Protective (restraining) orders in Virginia

Traditionally referred to as “restraining orders” in other states, protective orders are legal documents used by Virginia magistrates and judges in an effort to ensure the health and safety of citizens.  Once available only to those seeking protection from family or household members, protective orders can now be obtained by anyone who has, within a reasonable period of time, been subjected to an act involving violence, force, or a threat that results in bodily injury or places one in reasonable fear of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury.  

restraining order protective order

There are three different types of protective orders, all of varying duration, and they all can impose the same conditions.  These conditions include:

  • Prohibiting all contact by the respondent with the victim or the victim’s family or household members;
  • Prohibiting acts of violence, force, or threat or criminal offenses resulting in injury to person or property;
  • Sole possession of a companion animal for the person being protected (See Code of Virginia § 3.2-6500);
  • Sole possession of the residence for family or household members being protected; and
  • Other conditions the judge or magistrate deems necessary to protect the petitioner and family/household members.

The Three Types of Protective Orders

Emergency Protective Orders (EPOs)

Emergency Protective Orders are issued by magistrates, and thus can be issued 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  In situations of domestic violence where a warrant is issued for assault and battery against a family or household member, the law actually requires the magistrate to issue an Emergency Protective Order.

man harrassing a woman

Emergency Protective Orders can be sought at the magistrate’s office even if an arrest has not been made.  Be sure you have the name and address of the person from whom you are seeking protection so a law enforcement officer can personally “serve” him or her.  Until a copy of the order has been given to the person against whom it is sought, the order is not in effect.  Once ordered, an EPO lasts for 72 hours or until the next session of court, whichever is later, and the date and time the EPO ends can be found on the order.

Preliminary Protective Orders (PPOs)

If you need protection for a longer period of time than that provided for by the EPO, a judge can issue a Preliminary Protective Order.  If you are a juvenile or if the person from whom you want protection is a family or household member, you should go to your local juvenile and domestic relations district court.  Otherwise, you should go to the general district court.  Once at the courthouse, the clerk’s office will have you fill out appropriate forms and send you in front of a judge, who will ask you questions and decide whether or not to grant the PPO.

If granted, the Preliminary Protective Order will last 15 days or until the final Protective Order hearing.  The date for the final hearing will be written on the Preliminary Protective Order and the person against whom the order is sought will be served with a copy and given the opportunity to appear for that hearing.

“Permanent” Protective Orders (POs)

At the final Protective Order hearing, the judge will listen to everyone present, including any witnesses, and decide whether to grant a full Protective Order.  Despite often being referred to as “Permanent” Protective Orders, POs do not last forever but may be issued for up to two years.  The PO can also be extended for an additional period of time, up to two years, if the petitioner returns to court and demonstrates a need for extended protection.  There is no limit to the number of Protective Order extensions the court can grant.

Additionally, either party involved in the case may petition the court at any time to amend the terms of the Protective Order.  Either party can also appeal the final decision of the juvenile and domestic relations or general district court judge to circuit court.

A stressed man up against a brick wall

Some Additional Frequently Asked Questions About the Protective Order Process

1. How much does it cost to file for a protective order?

  • There is no charge for petitioning for a protective order, filing copies of a protective order, or having the order served on the person against whom the order is sought.

2. Do I need an attorney?

  • No.  You do not need an attorney to file for a protective order.  Additionally, if someone is seeking a protective order against you, you do not need an attorney in order to contest the matter.  That being said, consulting with an attorney can often be very helpful when dealing with important legal matters.  In situations of domestic abuse, local Legal Aid offices and the court services units of Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts are available to assist victims in obtaining protective Orders.  For additional information, assistance, and referrals, the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society can be reached through their website ( or by calling 1-800-868-1012.

3. Is a protective order a criminal charge?

  • No.  A protective order is a civil order and is not the same as pressing criminal charges.  However, once a protective order (EPO, PPO, or PO) has been granted, violation of its conditions is a crime.  Judges and prosecutors in Virginia take this type of criminal charge very seriously.  A conviction of violating the terms of a protective order carries a mandatory period of active incarceration.

For more information regarding protective orders, visit the Virginia Court System’s District Court Protective Order Information Sheet, or the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services’ Guide for Victims to Protective Orders in Virginia.