How to File a Restraining Order in Virginia

By Patrick Gleeson, Ph. D., Registered Investment Adv ; Updated May 31, 2017
Woman's hand filling out forms with pen

A restraining order, also called a protective order, is a judicial order prohibiting someone from performing harmful conduct, such as harassment. It is used most often in family courts. In Virginia, you can obtain a restraining order application either from your county clerk's office or by downloading the form from Virginia's judicial website. Get assistance in filling out and filing the form from I-Can!, Virginia's helpful online forms completion system.

Why Filing Assistance May Be Needed

On television crime shows, a dramatic moment often involves someone getting a restraining order. The nondramatic, real-life process required to actually obtain a protective order is rarely explained, so you may understandably be left with the impression that once the aggrieved party has decided to get such an order, the heavy lifting has been done. In Virginia, the process is not always so straight forward. To begin with, there is no uniform statewide filing process; filing procedures vary from one county to another. Protective orders involving family members or juveniles are adjudicated in one court, and all other protective orders are obtained from another, and there isn't a single one-size-fits-all protection order. The state offers three different types of protection orders, each with unique protective capabilities, forms and filing procedures. Some filing requirements aren't obvious, but missteps can invalidate the application.

Three Types of Protective Orders

Virginia offers three protective orders:

  • Preliminary Protective Order (PPO): the order you file if you have not previously filed for protection against a particular party, and in your judgment there is no imminent peril. For example, a PPO prohibiting an ex-spouse from taking your child out of the country at the end of the school term. This order is good for only 15 days or until the matter can be heard in court, whichever is later.
  • Emergency Protective Order (EPO): the order you may need to file when in your judgment there is an imminent peril. For example, an EPO prohibiting an ex-spouse from entering your house without your permission. This order is good for only three days or until the matter can be heard in court, whichever is later.
  • Final Protective Order (FPO): the order issued by the court after a formal court hearing. This order can remain in force for up to two years. 

Different Courts for Different Issues

Each judicial district has filing procedures that can be unique, so it's essential to use the required procedure for your district's court. Also, within each district there are different courts for different issues. The General District Court issues protective orders that do not involve families or juveniles, and the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court is where you apply for a protective order that does involve juveniles or family members.

The I-Can! Assistance System

Fortunately, Virginia's Judiciary offers I-Can!, an online forms completion system for obtaining protective orders. Once you open up the I-Can! form from the Virginia Judicial System's website, you'll be assisted through each necessary step:

  • choosing the right protective order
  • form-filling assistance
  • choosing the right court for filing
  • details of filing procedures and filing deadlines for your court district 

About the Author

Patrick Gleeson received a doctorate in 18th century English literature at the University of Washington. He served as a professor of English at the University of Victoria and was head of freshman English at San Francisco State University. Gleeson is the director of technical publications for McClarie Group and manages an investment fund. He is a Registered Investment Advisor.