"Domestic violence is not rare. It occurs at all levels of the American society, and all classes of community, regardless of social, economic, or cultural backgrounds."
Judge Bill Swann, Fourth Circuit Court, Sixth Judicial District of Tennessee (Knox County)
Orders of Protection: Your Day in Court
Judge Bill Swann
Wednesday 2:00 p.m.
Sunday 10:00 p.m.
The Community Coalition on Family Violence is a Knoxville, Tennessee-based nonprofit group that works to prevent family violence in Knoxville and its surrounding counties.
Domestic Violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors used by one individual, to exert power and control over another person, usually in an intimate relationship. It can be physical, sexual, or psychological. The primary purpose is to control, to dominate, or to hurt another within the relationship. Domestic Violence may occur between a male abuser and a female victim; a female abuser and a male victim; two women; or two men. The Domestic Violence statute also extends protection to the elderly and to children.
ABUSE under our statute in Tennessee is:
- Threats of violence
- Malicious destruction of property
- Holding against the will
- Placing in fear
- Sexual assault
What is an Order of Protection?
It is a piece of paper. It does not stop a bullet or a knife. But it is a powerful document containing judicial commands and prohibitions. Most importantly, it tells a defendant not to abuse a plaintiff--not to use violence, or threaten it against the plaintiff, not to damage the plaintiff's things or pets, not to hold the plaintiff somewhere and keep her/him from leaving, and not to frighten the plaintiff. It also prohibits stalking and sexual assault. If the defendant violates your order of protection, he/she goes to jail.
It may also prohibit any contact from the defendant to the plaintiff. It is a one-way document--not mutual. It restricts the defendant, not the plantiff.
If there is a marriage, or if there is an order of paternity or legitimization for a child between the parties, the order of protection may also provide support for the plaintiff and/or child. There are other kinds of relief available in other circumstances as well.
Who can get an Order of Protection?
Anyone can get an order of protection. But it is only available for you against a person:
- To whom you are currently or formerly related by blood or marriage, or
- With whom you have resided, or
- With whom you have had an intimate sexual relationship, or
- Whom you have dated, or
- With whom you have a child, born or unborn, or
- Who has stalked you, or
- Who has sexually assaulted you
Two neighbors cannot obtain an order of protection, unless stalking or sexual assault is involved.
Also, the defendant (the person against whom the order is taken) must always be an adult (eighteen years old, or if younger, emancipated).
Under certain circumstances, a child may obtain an order of protection against an adult, if the adult falls in one of the seven categories set out above. Normally, however, matters of child abuse should be taken to the Knox County Juvenile Court (865) 215-6400.
Most orders of protection are between women and men. However, many orders of protection are between people of the same sex.
Finally, elder abuse is emerging as a growing category of litigation. Elderly persons experiencing abuse from younger persons may use Tennessee's order of protection statute.
Do I Need an Order of Protection?
Tough question. It's tough to answer because people are so different. If you are really in danger, or believe you are, an order of protection may help. On the other hand, if you are not in danger and--this is very important--if there has NOT been a pattern of recurring violence, then you may want to consider other options. Discussion of the other options with social service agencies may lead to solutions more effective than litigation.
How do I Apply for an Order of Protection?
The defendant must be a Knox County resident, or the abuse must have occurred in Knox County. You must give to the Family Justice Center the following information:
- Full names of the parties and dates of birth
- Full names and ages of children if any
- Petitioner's and Respondent's relationship to each other
- Mailing addresses
- Telephone numbers
- A mailing address for you (not necessarily your location- -that may remain confidential)
- All physical locations where the defendant may be served with process
- Circumstances which prompted the filing
- Lawsuits the parties may have together now
- Description of defendant, defendant's place of employment, and defendant's vehicle
If the defendant violates your Order of Protection, go back to Family Justice Center and ask for a "contempt petition." Write down what happened in plain terms. It is very important to bring any and all violations back to court for a contempt hearing as soon as they occur, because it is only through dependable, predictable consequences that new behavior can be taught.
What is the Cost of the Order of Protection?
There is no fee for beginning an order of protection. But at the end of the case, court costs will be taxed against someone. Who is it who will end up paying the accumulated court costs?
If the petitioner (plaintiff) obtains an order of protection, the court costs must by state law be taxed against the respondent (defendant). If the order of protection is not granted, then court costs go to the petitioner.
The petitioner may be taxed with the costs if the case is dismissed by the court because of lack of service of process, or failure of the petitioner to appear at the hearing.
It is necessary that good addresses be provided for the respondent. If a home or work address for the respondent is not known, the probability of service is not good. Service of process is necessary in order to proceed in court.
Fees charged by the Fourth Circuit Court are set by the state legislature and are standard in every case. Fourth Circuit Court will accept partial payments, provided these payments are made regularly each month.