How Do Protective Orders Work in Tennessee?

A protective order is a legal document that is specifically designed to prevent someone from harming you (or your children). While it may sound very similar to a “restraining order,” these two are not the same thing. 

Protective orders have a much narrower scope than their restraining order counterparts, and are only issued when there has been—or there is a threat ofdomestic violence. Restraining orders, on the other hand, are much more generic, and can be applied to a wide variety of relationships and situational behavior. 

Here’s what you need to know about protective orders in Tennessee, and what the Byrd Law team can do to help keep you and your family safe from future harm.   


What is a Protective Order? 

A protective order is a legal document issued by a judge, which prevents someone from harming you (or your children), and attaches serious legal consequences for any violations. 

This order comes prepackaged with specific protections that help law enforcement respond quickly to domestic violence situations

In Tennessee, there are two main types of protective order: 

  1. Temporary Protection Order (TPO)
  2. Extended Protection Order (EPO)


Temporary Protection Order

As the name implies, a temporary protection order (TPO) does not last very long. This type of order usually expires after only fifteen days, and is the first step you should take when starting the protection process.

TROs are appropriate in situations where there is an “immediate or present danger of abuse.” And—unlike other types of orders and court injunctions—this order can be granted ex parte. This means it can be issued without the accused being present, or even knowing about it.

A TRO can be used to:  

  • Prohibit an abuser from certain conduct or threats; 
  • Prohibit communication between the abuser and victim; 
  • Require an abuser to stay away from the victim; and, 
  • Require an abuser to leave the residence until a hearing can be held.

TROs are temporary in nature, and you will need to attend a hearing in order to get the terms extended beyond the standard two-week period. 

At the hearing, your judge will hear objections from the other side, and decide if an extended protection order is appropriate.   


Extended Protection Order

An extended protection order (EPO) is designed to be more permanent than a TRO, and can last for up to a year. Once expired, these can be renewed in one-year increments, so long as you get judicial approval at an annual hearing.  

Unlike a TRO, an EPO cannot be issued unless the other side knows about the hearing, and has a chance to argue their side. These orders can accomplish all of the same things as a TRO. In addition, they can also be used to: 

  • Give a victim possession of a shared home (or to allow a defendant to return home, if the EPO is denied). 
  • Require a defendant to provide a victim with housing accommodations.
  • Establish temporary child custody and visitation (which will last until a formal custody or divorce hearing can be finalized). 
  • Award temporary child support
  • Award temporary alimony to a victim (if the two parties are related). 
  • Require counseling.  


Who Do Protective Orders Protect?

Protective orders do not apply to just anyone. Instead, they are specifically designed to shield victims of family and dating violence from future harm. 

Under Tennessee law, this includes anyone who has been a victim of: 

  1. Domestic abuse
  2. Sexual assault
  3. Stalking or harassment

Here’s a closer look at each of these protected categories.  


1. Domestic Abuse 

Domestic abuse is defined as a pattern of behavior meant to gain power or control over an intimate partner or family member. 

Many people erroneously assume that this refers to just physical harm; however, domestic abuse encompasses much more than just hurting someone. Indeed, domestic abuse can occur any time a family member or romantic partner: 

  • Physically harms, tries to harm, or makes you afraid of harm. 
  • Threatens you (or a loved one) with harm. 
  • Physically restrains you or keeps you from leaving. 
  • Purposely destroys or damages your property. 
  • Injures, attempts to injure, or makes you afraid that they will try to injure a child, family member, friend, or even a pet.

We should also note, that—while it has its own special category under protective orders—domestic violence also encompasses all forms of sexual assault. 


2. Sexual Assault

Unlike domestic violence, sexual assault does not have to be committed by an intimate partner or family member. Indeed, anyone who commits, threatens to commit, or puts you in fear of any form of rape may be convicted of sexual assault. 

If some kind of sexual abuse actually has occurred, then you might also be able to file a claim for sexual battery, too. 


3. Stalking and Harassment 

Stalking refers to repeated and purposeful behavior that makes you feel frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or bothered. These acts must be committed by the same person—either directly or indirectly, as executed by a third party.  

You may be able to get a protective order for stalking if someone has: 

  • Stalked you; 
  • Threatened to stalk you; or, 
  • Made you afraid that they would stalk you. 


How Can I Get a Protective Order?

If you need a protective order, the first thing you should do is file for a TPO. 

In Tennessee, this can be issued ex parte, which means that your judge can issue the order without the other person being present. 

In order to initiate the TRO process, you should follow these steps: 

  1. Get the right forms.
  2. Fill out said forms, using yourself as the “petitioner,” and your abuser, the “respondent.” 
  3. Attend your TRO ex parte hearing (where you will receive your verdict and a court date from your judge).
  4. Execute proper service on your abuser. 
  5. Attend your full court hearing. 

Although you are not required to notify your abuser of the original TRO hearing, you are required to notify them of the EPO hearing. 

An accused has the right to defend themselves in court, and hence, your second hearing cannot commence unless they have been notified through proper service. 

While you do not have to have an attorney for any of these proceedings, self-representation is never a good idea. If the cost of representation is your main concern, then there are many domestic violence help organizations in Tennessee that may be able to help. 


Consequences for Violating a Protective Order

A protective order is not body armor. It cannot physically shield you from harm, or guarantee your safety from an abuser. However, what it can do is attach immediate and severe consequences for any violations, which then allow law enforcement to respond quickly in emergency situations, without the need for court permission.

In short, a protective order is like a personalized law, with real time consequences for breaking it. For example, these might include: 

  • Immediate arrest by law enforcement, without needing a warrant. 
  • Imprisonment for up to ten days. 
  • Steep fines. 
  • An order of contempt from the court, for the willful violation of a court order. 

In addition, violating the order gives the court the ability to extend the terms of your order for up to five years. If the violations continue, that time can be increased for up to ten.   


Protective Orders: Not the Same Thing as a Restraining Order

While restraining and protective orders cover a lot of the same territory, they are not the same thing. 

Unlike a protective order, restraining orders have a much broader scope, and can be used to either prohibit or require certain behavior. These types of orders are often issued during divorce as a way of keeping the status quo until a case can be finalized; however, they can also be used in other areas of civil and business matters.  

If you are unsure whether a restraining or protective order is right for you, it’s best to talk to an experienced family law attorney about which is best for your unique circumstances. 


Do You Need Help with a Protective Order?

Whether physical or emotional, abuse is never okay. Full stop. Which is why if you are experiencing harm at the hand of a loved one, then preventing harm to you and your children is our top priority. 

For more questions about protective orders in Tennessee, we want to hear from you. Call the Byrd Law team at (423) 304-6827, or contact us online, and let us help keep you and your family safe from future harm.

Author Bio

Sam Byrd is the owner and managing attorney at The Law Office of Sam Byrd. With hands-on experience in divorce, family law, criminal law, and DUI/DWI cases, Sam has been serving clients in Tennessee since 2012. He graduated with a J.D. from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in 2012 and holds a B.S. in Legal Studies from the University of Tennessee – Chattanooga, where he graduated summa cum laude in 2009.

He began his legal career as a paralegal, working under his father’s guidance. Prior to that, Sam served in the United States Marine Corps as a member of the 2/7 Weapons Company stationed at 29 Palms, California.

Sam has received several accolades for his work, including being recognized as a Rising Star in Divorce & Family Law by Tennessee SuperLawyers in 2020, 2019, and 2018. He is also a member of The National Trial Lawyers’ Top 40 under 40, an exclusive professional organization for top trial lawyers under the age of 40. Sam’s commitment to continuous learning and improvement is demonstrated by his certifications in Trial Skills from the National College of DUI Defense in 2019 and 2018.

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