In Missouri, victims of domestic abuse can go to civil court and "petition" (ask) for an order of protection (many refer to it as a restraining order). An order of protection or restraining order directs an abuser to stop harming the victim and to stay away from the victim's home and workplace. Violating this kind of order can result in criminal penalties, like jail time and fines.
A person suffering domestic abuse at the hands of a family or household member can get an order of protection.
Domestic abuse. Domestic abuse includes more than physical harm or threats of harm. The following also fall under the definition of domestic abuse—coercion (using force or threats to make someone do something), harassment, sexual assault, false or unlawful imprisonment (not letting you freely leave or go places), and stalking. 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 member. A victim doesn't need to be living with or married to the abuser to seek help. The law allows victims to seek an order of protection to stop abuse coming from a current or former spouse, a relative by blood or marriage, co-parent, or a former or current roommate, boyfriend, or girlfriend.
Imminent harm. Victims who believe they are in immediate danger can request an emergency "ex parte" (ex par-tee) order of protection. A judge can grant an ex parte order based solely on the victim's petition, without hearing from the alleged abuser. 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).
The victim (called the "petitioner" in court papers) must file a Petition for an Order of Protection asking the court for protection from their alleged abuser (called the "respondent" in court papers). The petitioner can file these documents—for free—at a courthouse in the county where the petitioner or respondent lives, where the alleged abuse happened, or where the respondent works. In the petition, the petitioner will need to describe the acts of abuse (including dates, if possible). A victim doesn't need a lawyer to get an order of protection (but can have one).
As discussed above, victims who are in imminent danger can ask the court for an emergency, ex parte order of protection. For an ex parte order, the victim fills out the paperwork and a judge can issue the order immediately. The respondent receives a copy of the order after the hearing. Because the respondent has not had a chance to tell their side of the story, the ex parte order is temporary and limited in scope.
An ex parte order will generally prohibit the respondent from:
Depending on the circumstances, judges can also use ex parte orders to temporarily award child custody and possession of pets.
A law enforcement officer generally delivers to the respondent the order and other paperwork indicating when to show up at court to contest a more permanent order. This paperwork also specifies the penalties for violating the order. (More on penalties below.)
The full order of protection is a longer-lasting order issued by a judge after a hearing. A judge can issue a full order of protection that lasts anywhere from 180 days to one year (and can be renewed). The full order can do much more than an ex parte order. The terms of a full order of protection can include:
A violation of the terms can mean criminal penalties.
Important! The order only applies to acts by the respondent. It does not prohibit communication by the petitioner to the respondent. Even so, the respondent cannot respond to the petitioner's invitation to talk or meet without violating the order.
If you receive a notice that an ex parte order was issued against you, take it seriously. Despite being temporary, a violation of its terms can mean jail time and a criminal conviction.
Read through the order and all of its terms, and contact an attorney. If the order specifies no contact or communication by any means, this prohibition generally includes trying to communicate through a third party (meaning you can't ask a friend to communicate a message to the petitioner—this violates the order). You can also violate the order by accepting the petitioner's invitation to meet or talk.
You'll want to note the date and time for the hearing on the full order of protection. 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. At the hearing, you or your attorney can present evidence and testimony to dispute the petitioner's allegations.
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.
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.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 455.010, 455.045, 455.050, 455.085, 476.120, 558.011 (2021).)