Virginia judges can issue protective orders in order to protect victims of domestic violence and other forms of abuse. These orders are court mandates which limit the contact between individuals for set periods of time. Generally speaking, protective orders provide an extra legal buffer for victims by harshly penalizing those who break the terms of the order.
For this reason, breaking the terms of a protective order is an incredibly serious offense, punishable with fines and extensive jail time.
In this article, we’ll go over the process of obtaining and enforcing a protective order. Our main focus will be on understanding the extent of your legal protection under a protective order.
For a comprehensive overview of protective orders, make sure you check out our ultimate guide to protective orders in Virginia. If you feel you’ve been unfairly served with a protective order, check out our guide to fighting protective orders in Virginia.
What Acts Do Protective Orders Prohibit?
In Virginia, there are three types of protective orders. Each one offers progressively stronger protections against acts of harassment, violence, and other forms of contact. Similarly, each type of order can mandate that the respondent follow different lists of rules.
As you read, remember that the actual contents of each protective order can vary based on the judge’s discretion. What we list below are the general terms you should expect to see, however judges can add or subtract terms based on the specifics of your case.
Emergency Protective Orders
Any judge or magistrate may issue an emergency protective order when they have sufficient evidence of abuse. Such evidence may include the statement of a law enforcement officer or by a complainant under oath.
“Abuse” whether at the hands of family or non-family, refers to acts of physical violence, sexual abuse, stalking, or any act which puts the complainant in reasonable apprehension of bodily injury. It also includes “forceful detention,” such as locking someone in a room against their will, and stalking.
An emergency protective order lasts for three days, or until the next session of court, and generally prohibits the following:
- Contact with the complainant and their family.
- Acts of violence against the complainant, their family, and their property.
In addition, an emergency protective order can force the respondent to vacate any property they share with the victim.
Preliminary Protective Orders
For less serious cases, an officer may not recommend that you request an emergency protective order. However, you may still want to petition the court for an order that can help you protect yourself in the future.
In this case, you’ll want to file a protective order petition with the court. Essentially, if an emergency protective order is a reaction to a crime, then filing a protective order petition is a proactive step you can take to deter any future contact with an individual.
However, this “full” protective order won’t go into effect until the end of your protective order hearing. Since hearings are generally scheduled several weeks down the line, what do you do until then?
This is where a preliminary protective order comes in.
While you wait for your hearing, you may file for a preliminary protective order to prevent contact from the respondent. These orders generally last for up to 15 days, or until you have your final protective order hearing. You may do so for no charge at your local General District Court.
A preliminary protective order prohibits the same acts as an emergency protective order. In addition, it can also:
- Require that the respondent provide housing and financial support to the victim.
- Grant the victim temporary ownership of shared vehicles or other property.
Permanent Protective Order
After your protective order hearing, a judge will determine whether or not to grant you a “permanent” protective order. This order can last for up to two years, at which point you may petition to have it renewed. There is no limit to the number of times you can renew this order.
A permanent protective order has all the powers of an emergency or preliminary protective order. Additionally, it can:
- Grant custody of children to the victim for the duration of the order. In most cases, this will include a provision requiring the respondent to provide ongoing child support.
- Require the respondent to pay the victim’s court fees.
- Require the respondent to attend counseling or other treatment programs.
- As of 2016, any individual with a permanent protective order against them is forbidden from owning firearms.
What Happens After a Protective Order is Violated?
Now that you understand the basics of how protective orders operate, we can move on to what happens when someone violates their terms.
The state of Virginia treats violating a protective order as a serious criminal offense. Since the whole point of protective orders is to legally limit the contact between individuals, the penalties for breaking an order are rather harsh.
Penalties Outlined in the Virginia Code
Under the Virginia Code, even a single protective order violation counts as a Class 1 misdemeanor. Further, subsequent violations can carry several other mandatory punishments, such as jail time.
Additionally, the punishments for a protective order violation can also scale based on two extra factors. First, by the number of prior offenses committed within the last 5-20 years. Second, by whether or not any of the offenses were violent in nature.
In this way, the penalties for violating a protective order in Virginia go as follows:
- As stated, the first violation of a protective order is a Class 1 misdemeanor. In Virginia, this means the offender faces a fine of up to $2,500 and up to a year of jail time.
- For a second violation within 5 years, and if either the first or second offense was based on an act or threat of violence, the punishment will also include a mandatory minimum prison sentence of at least 60 days.
- For a third or subsequent offense within 20 years, and if any of the offenses were based on an act or threat of violence, the court will bump up the punishment to a Class 6 felony. In this case, the respondent will have to serve between 1 and 5 years in jail or receive a $2,500 fine and face up to 12 months in jail. The punishment will also include a mandatory minimum sentence of 6 months in jail.
In addition to the penalties outlined above, there are a few other additional things to look out for.
First, protective order violations frequently involve other crimes, such as trespassing and assault. Each of these additional crimes can rack up additional penalties which may double or triple the effective sentence.
Second, certain types of protective order violations are themselves felonies. In addition to violating a protective order 3 or more times in 20 years, certain acts automatically turn the protective order violation into a Class 6 felony charge.
These acts include instances of:
- Assault and battery upon the individual protected by the order.
- Stalking the individual protected by the order.
- “Furtively entering” the home of an individual protected by the order (essentially breaking and entering).
- Possessing a firearm at any point after being served a permanent protective order.
Finally, you should note that if a court convicts the respondent of violating a protective order, they can also issue a new protective order for a period of up to two years from the date of the conviction.
How Can I Prove a Protective Order Violation?
Violating a protective order is a criminal offense, not a civil matter. For this reason, it’s up to the state to decide whether or not to charge the respondent with a violation. However, the state will almost always make your testimony and evidence part of their case.
For this reason, you should still document the violation as clearly as possible. If you can take pictures or video of the respondent violating the order without endangering yourself, you should do so.
Otherwise, make sure you photograph any damage to yourself or your property. If you required medical attention, explain the situation to the hospital staff and request that they document the full extent of your injuries.
Finally, make sure you call the police immediately after witnessing an act that violates a protective order. While you should not make frivolous reports to the police, you should not hesitate to report ANY behavior that makes you feel intimidated or endangered. This is true even if you aren’t sure whether the act you are witnessing violates the protective order.
Doing so will help create a paper trail that will make your life much easier down the line. In some cases, the responding officers may even assist you in filing for a protective order.
Protective orders are the strongest form of legal protection Virginia has against repeated harassment and abuse. You can obtain a protective order through a variety of ways, and generally don’t need the assistance of an attorney. However, it’s still recommended that you speak with a lawyer before filing.
An experienced family law attorney can help suggest ways to strengthen your case, making it much more likely for the court to rule in your favor. Further, they can offer practical advice for navigating through this difficult situation.