In Houston, as in other parts of the state of Texas, a protective order is different from a restraining order. A civil court issues a restraining order to address many types of situations, like repeated unwanted phone calls from a neighbor. A person that violates a restraining order faces civil penalties.
A family law court issues a protective order if a person has experienced dating or family violence. A person who violates a protective order can be arrested.
Types of Protective Orders
Temporary Ex Parte Protective Order
Final Protective Order
Magistrate's Order of Emergency Protection (MOEP)
What Order Accomplishes
Offers immediate protection from the abuser until a hearing on the final protective order in civil court.
Offers protection from the abuser after the hearing on the final protective order in civil court.
Offers protection from the abuser after the abuser has been arrested on a criminal charge and is being held in jail, until the resolution of the abuser's case in criminal court.
How Long the Order Lasts
20 days, but can be extended for additional 20-day periods.
Generally, up to two years.
Between 31 and 61 days. But if the abuser was arrested for a crime involving family violence that involved using or displaying a deadly weapon during the incident, between 61 and 91 days.
Who Issues Order
If a situation involves an emergency, the victim should call 911. If not an emergency, the person wanting to request an order should contact the Houston Police Department. When they reach out to a law enforcement officer, they can make a report about the person of concern.
The officer can suggest whether the victim should file for a restraining order or a protective order. A victim can also request help from a family law attorney, a criminal defense attorney or the Office of the District Attorney for Harris County.
A victim who visits the Office of the District Attorney should bring:
- Picture ID.
- Names and contact information of witnesses.
- Work and/or home addresses of the abuser.
- Other evidence, like letters from the abuser or medical records showing injuries.
What a Person Should Do if Served with a Protective Order
A person who is served with notice of a temporary ex parte (one side only) protective order, issued by a judge before the hearing on the final protective order, should contact a family law attorney. This is particularly true if the person has minor children with the person who filed the application for the protective order.
The person served with the notice should contact a criminal defense attorney if the applicant has accused them of family violence or domestic violence.
Required Forms for Protective Order
An applicant requests that the family law court issue a protective order by filling out the forms in a protective order kit. The kit includes:
- Application for a protective order.
- Affidavit (written statement confirmed by oath or affirmation) or declaration (written statement made under penalty of perjury and signed by the person declaring the content).
- Temporary ex parte protective order.
- Protective order.
- Respondent information.
Perjury is defined as the offense of telling a falsehood in court after taking an oath.
The respondent is the person responding to the request for the protective order, or the person restricted by the court order. After the applicant completes the forms, they should make two copies of the documents and file them at the courthouse. The court determines whether it will issue a temporary ex parte protective order before the hearing on the final protective order.
Where to File for Protective Order
An applicant for a protective order should file the forms in the county where they live, the county in which the other person lives, or any Texas county in which the violence occurred. Houston is located in Harris County.
If the applicant has a divorce or custody case pending against the other person, they should submit the forms in the county where that case is pending or in the county where they live. There is no fee to file for a protective order or to make motions in a case involving a protective order.
The court may order the abuser to pay attorney's fees, if applicable, as well as other fees, charges or expenses that the victim incurred in filing the protective order.
Search for Protective Order
A person can determine if there is a protective order issued against them or another individual by searching the Texas Online Public Information website. The person searching will need the individual’s first name, last name, birth year and county of issuance.
The website will list multiple results if the information matches more than one person with the same information.
Proof Needed for Protective Order
An applicant offers proof of abuse in the form of their statements on the application for the order. The applicant may also submit proof in the form of photos, witnesses or physical evidence such as voicemail messages or letters from the respondent. The applicant presents all proof at the hearing.
The applicant should organize materials that they present to aid the court in making a decision. For example, the applicant should list the threatening statements that the respondent made in chronological order, beginning with the most recent statement.
The applicant may attach documents to the application for the order to show the court all the materials.
Qualifying for a Protective Order
An adult or a minor can request that a protective order be issued against a partner, parent or household member who is physically hurting or threatening them. A victim of family violence, sexual assault or abuse, indecent assault, stalking or trafficking can seek a protective order.
Domestic Abuse and Family and Dating Violence
Family violence is defined as an act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault.
Alternatively, family violence can also be a threat that reasonably places the intended victim in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault. Family violence can include abuse by a member of a family or household toward a child of the family member or household, as well as dating violence.
Dating violence is violence committed against a victim or applicant for a protective order with whom the actor has been married or has had a dating relationship. A dating relationship is a relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.
What a Protective Order Does
A temporary ex parte protective order or a final protective order can both require the respondent not to:
- Hurt or threaten the applicant.
- Have a gun or a license to carry a gun.
- Contact or go near the applicant, their children, other family relatives, the applicant’s pets, the applicant’s home, the applicant’s place of work, and the applicant’s children’s schools.
A law enforcement officer can arrest a respondent for violating any of these orders. If the applicant and the respondent share real or personal property, the judge who hears the case can determine which party can access the couple’s dwelling and vehicles.
The judge can also issue orders regarding the protection of pets, child custody, child support, visitation and spousal support. This is true even if there is an existing child custody or divorce case filed prior to the protective order that is in conflict with the judge’s orders.
- Texas Department of Criminal Justice: Victim Services Division, Protective Order
- Houston Police Department: Family Violence Unit, Protective Orders
- Office of District Attorney for Harris County, Texas: Domestic Violence Division
- Texas Courts: Protective Order Kit
- Texas Courts: Search for Protective Orders
- Texas Family Code: Title 4 Protective Orders and Family Violence, Chapter 71 Definitions
- Texas Family Code: Title 4 Protective Orders and Family Violence, Chapter 81 General Provisions
- Texas Family Code: Title 4 Protective Orders and Family Violence, Chapter 83 Temporary Ex Parte Orders
- Texas Family Code: Title 4 Protective Orders and Family Violence, Chapter 85 Issuance of Protective Order
- Texas Code of Criminal Procedure: Title 1, Code of Criminal Procedure, Chapter 17, Bail
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.