And Order of Protection is a court ordered document issued to protect an individual from abuse, or harassment, from another. Each state has its own name for the document, but the goal is similar -- to keep the abuser away from the abuse victim. An order of protection can be served in several ways, and each state sets its own process as to how and when to serve the order.
Petition the Court
Your first step toward getting an order of protection involves filing a petition with the court explaining why you need the order. Once the judge hears your side, he may issue a temporary restraining order based on the facts you’ve presented. That order must be served upon the abuser, known as the respondent, within a time frame set out by your state. A court date is set.
Gather as much information as you can about the respondent. Name, address, work address, even Facebook profile – plus any other information that can point the person serving the order to your abuser. Your server must locate him when the court issues the temporary order of protection.
Many abusers evade being served and play a game of dodgeball when a process server is looking for them. In some states, the police have a limited amount of time to serve the papers and a signature is required, so finding the respondent is crucial. You will usually need to file the proof of service with the court.
Track Down the Right Agency
Once you get the temporary order of protection, ask a victim advocate or a member of the court where you go next to have the papers served. The temporary order of protection is not valid until the abuser has received notice. That can be done in one of several ways, but you cannot serve the papers yourself. Individual states direct who can serve the order, but most include the sheriff’s department, the police or a process server.
Serving Civil vs. Criminal Orders
An order of protection is a civil matter and is handled in civil court. Some states, such as Connecticut, allow state and local police officers to serve criminal orders, but not civil orders. In a civil case in Connecticut, a state marshal, constable or another officer authorized by state statute can serve the papers. In limited cases, a person not affiliated with either party can serve the order of protection.
If the state marshal considers the location or person being served as dangerous or if weapons might be on the property, he can request that a member of the sheriff’s department or police department accompany him.
Some states, however, allow the sheriff's department to serve civil and criminal documents.
Give the Court Information
Once you locate the right agency to help you serve your order of protection, your best chance of having it successfully served is to give the server information on the most likely place your respondent will be. The respondent's home, work, a gym, a restaurant or any public place is available for the process server to access.
If the respondent is in jail, a member of the police or a detention officer can serve the papers, or she can be served at her court date if it hasn't occurred yet. A receipt is sent to you to confirm service, and your next step is to show up in court.
Other means of delivering the summons is via the U.S. Mail. Send two copies, one through the regular mail and one as a certified letter. You cannot mail the items yourself; another person has to do it and has to fill out a statement to accompany the mailing. Keep a copy of the return of service and send another to the court. If the service is not completed, show up for your court date anyway and explain what you have tried to do to the judge
Posting a notice of the summons in the newspaper that serves the area your respondent lives in is another way to serve the notice. Once it has been published once a week for three weeks, the publication sends an "affidavit of publication" to confirm the publication of the notice. Bring all paperwork to court. You are responsible for all costs of publishing the notice.
Hire a Process Server
If the sheriff’s office or police department cannot successfully deliver the paperwork to the respondent, a process server may be your best alternative. A fee is involved, including gas, mileage and other costs, but the judge might order the respondent to pay these for you if the circumstances warrant.
Order of Protection Goes Unserved
In most cases, if the respondent has not confirmed receipt of the temporary order of protection with his signature, you must still attend the assigned court date. Explain the situation, and the judge may move the hearing to a later date so that the respondent has the opportunity to review the petition. If you do not attend court, the court may not grant you the relief you requested.
- Domestic Shelters: How to Get a Protection Order Served on an Abuser
- Law Help: Montana Law: Order of Protection Frequently Asked Questions
- FindLaw: Domestic Violence Orders of Protection and Restraining Orders
- Minnesota Legislature: Harassment; Restraining Order
- Barnes Jewish Hospital: What is an Order of Protection?
- Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence: How to Serve a Domestic Violence Protection Order
- police car up close image by Aaron Kohr from Fotolia.com