In the state of Missouri, a person who believes that they are the victim of harassment, stalking or domestic violence can obtain a restraining order from their local county circuit court. A restraining order makes it a crime for an abuser to continue their abusive behavior toward a person or persons covered by the order.
If there is an immediate danger, the court can issue an "ex parte" or temporary order to protect the alleged victim while it schedules a hearing that allows each party to give their side of the story. If the victim can prove good cause for their request, the court will issue a full protection order.
Domestic Violence in Missouri
A Missouri resident who is a victim of domestic violence can file an order of protection against a family member or another person who commits the following:
- Assault by attempting to place or placing a person in fear of physical harm.
- Battery by purposely causing physical harm to someone.
- Coercion by using the threat of force or actual force to make another act or stop them from acting.
- Harassment by committing acts that cause an individual or their child emotional distress or alarm, such as following them to a public place or lingering outside their home.
- Sexual assault by attempting to cause or causing a person to involuntarily take part in sexual acts by the threat of force or actual force while under duress or without consent.
- Unlawfully imprisoning someone by holding, confining, detaining or abducting them against their will.
- Causing or threatening abuse to an animal with the intent to punish, intimidate or control another person or persons.
Stalking is another form of domestic violence. It occurs when an individual causes another alarm through an act that serves no legitimate purpose. The act must occur at least twice and can include communicating, following, monitoring, threatening, observing or surveilling someone indirectly, directly or through a third party. Stalking can be done with a technological device such as a GPS tracker.
Ex Parte Orders of Protection
"Ex parte" is a Latin term translated as "from one side." A court will grant an individual an ex parte order if they can prove good cause, meaning they can convince the court they are under present and immediate danger. A court grants a person this order solely through their petition and testimony and without the abuser's knowledge or presence in the courtroom.
An ex parte court order is temporary and valid until the victim's court hearing for a full protection order (also known as a restraining order). This court hearing typically occurs within 15 days. A victim who is not granted an ex parte order will likely receive a Notice of Hearing. This does not give them immediate protection, but will get them a hearing for a full restraining order.
Full Order of Protection
A judge issues a full protection order after a court hearing, allowing the alleged victim and abuser to each tell their side of the story. If the court grants a victim's request for a full protection order, it can last from 180 days to a year. Some orders can last between two and 10 years if the court finds an abuser is a serious danger to the victim or their children.
The court decides on the restraining order's length after considering:
- Weight of the evidence.
- Abuser's history of assault, physical harm or bodily injury.
- Abuser's stalking history and history of causing fear of assault, physical harm or bodily injury on a victim or their child.
- Abuser's criminal record, particularly if they have been found guilty of a dangerous felony.
- If the abuser has any prior restraining orders against them.
- If the abuser violated parole or probation.
- If the abuser violated a previous ex parte or full restraining order.
Order of Protection Eligibility
Individuals qualify for a protection order if their abuser commits domestic violence, as Missouri law defines it, and the abuser is a family member or someone they live with, for example:
- Spouse or ex-spouse.
- Person related to the victim by blood or marriage.
- Someone the victim dated or is dating.
- Someone with whom the victim has a child.
If the abuser does not fall into one of these categories, the victim may get a protection order for stalking or sexual assault; in that case, they can be in any type of relationship with the abuser. A Missouri court can issue a protection order even if a victim was in the state temporarily and during that time, domestic violence was attempted, occurred or threatened.
Where Can a Victim Get a Protection Order?
Victims of domestic abuse can get restraining orders in their county of residence, in the county where the abuse took place, or in any county where the court can serve the defendant with the order. If additional violence occurred outside of Missouri, the victim can include these incidents in the court hearing to prove their need for the order.
There are no filing fees for domestic violence protection orders in Missouri. However, the court may order the abuser to pay court costs or the victim's attorney's fees. Local sexual assault or domestic violence programs and county clerks' offices can help victims file protection orders.
Court Forms for Filing Protection Orders in Missouri
Circuit courts in the victim's county of residence, in the county where the abuse took place, or in any county where the court can serve the defendant with the order have forms for the victim to fill out. They can find court locations and forms that fit their needs online.
When filling out the petition for an order of protection, applicants should explain the violent incidents in detail and include information about the abuser. This can include their photo, work and residence addresses, and history of gun ownership or drugs.
Help for Victims of Domestic Violence
Victims can seek help through domestic violence organizations in the state to fill out the form. If the abuser doesn't know where the victim lives, they can ask the court to keep their address private.
Missouri courts do not require applicants to put their Social Security number on forms that an abuser will see. Court personnel or a notary public must be present when the alleged victim signs the petition, and they may also need to show photo ID.
Petition Review by the Court
After the victim files for a restraining order, a court clerk will forward the form to a judge, who may ask the victim questions when reviewing the restraining order petition. Based on what the victim stated, the court may grant them an ex parte order.
Even if they don't get immediate protection, they will nevertheless receive a notice of hearing, stating the date and time when they must go back to the court for a restraining order hearing. The applicant must go to the hearing to get a full restraining order. If they do not appear, the court can dismiss the case.
Serving the Restraining Order
The abuser, or respondent, will receive a copy of the notice of hearing and the ex parte order if the person filing received one. Law enforcement officials, such as a sheriff or police officer, will serve the respondent at least three days before the hearing.
The victim cannot serve the abuser themselves, but they can receive notice that the abuser was served through law enforcement. Within 24 hours of the notice issuance, law enforcement will enter protection orders into the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System (MULES).
Restraining Order Hearing
At the hearing, both the alleged victim and the abuser will tell their stories with witnesses and evidence if they have them. The victim must prove that the abuser has committed the domestic violence they have alleged in the petition.
The court then decides if it will grant the victim the order. If the abuser does not show up for the hearing, the judge may give the victim the protection order or set a new hearing date. The victim may want to consult with a lawyer for the hearing, particularly if they believe the abuser or respondent will have one.
After the Court Date
If the court grants a person a restraining order, they should check it over before leaving the courthouse – if there is an error, they can ask for a correction before they leave. The victim should make multiple copies of the order as soon as possible and keep one with them at all times.
Copies should be located at their place of work, their home, at their children's daycare or school, and with anyone who is named in or protected by the order. Those protected by the order may wish to change their locks or phone numbers.
Penalties for Violating a Protection Order
A protection order is enforceable throughout Missouri. If an abuser violates an order, the victim should call 911 to report that the order is in effect and if they are in danger, or if domestic abuse has occurred. If law enforcement has probable cause to believe that a respondent has abused the person protected under the order, they must arrest the respondent immediately even if they didn't witness any abuse.
A person who violates a restraining order in Missouri faces a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $2,000 and a year in jail. If the abuser has violated a restraining order in the past five years, the new violation becomes a Class E felony with four years in prison and a fine of $10,000. The court can also charge the abuser with contempt of court, which carries its own penalties of jail and fines.
Enforcing Out-of-State Orders in Missouri
Missouri officials can enforce a protection order from out-of-state as long as:
- The order was issued to prevent threats, violence, harassment, sexual violence or to prevent another person from coming near the victim or contacting them.
- The out-of-state court issuing the restraining order had jurisdiction over the case or the authority to hear it.
- The abuser received notice of the order and had the opportunity to tell their side of the story in front of the court.
If an out-of-state court issued an ex parte temporary or emergency order, the abuser must receive notice of the order and have an opportunity to tell their side of the story at a scheduled hearing before the temporary order expires.
- Contact police every time the abuser violates the order. You should also alert neighbors, co-workers and family members to be on the lookout for the abuser.
- On some days, you may find that the circuit court is closed for business. In an emergency, you can visit any other city or county court to request an ex parte order of protection.
- The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence may also offer information and support for abuse victims (see Resources). This nonprofit organization can also sometimes refer victims to a local domestic violence shelter for protection against an abuser. Victims may contact the organization at 573-634-4161.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.