In Missouri, victims of domestic abuse can go to civil court and "petition" (ask) for an order of protection (some people call it a restraining order). An order of protection directs an alleged abuser to stop abusing the victim and stay away from the victim's home and workplace. Violating this kind of order can results in criminal penalties, like jail time and fines.
Under Missouri's Domestic Violence Act, anyone abused by a family or household member, or any victim of stalking or sexual assault, can file for an order of protection. (More on who can get an order of protection below.) If the victim is a child, a parent, guardian, or court-appointed advocate who suspects abuse can petition on the child's behalf.
Domestic abuse occurs when a person commits or threatens to commit any of the following acts against a family or household member:
Abuse also occurs when a person threatens to injure or injures a pet with the intent to intimidate or control the victim.
Family or household members include:
(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 455.010 (2021).)
The victim ("petitioner") must file a Petition for an Order of Protection asking the court for protection from their alleged abuser (the "respondent"). The petitioner will need to describe (under penalty of perjury):
For most accusations of domestic abuse, the petitioner must also prove the respondent is a family or household member. (Victims of stalking and sexual assault don't need to prove a family or household relationship to get an order of protection.)
Petitioners can file for an order of protection in the county where:
Court clerks are required to explain how to fill out the necessary forms. Note that petitioners never have to reveal their current address on court paperwork.
Nothing. It's free to file for an order of protection in Missouri. A petitioner doesn't need a lawyer to get an order of protection (but can have one).
A judge might order a respondent to pay court costs and attorneys' fees for the petitioner after a hearing on a full order of protection.
Victims who believe they are in immediate danger can request an emergency "ex parte" order of protection. A judge can grant an ex parte order based solely on the petition, without hearing from the respondent. Ex parte orders are temporary and valid only until a court holds a hearing on the full order of protection (usually 15 days or less).
Typically, a law enforcement officer or process server will hand-deliver the petition and the ex parte order (if there is one) to the respondent. The paperwork the respondent receives will include the petition and "notice," letting the respondent know when to show up for court and outlining the petitioner's allegations.
In cases where the court has issued an ex parte order, respondents should take them seriously. Even though these orders are temporary (again, lasting only until the hearing), a violation of one's terms can result in jail time and a criminal conviction.
A full order of protection is a longer-lasting order issued by a judge after a hearing. The petitioner (or the petitioner's attorney) has to attend or the judge will dismiss the petition.
Respondents aren't required to attend order-of-protection hearings, but judges can (and likely will) grant a full order of protection when they don't.
Petitioners must prove their allegations of abuse by "a preponderance of the evidence" (basically, a standard of "more likely than not"). A petitioner might present evidence such as testimony about the alleged abuse, photographs, medical records, and texts. A respondent (or the respondent's lawyer) can dispute the petitioner's allegations with their own evidence.
The type of order of protection—ex parte or full—will determine the terms a judge can order and the length of the order.
Again, ex parte orders of protection are temporary—they stay in effect until there's a court hearing. An ex parte order can direct a respondent not to:
Depending on the circumstances, judges can also use ex parte orders to temporarily award child custody and possession of pets.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 455.045 (2021).)
After notice to the respondent and a hearing, a judge can issue a full order of protection. A full order of protection is valid for anywhere from 180 days to one year. The petitioner can ask the court to renew a full order of protection up to two times.
A full order can do more than an ex parte order. The terms of a full order of protection can include:
(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 455.050 (2021).)
Even though an order of protection is a civil court order, violating the order (full or ex parte) results in criminal penalties.
Misdemeanor. A first violation is a Class A misdemeanor; it can result in up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
Contempt. The court can also punish a respondent who violates an order of protection with contempt of court, which can lead to jail and fines.
Mandatory arrest. Any time a police officer has probable cause to believe that someone subject to an order of protection has abused the protected person in violation of the order, the officer must arrest the abuser. That's true even if the officer didn't witness the offense.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 455.085, 476.120, 558.011 (2021).)
If you're served with an ex parte order of protection or notice of a hearing, you might want to contact a family law or criminal defense attorney. If you've been charged with a crime for violating an order of protection, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney.
If you're looking for help getting an order of protection, contact a lawyer who specializes in family law or a victim's advocate. To find assistance or service providers near you, check out links to resources provided by the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
The Missouri Judicial Branch provides free forms and instructions online for petitioning for and responding to an order of protection