In the state of Tennessee, as in every state, there are people who threaten to hit or hurt others. The purpose of restraining orders, also called orders of protection, is to put the brakes on this kind of activity.
Tennessee courts issue these orders on the request of someone who has been stalked, sexually assaulted or subjected to domestic abuse. The laws on protection orders are found at Tennessee Codes 36-2-602.
The person against whom the order is requested, the respondent, can contest the charges. If the order is granted, they can seek dismissal in court of an existing order of protection. The victim can also request dismissal of an existing order, which is not always granted, even if the victim requests it.
Orders of Protection Overview
An order of protection/restraining order is a court order prohibiting one person from engaging in harmful or illegal conduct against another. In Tennessee, it is often used in family courts to protect against domestic abuse when a spouse and/or young children are being harassed, physically abused or injured in any way by the respondent.
An order of protection can command the respondent to limit or avoid all contact with the person at risk. It can even require the respondent to keep a specified distance away from the victim's residence, workplace, or their children's school.
What Is a Protection Order?
A protection order is a court order granted by a judge that orders one person to stop harming or harassing another. If they ignore this order, they face serious legal consequences. Protection orders are created by state laws, which vary among jurisdictions.
In Tennessee, the law offers civil legal protection for victims of:
- Domestic abuse committed by a family or household member.
- Sexual assault committed by anyone.
- Stalking committed by anyone.
Anyone who is a victim of one of these behaviors is eligible to ask the court for a protection order. Court forms are available online or from the court clerk. A victim can also be eligible for protection if they have been threatened with, or placed in fear of, these actions, of sexual exploitation of a minor, or of human trafficking.
Other, less common types of protection orders in Tennessee include those for elderly or vulnerable persons and workplace restraining orders.
Order of Protection or Criminal Statute?
Society would like to prevent many different kinds of illegal actions, ranging from driving under the influence to shoplifting. But Tennessee courts will not issue restraining orders for all types of bad behavior.
Most activities are listed as crimes under the state's criminal statutes, are punishable by fine and/or jail time, apply to all persons, and serve as a deterrent to members of the general public.
A protection order/restraining order is different; it orders a particular person to stop taking certain defined actions against a particular person. This order is served on the person whose behavior is at issue, lists the name of the victim and the specific actions prohibited.
Threatening or Abusive Behavior
An order of protection in Tennessee is reserved for extremely abusive behavior. Generally, courts issue protective orders when someone is being physically hurt, harassed or threatened. "Hurt" in this context is defined broadly to include being slapped, punched, kicked, beaten, knocked over, shoved, ambushed, assaulted, battered or harassed.
"Threatened" in this context means acting in a way that makes a victim fear that one of these types of injury might occur at the hands of the respondent.
Tennessee courts issue orders of protection if that fear is reasonable, defined as when a reasonable person in the same circumstances would be afraid that one of these types of abuse is quite likely to happen soon to them or to someone in their family.
Warning to the Respondent
In Tennessee, a respondent who violates an order of protection can be picked up by the police and arrested. This arrest can be simply for violating the order itself or it can include the charge of committing the underlying crime, as well. Such persons may be jailed pending trial.
In this sense, a Tennessee order of protection is a sort of legal threat. The court that issues a restraining order is informing the abuser that the court is aware of the bad behavior toward the victim. It is warning them that they had better stop the behavior immediately, or the police will be involved, an arrest made and charges filed.
Domestic Violence Protection Order in Tennessee
The most common type of protection order issued in Tennessee is a domestic abuse order. How is domestic abuse defined for purposes of getting a protection order? Domestic abuse is when a person in a close personal or familial relationship with another, termed the victim, commits acts such as:
- Physically hurts the victim, tries to physically hurt them or puts them in fear of physical harm.
- Threatens another with serious physical harm.
- Physically restrains another person, confines their movements, locks them in a room or imprisons them in any way.
- Deliberately destroys or damages the victim's property.
- Injures, attempts to injure, or threatens an animal belonging to, or cared for by, the victim or their child.
Relationship Required for Domestic Abuse Order
In order to be eligible for a domestic abuse protection order in Tennessee, the victim must be in a familial or intimate relationship with the respondent. The type of relationship includes:
- Victim's spouse or ex-spouse.
- Person living with the victim or someone who used to live with them.
- Someone the victim is dating or used to date.
- Anyone the victim is in a sexual relationship with, or used to have a sexual relationship with.
- Same-sex partner the victim has lived with, dated or had a sexual relationship with.
- Anyone the victim is related to by blood or adoption.
- Anyone the victim is related to by marriage or used to be related to by marriage.
A child of a domestic abuse victim can also qualify to file for a domestic abuse protection order. This applies both to adult and minor children, whether they are subject to the abuse or not.
A petition for this order can also be filed on the victim's behalf by a law enforcement officer who responds to an incident of domestic abuse if they believe the victim to be in immediate and present danger of abuse, even if no arrest is made. The victim must consent to this in writing.
Sexual Assault Protective Order in Tennessee
Another common order of protection issued in Tennessee is a sexual assault protective order. Unlike the domestic abuse order, no familial or special relationship between the victim and the respondent is required to file for this type of order.
It can be used by any victim of sexual assault, defined as when anyone commits, threatens to commit or puts the victim in fear of:
- Aggravated rape.
- Mitigated statutory rape.
- Statutory rape.
- Aggravated statutory rape.
- Rape of a child.
- Aggravated sexual battery.
- Sexual battery.
- Authority figure sexual battery.
In addition, a victim of sexual exploitation of a minor or of a human trafficking offense can also file for a protection order.
Stalking Protective Order in Tennessee
Most people generally understand the charge of stalking. This behavior is also subject to a restraining order of protection in Tennessee. For this purpose, stalking is defined as when someone repeatedly harasses the victim, making them feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated or threatened. Stalking includes actions like:
- Following the victim.
- Appearing within the victim's sight.
- Approaching or confronting the victim.
- Contacting the victim by phone, mail, email, text message or other type of electronic message.
- Appearing at the victim's house or job.
- Sending or placing an object on their property.
The harassment must be part of a pattern of conduct made up of two or more separate acts committed by the stalker directly, indirectly or through a third party.
Procedure for Obtaining Protective Order in Tennessee
After a victim has filed a petition for a protective order/restraining order, or someone files it on their behalf, the petition is quickly presented to a Tennessee court. If the judge finds that all requirements have been met it will grant the petition ex parte, meaning that it grants the petition based solely on the victim's side of the story without hearing from the respondent.
However, this is just a temporary order. The court also schedules a hearing, usually within 15 days of the issuance of the temporary ex parte order of protection .
The temporary order and notice of the court date is served on the respondent who has the right to appear at the court hearing and present their side of the story. At this hearing, the court can issue a longer-term order of protection. This is usually for one year, but can be extended.
Activities Covered by an Order of Protection
What can an order of protection prohibit? A temporary protection order can:
- Order the respondent to stop committing or threatening to commit domestic abuse, stalking, sexual assault, sexual exploitation of a minor, or a human trafficking offense against the victim or their minor child.
- Order the respondent
not to call or contact the victim, directly or indirectly. Prohibit the respondent from approaching the victim. Order the respondent
to immediately and temporarily leave the victim's home until the court hearing on the protection order. Give the victim custody of an animal. Order the respondent
to pay all costs and expenses of breaking a lease if the judge decides that continuing to live in the same residence puts the victim or their children’s life, health or safety at risk. * Order the victim's cell phone company to transfer any wireless telephone number where the victim or their children are the primary users into the victim's name.
An extended protection order can also:
- Give the victim possession of the home.
- Order the respondent
to leave the home. * Direct the respondent
to provide suitable alternative housing for the victim if the respondent is the sole owner or lessee of the home. Award temporary custody or temporary visitation rights of any minor children.
Award financial support to the victim if the respondent
is their spouse.
* Award financial support to dependents that the respondent
has an obligation to support. * Direct the respondent
to attend available counseling programs. * Direct the respondent
to get rid of all firearms in their possession withing 48 hours.
Dismissing an Order of Protection
When an eligible victim files for an order of protection in Tennessee, the court grants a temporary order without talking to the respondent, but sets a date for a full hearing. The temporary order lasts until the court hearing.
If, between the granting of the temporary order and the hearing date, the victim decides to drop the petition, they can simply fail to appear at the hearing. The Tennessee court usually denies the petition if the victim does not appear.
The victim can submit a one-page Dismissal of an Order of Protection form with the court clerk in the court where the order was issued to have the charges dropped more quickly.
Appealing or Changing Terms of the Order
If a restraining order has already been granted by the court, the respondent can appeal its issuance by filing a Notice of Appeal to contest the order and have it dropped. They will need to establish to the court's satisfaction that the plaintiff does not need protection.
Either party can file a motion in court at any time to change the terms of the order if they can show that there has been a change in circumstances that makes modification necessary. This is done by filing a petition with the court.
- The person who loses the case will pay all court fees associated with the Order of Protection. Also, if the plaintiff files to dismiss a Petition for an Order of Protection, he will have to pay those fees.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.