How to File for a Protective Order in Virginia

In Virginia, filing for a protective order is actually pretty easy. Even better, the application itself is totally and entirely free.

Filing for a protective order can be a crucial step towards ensuring the safety of both yourself and your loved ones.

This article will cover the basics of protective orders, and generally tries to answer the question of “how do I file a protective order in Virginia?”

For more information on Virginia protective orders in general, check out our Ultimate Guide to Protective Orders in Virginia.

What is a Protective Order?

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The Commonwealth of Virginia defines a protective order as a legal document issued by a judge (or magistrate) that protects an abused person and their family from another individual.

Protective orders can also apply to anyone in fear of death, sexual assault, and other forms of bodily injury caused by another person.

For this reason, an actual crime is not needed to file a general protective order. Any real and tangible fear of violence can justify a protective order.

Different Types of Protective Orders

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Virginia has 3 different types of protective orders.

  • Emergency Protective Orders
  • Preliminary Protective Orders
  • General Protective Orders

When you file for a protective order, make sure you understand the differences between each type.

Emergency Protective Orders

Emergency protective orders are generally requested by law enforcement on behalf of a victim after a crime. However, even if an officer doesn’t file for an EPO, the victim still can choose to do so themselves.

An emergency protective order lasts for a minimum of 72 hours. The expiration date can also be extended further if the court will not meet again within this time frame.

For example, if court won’t be held again for five days, then the protective order lasts until this later date.

Preliminary Protective Orders

A preliminary protective order lasts 15 days or until a full hearing takes place. These are similar to emergency protective orders, but last longer and have slightly different requirements for filing.

They also cover more restrictions, and give the victim more options.

In domestic situations for example, preliminary protective orders can give the petitioner sole possession of a shared vehicle.

Protective Orders

A “permanent” protective order lasts up to two years, however it can be extended an unlimited amount of times.

A permanent protective order can impose all the restrictions of the preliminary protective order, but for a longer period. It can also give custody of a minor to the petitioner.

Where do I File My Protective Order?

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There are two ways to file a protective order, depending on your relationship with the other person.

If the person you are filing against is a family or household member, then you file your order with your local Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

If they are not a family or household member (i.e. anyone else), you file with your local General District Court.

The reason for this split is due to the experience of the judges.

A family judge has more experience in domestic matters, while a general district judge might be better suited to stalking or assault cases.

How to File a Protective Order in Virginia

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The first thing you need to know is that it does not cost money to file for a protective order. 

While hiring an attorney can sometimes be pricey, the actual process of filing the order itself is totally free.

In addition, the process is so simple in Virginia that in most cases you won’t need an attorney to file a protective order. 

However, hiring an attorney is still recommended for several reasons.

An attorney can make sure that you have the best chance of gaining access to the legal protection you need. They will help you determine what you will need to file and how to best present your case.

In addition, many individuals who file for protective orders also need an attorney for other matters such as divorce or civil suits.

If you would still rather avoid hiring an attorney, the Virginia Court website has tools for filing for a protective order yourself.

Do note however that you’ll need to make sure you keep track of all deadlines and forms by yourself if you choose this method.

In essence, the entire process boils down to a few short steps, all of which are detailed on the Virginia Judicial System Website:

  1. Fill out the forms on the Virginia I-Can website.
  2. Submit these forms to either the Juvenile or General District court in your area (depending on who you’re filing against).
  3. Attend your court date and defend your case.

When Does My Protective Order Become Active?

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Remember that law enforcement must legally served the protective order to the person you are seeking protection from before it becomes active.

If you’re unsure about whether they’ve served the order, feel free to call your local sheriffs office and to ask.

You should always give law enforcement as many details as possible about the person you filed against.

This can help speed up the process and make sure you’re legally protected should another event occur.


protective order - Tingen Law, PLLC

Protective orders are legal documents that legally ensure the health and safety of victims.

They protect those involved in any act of violence, force, or threat that results in bodily injury, or places that person in fear of death, sexual assault or bodily injury.

Individuals who violate protective orders face heavy fines and serious jail time.

Depending on the circumstances leading up to the request for protective orders, you should go to either the Juvenile and Domestic Relations court or the General District court.

Remember, an experienced attorney can help you navigate this process and answer any other questions you have.

However, you should never let a lack of funds bar you from getting a protective order.

Filing a protective order yourself is rather easy, and can give you the peace of mind you need to continue living your life to the fullest.

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