In Indiana, victims of domestic violence can go to civil court and petition (ask) the judge for an order for protection (sometimes referred to as a restraining order). This order directs the alleged abuser not to harm or have any contact with the victim. Even though it's a civil order, violating the order can result in criminal penalties.
Under Indiana's Civil Protection Order Act, a victim of domestic or family violence or an adult on behalf of a child victim may ask for an order for protection when the abuser is a family or household member.
Crimes of domestic or family violence include incidents where the offender uses or attempts to use physical force, threatens physical harm or to use a deadly weapon, or commits a sex offense against a family or household member.
A family or household member includes:
(Victims of stalking, harassment, and sexual assault can also request a protection order against an alleged offender. In these situations, a victim doesn't need to prove a domestic relationship existed to get the order.)
A victim (the petitioner) must fill out paperwork describing the incidents of domestic violence committed by a family or household member (the respondent). The court provides these forms and instructions on filling them out. When filling out the petition, the petitioner will need to identify specific acts of abuse, the required relationship, and other provisions in sufficient detail in order for the court to hear and grant the petition. A petitioner doesn't need an attorney to file an order for protection (but can get one).
Victims can file their petitions in the county where they live or are temporarily staying, where the alleged abuse happened, or where the respondent lives. There's no cost to file the petition. The court can, however, collect costs from the respondent.
Victims who believe they're in immediate danger can request an ex parte order for protection. (Ex parte—pronounced ex par-tee—means the court is only hearing the victim's side of the story at this point.) The judge can order this relief without holding a hearing if the petition alleges facts establishing domestic or family violence.
Typically, a law enforcement officer or process server will deliver the petition and, if issued, the ex parte order to the respondent.
Notice. These papers will specify whether a hearing is scheduled or if the respondent needs to request one to contest the allegations. When served with an ex parte order, the respondent should review it carefully, as a violation can mean criminal charges. If no hearing is scheduled or requested, the ex parte order stays in effect for up to two years.
Hearing. The court will hold a hearing on the petition if either party requests one or the petitioner asks the court to order relief beyond preventing future harm and contact between the parties. Normally, the full hearing will be held within 30 days. At the hearing, the respondent will have a chance to give evidence and testimony as to why the judge should dismiss the ex parte order (if issued), deny the petition, or limit the requested relief.
Failure to appear. Although the respondent isn't required to request or show up at the hearing, failure to do so means the judge can keep the ex parte order in place or order a more expansive order.
The type of order—issued ex parte or after a hearing—will determine its terms and how long it remains in effect.
In an ex parte order, the judge can make orders to protect the victim from future acts of harm. Oftentimes, this order will prohibit the respondent from harming or contacting the petitioner and list the places the respondent must avoid. When the petitioner seeks no other relief, no hearing is necessary unless the respondent requests one. This limited ex parte order can remain in effect for up to two years.
The order may also give the petitioner sole possession and use of a shared residence, a vehicle, and any other necessary personal items. A judge may temporarily grant these provisions pending a hearing. (See below.)
Certain provisions can only be ordered after notice to the respondent and a hearing. These include payment of household expenses or child support, parenting time arrangements, and restrictions on a respondent's right to use or possess a firearm. These requests cannot be awarded in an ex parte order, not even temporarily.
At the hearing, the court must give both sides an opportunity to be heard and present evidence. The petitioner has the burden of proof in the case.
The terms available in an Order After Hearing can include:
(Check out the federal firearms bans for persons subject to domestic violence restraining orders.)
The Order After Hearing generally remains in effect for two years, unless otherwise stated. But, the judge can extend or modify the order under certain circumstances.
Even though an order for protection is a civil court order, violating the order can result in both civil and criminal penalties and extension of the order. Both ex parte orders and orders issued after a hearing carry the same penalties for a violation.
Misdemeanor. An offender who knowingly or intentionally violates an order for protection commits the crime of invasion of privacy. This class A misdemeanor carries penalties of up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Felony. The penalty for violating an order for protection (invasion of privacy) increases to a level 6 felony if the defendant has a prior unrelated conviction for invasion of privacy. A level 6 felony carries between six and 30 months of incarceration. If the violation involves stalking—repeat or continued harassment that causes a victim to feel frightened or threatened—the penalty increases to a level 5 felony offense. A person convicted of a level 5 felony faces one to six years in prison.
Contempt. The court may hold an offender in contempt for willfully violating the order for protection, which can mean posting a bond, as well as jail time and fines.
Other crimes. Other acts of further violence, such as stalking or domestic battery, can result in additional charges. If a violation involves domestic battery, the offender faces a level 6 felony conviction and six to 30 months of incarceration.
If you received notice of an order for protection 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. An experienced attorney can review the unique circumstances of your case and discuss your options.
If you're a victim seeking assistance in filing for a protection order, contact a lawyer who specializes in family law or a victim's advocate.
The Indiana courts website provides free forms and instructions online for orders for protection.
(Ind. Code §§ 30-50-2-6, -7; 30-50-3-2; 34-6-2-34.5, -44.8; 34-26-5-2, -4, -9, -10, -16, -21; 35-33-1-1; 35-42-2-1.3; 35-46-1-15.1 (2021); 18 U.S.C. § 922 (2021).)