In Georgia, victims of family or domestic violence can go to civil court and petition for (request) a family violence protective order. A protective order directs the abuser not to harm or have any contact with the victim.
Georgia law defines who's eligible for a family violence protective order. The victim and offender must fall under one of the protected relationships, and the allegations must specify certain criminal acts.
Family violence involves an offender committing battery, assault, stalking, criminal damage to property, unlawful restraint, criminal trespass, or any felony (such as murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, and rape) against a victim, and one of the following relationships exists between them:
An adult victim may petition the court for a protective order, as well as an adult on behalf of a minor victim.
A victim (called the petitioner) must fill out paperwork in order to begin the process of requesting a protective order against the alleged abuser (referred to as the respondent). The court generally provides the necessary documentation that the petitioner needs to complete. The petition must allege one or more acts of family violence. If the petition doesn't contain sufficient information, such as allegations of family violence committed by the respondent or the required relationship, the court can dismiss the petition. Once served with the petition, the respondent can file a response, attend the hearing set on the matter, or do neither or both.
When the respondent lives in Georgia, the petitioner should file the petition in the county where the respondent lives. If, however, the respondent lives outside of the state, the petitioner can file in the county where they live or where the abuse took place.
Georgia law doesn't require court costs or filing fees for petitioners of family violence protective orders. The law does not specify any fee waivers for respondents.
Victims who believe they are in immediate danger can request an "ex parte" family violence protective order. (Ex parte means the court is only hearing the victim's side of the story at this point.) Based on the petition, the judge can order temporary relief for the victim (sometimes called a temporary protective order or "TPO") when the judge finds it's necessary to protect the petitioner or child from violence prior to a full hearing being held. In the full hearing, the respondent has an opportunity to tell their side of the story.
The respondent must be served with the TPO petition and order, as well as a hearing date (typically a law enforcement officer serves the papers on the respondent). The hearing must be held within ten to 30 days. If the respondent deliberately attempts to avoid service, the judge can extend the hearing beyond the 30-day mark.
The court will hold a hearing on the petition unless the petitioner requests dismissal of the case. Although the respondent isn't required to respond to the petition, a respondent's failure to appear likely will result in the judge granting the protective order. At the hearing, the petitioner must prove the allegations by a preponderance of the evidence (a standard of more likely than not). The respondent also will have a chance to give evidence and testimony as to why the judge should deny the petition.
The type of order—temporary or final—will determine the relief (also called remedies) available and the duration of the order.
The TPO provides whatever temporary relief the judge deems necessary to protect the petitioner or a minor in the household. Oftentimes, TPOs prohibit the respondent from contacting the petitioner, give the petitioner temporary custodial rights to the children, give the petitioner sole possession of the residence, and temporarily confiscate the respondent's firearms. The order remains in effect until the court dismisses the case or holds a full hearing on the original petition, whichever occurs first.
The final protective order remains in effect for up to one year unless the petitioner requests an extension. After a hearing where the respondent has a chance to be heard, the court may extend the order for up to three years or even permanently.
Relief. The relief available for a final order can include:
Firearm restrictions. Federal law prohibits a respondent subject to a protective order from possessing a firearm if the order meets certain requirements.
Arrest. A law enforcement officer may arrest an offender, without a warrant, if probable cause exists to believe the offender violated the order or committed an act of family violence.
Misdemeanors. Violating a family violence protective order constitutes a misdemeanor and subjects the offender to up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. This penalty applies only to violations involving contact with the petitioner, such as the respondent's unauthorized presence at the petitioner's residence, work, or school or contact with the petitioner.
Felony stalking. A respondent faces a felony charge of aggravated stalking if they follow the petitioner, place them under surveillance, or contact them without consent for the purpose of harassing or intimidating them. A conviction can result in one to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Contempt. The court may hold an offender who violates the protective order in contempt of court, which subjects the person to up to 20 days in jail and a $1,000 fine per violation.
Other crimes. Other acts of further violence, such as physical harm or another domestic violence-related offense, can result in additional criminal charges.
(Ga. Code §§ 15-6-77; 16-5-91, -95; 17-4-20; 19-13-1 to -4; 18 U.S.C. § 922 (2020).)
If you received notice of a family violence protective order issued against you, contact an attorney who works in family law or criminal defense. For criminal charges stemming from a violation, talk to a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
If you're a victim seeking assistance in filing for a family violence protective order, contact a lawyer who specializes in family law or a victim's advocate. You can also check out Nolo's Resources for Victims of Crime.
The Georgia Superior Court Clerks' Cooperative Authority provides free forms and instructions online for family violence protective orders.