is abusing you, family or otherwise. However, if the person you are seeking protection from is a “family or household member”, their acts of abuse against you constitute “family abuse” and therefore bring about a unique set of rules and protections.

Seeking a Restraining Order or Protective Order Against a Family or Household Member During a Virginia Divorce

The legal definition of “family” or “household member” is quite broad, including any person with whom you are currently cohabiting, as well as any person with whom you have cohabited within the last 12 months. Alternatively, if you and the abusive person are not cohabiting and have not for the previous year, they are still included as “family or household members” if they are your spouse, former spouse, or any person with a child in common with you. The same applies if the abusive person is your biological-parent/grandparent/child/sibling, your step-parent/grandparent/child or your half-sibling. In-laws, however, are only included as “family or household members” if you are currently residing in the same home as them.

What is Considered Abuse in Virginia?

According to Section 16.1-228 of the 1950 Code of Virginia, as amended “any act involving violence, force or threat that results in bodily injury or places one in reasonable apprehension of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury[…]” is considered abuse.

Three Types of Protective Orders in Virginia for Abuse Victims

Currently, there are three different types of protective orders that a family abuse survivor may obtain in Virginia – Emergency Protective Orders, Preliminary Protective Orders and “Final” Protective Orders.

  1. Emergency Protective Orders (EPO) are the quickest to receive but last the shortest amount of time. This type of protective order is often requested by law-enforcement officers on behalf of the abuse survivor very soon after some act of abuse has taken place, either upon arrest of the alleged abuser or upon the belief that further abuse will likely take place. The law-enforcement officer will then explain the situation to a judge or magistrate, who then grants the EPO, which lasts a maximum of 72 hours.

The EPO will impose one or more of the following conditions upon the abusive person:

  • Prohibiting the abuser from committing acts of family abuse or criminal offenses that result in injury to person or property
  • Prohibiting the abuser from contacting the abused person and their family/household members
  • Prohibiting the abuser from being in the physical presence of the abused person and their family/household members (if deemed necessary to protect their safety)
  • Granting the abused person possession of the home, to the exclusion of the abuser
  • Granting the abused person possession of any companion animals that they may own

Tips to Keep in Mind About EPOs:

  • You may request an emergency protective order even if you have left the home to escape danger from the person it is issued against.
  • The issuance of an emergency protective order will not be considered evidence of any wrongdoing by the person it is issued against.
  • Violations of the emergency protective order by the person it is issued against will constitute contempt of court and carry additional criminal or civil liability.
  • As the Emergency Protective Order expires after only 72 hours, it may be necessary to ask the court for a Preliminary Protective Order if protection is needed for a longer period of time.
  1. Preliminary Protective Orders (PPO) may be issued by a court in cases of family abuse as well as child abuse, to protect the health and safety of the abused. Therefore, if you are, or have been within a reasonable period of time, endangered by family abuse, the court may issue PPO for your protection. This process involves filing a petition to the court, supported by an affidavit or sworn testimony before they judge/ intake officer as to your allegations of family abuse. If the court finds that “good cause” has been shown it may then issue a PPO, which remains effective for a maximum of 15 days.

The PPO will impose one or more of the following conditions upon the abusive person:

  • Prohibiting your abuser from committing acts of family abuse or criminal offenses that result in injury to person or property
  • Prohibiting your abuser from contacting the abused person and their family/household members
  • Prohibiting your abuser from being in the physical presence of you and your family/household members (if deemed necessary to protect their safety)
  • Granting you possession of the home, to the exclusion of the abuser
  • Granting the abused person possession of any companion animals that they may own
  • Prohibiting the abuser from terminating any necessary utility services to the home
  • Granting the abused person temporary possession or use of a car owned either by you alone or jointly, to the exclusion of your abuser
  • Requiring that your abuser provide suitable alternative housing for you and your family/household members
  • Granting any other relief necessary for you and your family/household members’ protection

Tips to Keep in Mind About EPOs:

  • Once entered, the preliminary protection order will then be served, by law-enforcement, upon your abuser. After your abuser is personally served, the order becomes effective and remains effective until the date of the full hearing, which must be within 15 days of the order’s issuance.
  1. “Final” Protective Orders may be issued by the court following the full PPO hearing, where evidence is presented to support the previous allegations of family abuse. If granted, the court will issue a “Final” Protective Order which may remain effective for a maximum of 2 years.

The “Final” Protective Order will impose one or more of the following conditions upon the abusive person:

  • Prohibiting your abuser from committing acts of family abuse or criminal offenses that result in injury to person or property
  • Prohibiting your abuser from contacting the abused person and their family/household members
  • Prohibiting your abuser from being in the physical presence of you and your family/household members (if deemed necessary to protect their safety)
  • Granting you possession of the home, to the exclusion of the abuser
  • Granting the abused person possession of any companion animals that they may own
  • Prohibiting the abuser from terminating any necessary utility services to the home
  • Granting the abused person temporary possession or use of a car owned either by you alone or jointly, to the exclusion of your abuser
  • Requiring that your abuser provide suitable alternative housing for you and your family/household members
  • Ordering your abuser to participate in treatment, counseling or other programs that the court deems appropriate
  • Granting any other relief necessary for you and your family/household members’ protection
  • Granting temporary custody or visitation of any minor children
  • Issuing a temporary child support order
  • Awarding costs and attorneys’ fees

Always remember, safety first in any domestic violence situation, especially if you are divorcing or separating from someone who may have a high conflict personality, or those with traits of narcissism, borderline personality disorder, psychopathy (anti-social personality disorder). If you are divorcing a narcissistor are involved in a high conflict divorce, please consider that narcissistic injury and the resulting anger is typically very out of proportion to the trigger, and a raging narcissist is unable to consider or care about any resulting injuries or violence once “splitting” or “devaluation” occurs.

Fairfax Family Law and Divorce Lawyer: If you’re looking for an experienced Virginia family and divorce law attorney, contact Keithley Law,PLLC today by calling (703) 454-5147 and schedule an initial consultation in our Fairfax law office. Our attorneys are experienced in high conflict divorces and helping people navigate through the frustrations of divorcing a narcissist.

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