Your Legal Right to Protection
Are you being harassed, abused, or threatened by your partner or former partner?
Physical abuse and threats by your partner or former partner are crimes. You have a legal right to protection. A Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) is one way to provide legal protection from abusive relationships.
Are you a victim of domestic violence? Does your partner or someone else close to you:
- Hit you?
- Push you?
- Threaten you?
- Hurt you?
- Damage your property?
- Hurt your pets?
No one has a right to abuse you.
A Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) provides legal protection by someone who is being abused or threatened by an intimate partner, or former partner. If you believe you may be in immediate danger or need assistance, call the Alabama Domestic Violence crisis line at 1.800.650.6522.
Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The following is general information about PFA Orders. The Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides this information as a service and does not assume legal liability for its content. (This information is not intended to provide or substitute for legal advice.)
*What is a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA)?
The Protection from Abuse Order is a court order that grants certain legal rights to one person while placing limitations or restrictions on another. It can also order someone to perform certain actions and provides legal recourse if the order is violated.
What can the PFA Order do?
1. The judge can grant you:
- Temporary custody of the children
- Temporary financial support
- Temporary possession of property, such as the house or car
2. The judge can prohibit the abuser from:
- Telephone calls
- Any contact with you or the children
- Destroying property
3. The judge also can order the abuser to:
- Stay away from you
- Stay away from your home, work, school
- Pay child support
4. Who can get one?
- Married, regardless of living arrangements
- Divorced or separated
- Common-law or former common-law spouse
- Have a child in common
- Present or former household member
- Parent or child of the abuser
5. Why would I want a PFA?
- A PFA may be granted in a speedy manner
- The abuser may be arrested if he violates the order
- The rights or protection granted to you may be greater than what you can get in other types of legal actions
- You can seek the order without an attorney
- Most orders may be enforced in other states
- You do not have to prove you are a resident to obtain a PFA
Do I have to file for divorce or get a warrant first?
No. You do not have to file for a divorce, be divorced, or get a warrant against your abuser to petition for a PFA order.
I'm getting a divorce. Can I still get a PFA?
Yes. A PFA order is remedy for protection. A PFA petition can be filed and attached to your pending civil action, such as divorce, without paying another filing fee. If you have an attorney, you should discuss this option first.
How do I apply?
To apply for a PFA order, you must file a petition (application) which can be obtained from the circuit court clerk in your county, usually located at the county courthouse. In some counties, you may be required to go to family court or domestic relations court. You must complete the petition form and you may be required to see a judge to explain why you need a PFA order. Your local shelter program can provide you with information and assistance in applying for a PFA order. To contact your local shelter, call Alabama=s toll-free crisis line number.
What questions will I need to answer?
The PFA petition includes several questions about you and the abuse that occurred. Be as specific as possible about the abuse and threats, including stating what the abuser has said to you, describing your injuries and any destroyed property. If your abuser owns a weapon and has threatened to use it, include this information on your petition.
What specific information will I need?
- A current address and phone number for the abuser and, if possible, a work address and phone number
- The date and place of your marriage, divorce, or separation if you are the spouse of the abuser
- A copy of any other current court cases or orders involving you and the person who has committed the abuse
- Copies of police reports on recent domestic violence incidences with your abuser
What if I don't have this information?
You may bring what you have and seek protection anyway.
How can I keep my address secret?
You can request that the court order the omission or deletion of your address on any information that goes to the defendant (the abuser).
Do I need a lawyer?
No. The PFA can be filed without a lawyer (pro se). You may file without any assistance but if you can obtain legal assistance, it is usually advisable to do so.
What if I want a lawyer?
You may contact your local Legal Services office to see if you qualify for assistance or request a list of Alabama attorneys who specialize in domestic law from the Alabama State Bar at 1.800.392.5660.
What does it cost?
There is a filing fee for the PFA petition that varies depending on the county. If you cannot pay the fee, you can complete an AAffidavit of Substantial Hardship@ indicating need, which may allow you to file without the fee, or to pay after the PFA order is signed. The forms are available from the Circuit Clerk.
What if I am in danger? Can I try to get a protection order right away?
Yes. You can request an ex parte (emergency) order from the court. If you need immediate protection, fill out the ex parte section and tell the clerk. The judge will be alerted to your request and review it before the hearing is set. AEx parte@ means the judge considers your request without notifying or hearing from the abuser. You should also consider whether you should seek shelter while going through this process.
What can the ex parte (emergency) PFA order do?
The judge can order the abuser to:
- Stop threatening or committing acts of abuse
- Stay away from you and your children at home, work, and school
- Not interfere with your custody of the children
- Leave the family home
- Not destroy, sell, or conceal joint property
Will I automatically get an emergency PFA?
No. It is usually up to the judge hearing your petition to determine whether to grant you an emergency PFA order. It is important to provide detail to explain to the judge the danger you are in. Give examples of the abusive acts in your petition.
What if the judge denies my request for emergency protection?
You can continue seeking the PFA order through the court hearing.
How long does the emergency PFA order last?
The ex parte order lasts until your court hearing, which should be held within 14 days or as otherwise ordered by the judge.
What happens at the court hearing?
You will be asked to testify in court about the abuse and harassment you have experienced. The abuser will also be allowed to attend and testify. If you have an emergency PFA, it expires the day of your hearing. If the abuser does not attend, your PFA may be granted or another court hearing may be set. If the judge does not extend the protection order, you may request one before leaving the hearing, or as soon as possible afterwards. It is usually advantageous to have an attorney for this hearing especially if you believe the abuser will have an attorney present for the hearing.
Will I be safe in court?
If you believe you will not be safe entering or leaving the court, you should notify the court or law enforcement agency before the hearing. Consider arriving in the courtroom early and contacting the bailiff or other court staff about your safety. Consider going with a court advocate from the local shelter program, or a friend, or family member and driving a car the abuser is unfamiliar with.
What do I need to tell the judge?
You should consider giving the following information if it is relevant. All evidence, including your testimony, may be considered by the judge but, remember, the rules of the court may not allow some information:
- Your statement about abuse
- Police/sheriff reports (certified, if possible)
- Tape recorded messages or threats
- Pictures of damage to your house or property
- Descriptions of weapons used
- Medical reports of your injuries (certified, if possible)
- Witnesses who have seen or heard the abuse
- Dates and times of incidents, a written journal
- Torn clothing or other items
- Descriptions of injuries or threats to children
- Descriptions of injuries or threats of injury to pets
What does a permanent PFA provide?
The PFA generally lasts one year from the date it is signed by the judge unless otherwise specified. You can apply for an extension. The permanent PFA can include all the provisions of the ex parte (or emergency) order and also can order your abuser to:
- Pay attorney=s fees and court costs
- Supervised or unsupervised child visitation, if appropriate
- Give up possession of the family home
- Provide temporary support for you and the children, if appropriate
- Provide a car for your transportation if he has more than one
What if I leave town?
Most PFA orders can be enforced throughout the state and the U.S. If you move to another location within the state, provide certified copies of the order to local sheriff and police where you have moved. If you move out of the state, notify the court and law enforcement agencies in your new community also.
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO CARRY YOUR PROTECTION ORDER WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES.
MAKE SEVERAL COPIES.
MAKE SURE YOUR LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES HAVE A COPY.
LEAVE OTHER COPIES IN YOUR CAR, AT WORK, SCHOOL, WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY.
What should I do if my abuser violates my PFA order?
You may call the police. Show them your protection order and tell them what happened. Under certain conditions, they can arrest the abuser for violating the protection order. If an arrest is not made on the scene, you may also apply for a warrant for the abuser=s arrest for violating the PFA order. You may also report the violation to the court that issued the order. Keep a journal of all violations, documenting them with names of witnesses, dates, and incidents.
Will my abuser go to jail?
Your abuser can be arrested and charged with violating a PFA order. He may also be found in contempt of court and fined. Violation of a PFA order is a Class A misdemeanor that carries with it a fine and possible jail sentence, as determined by the judge. If other criminal acts are committed in addition to violating the order, that may also be punishable as provided by law. Penalties may increase for second or subsequent offenses. Call the Domestic Violence crisis line for more information.
How long will my abuser be locked up?
Your abuser can be arrested but may be able to post bond. He may not stay in jail overnight. It is important that you have a safe place to stay, if necessary.
Does he have to physically abuse me to be arrested?
No. He can be arrested for doing, or failing to do, anything that the PFA order specifies. Most PFA orders prohibit the abuser from any contact with you. He can be arrested for calling you, following you, or coming to the home, work, or school.
Will a PFA protect my safety?
Be aware that a PFA order does NOT guarantee your safety. It is important to work out a safety plan for you and your children. Your local shelter program can help.
The Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides this information as a service and does not assume legal liability for its content. This information is not intended to provide or substitute for legal advice.
The Alabama Coalition Against Violence is a nonprofit organization dedicated to working toward a peaceful society where domestic violence no longer exists. The Coalition serves victims of domestic violence and their children through its 18-member shelter programs and 24 hour domestic violence crisis line. ACADV also serves victims through training, educational outreach, and public policy work.
Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence
P. O. Box 4762
Montgomery, AL 36103