The terms "restraining order" and "order of protection" are often interchangeable in Arkansas. State courts issue an order of protection to protect domestic violence victims and others from their abusers and prevent those abusers from contacting the person in any way. A person violating an order of protection can face criminal penalties, including jail time and fines.
Orders of Protection in Arkansas
Courts issue orders of protection, sometimes called restraining orders, in Arkansas. A person files an order of protection when they believe that another person threatens their safety. This order will require the person who is a perceived threat to stay away from the individual for a specific amount of time. The order usually occurs as the result of stalking, harassment or domestic violence.
According to Arkansas Code Section 9-15-103(3), domestic abuse occurs when a person in the household or a family member commits physical or sexual harm or threatens someone else in the home. The state defines household and family members as:
- Ex-spouses or former spouses.
- Blood relations up to the fourth degree of separation.
- People who live together or have lived together in the past.
- People who have a child together.
- People who are, or were, in a relationship.
Defining No-Contact Orders
The court can issue a no-contact order between the victim and abuser, particularly if they have pleaded not guilty at an arraignment and as a condition of pretrial release. This order prohibits an abuser from contacting a victim, their family members or anyone who may testify against them. It may also prohibit individuals from contacting shared children who witnessed the parent's abusive behavior.
A judge usually issues a no-contact order as part of a criminal investigation. This type of order lasts only until the case ends, at which point the order expires. The court can also lift the order while the case is still active. For example, the victim may request a lifting of the no-contact requirement, and if a prosecutor does not object, the court may agree.
Temporary Protection Orders
A person in a domestic abuse situation may acquire a temporary restraining order. It provides the victim and their family with immediate protection from the abuser. If the court believes an individual is in immediate danger or an abuser's release from prison within 30 days may put them in danger, it will issue an "ex parte" order on the day the individual files for protection.
When a judge issues an order ex parte, there is no requirement for the court to give prior notice to an abuser, and the abuser does not have to be present. A temporary order protects the victim from the time the court grants it until the hearing, typically held within 30 days.
Final Order of Protection
The court grants a final order of protection after a court hearing in which the victim and the abuser both have the opportunity to appear and present supporting evidence. The final order can last from 90 days to 10 years, but the court can renew it if there is still a threat to the victim. Both temporary and final restraining orders have rules that both parties are ordered to obey. These include:
- Not committing any criminal acts against the victim.
- Staying out of the victim's residence or the shared residence.
- Staying away from the victim's place of employment, school or other places they may frequent.
- Not contacting the victim in any way, including through someone else.
- Adhering to custody or visitation requirements for minors shared with the victim.
- Paying child support for minors shared with the victim.
- Paying financial support to the victim (if married to the abuser).
- Compensating the losing party for attorney fees.
- Designating one party to care for, or have custody of, a shared pet.
- Transferring phone numbers or accounts into the victim's name if they shared them with the abuser and they are the account holder.
- Any additional changes that the court deems necessary to protect the victim and family or household members.
Filing for an Order of Protection in Arkansas
Those who file restraining orders in Arkansas do not need an attorney, but it is to their advantage to have one, particularly if the abuser has one. Victims who cannot afford an attorney can get legal assistance through nonprofit programs and domestic violence shelters in their area. Arkansas does not require payment of a filing fee for an order of protection.
Victims can file for an order in the county courthouse in the county where the abuse took place or where the abuser lives and works. Victims who wish to keep their address private should consider that filing in the county where they live can alert an abuser to their whereabouts. Some victims may stay in a domestic violence shelter.
Seeking an Order Against a Person Who Is Out of State
When a victim and abuser live in different states, Arkansas courts may not have power over an out-of-state abuser and often cannot grant a restraining order against that person. However, there are exceptions:
- If the abuser has a substantial connection to Arkansas and regularly travels to the state to visit the victim or family, or comes into the state for business.
- If the abuser previously lived in Arkansas, but recently left the state.
- If the abuse occurred in Arkansas. This might apply if the abuser sends threatening texts, emails or phone calls from another state, and the victim reads the messages or answers calls while in Arkansas.
- If the abuse took place in Arkansas, but the abuser has left the state.
- If the victim files for an order in Arkansas, and the abuser gets served while in the state.
Even if none of these circumstances applies, it doesn't necessarily mean that the court won't grant the victim's order. When a petitioner files for a protective order, a judge may grant it on consent or find another way to allow the order to go through. If the judge cannot issue an order, the victim can file in the abuser's state, but will likely have to do so in person.
Violating an Order of Protection
Violation of a restraining order is a crime. If the abuser breaks any of the terms of the order, the victim should contact law enforcement who can make an arrest for the violation. An abuser convicted of violating a restraining order in Arkansas faces penalties of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The victim may have to appear in court to testify as to what the abused did to violate the restraining order. Note that if the victim and abuser reconcile, this does not void the order. Only a court can dismiss a protective order after the victim files a petition.
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.