What is a protection order?
A protection order can help keep you and your family safe from violence and abuse. It is a court order which protects you (and your children) against violence or contact from someone in close contact with you who is threatening or abusing you.
You can read our information about relationship abuse, elder abuse and child abuse.
Why would someone want to apply for a protection order?
If you have a protection order against someone, that person (referred to as the “respondent”) can be arrested and fined or imprisoned, if they try to hurt (physically, psychologically or sexually) or threaten you or your children, damage your property, or encourage someone else to do so.
If the protection order contains a non-contact condition, then the respondent can also be arrested (and fined or imprisoned) if they go to your home or workplace, follow you or try to contact you in any way.
These orders can be made without notice if you or your children were physically abused, or if delay may expose you or the family to more abuse.
Who can apply for a protection order?
Anyone can apply to the Family Court for a protection order against someone who has abused them if they are, or have been, in a domestic relationship, with the abuser, for example:
- The partner or ex-partner of an abusive person,
- A child, with an adult acting as their representative,
- An elderly person who is abused by a family member,
- Someone whose flatmate is abusing them
You can’t apply for a protection order against someone under the age of 17, unless they are married or in a civil union or de facto relationship.
If you apply for a protection order for yourself, it automatically includes protection for your children if they are less than 17 years of age and normally live with you.
It's also possible to apply for a protection order on behalf of another adult, e.g. someone who doesn't have the mental capacity to apply themselves, or is too scared to apply.
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What does a protection order do?
A protection order helps to keep you safe from abuse and sends a strong message to the abuser that what they are doing is not ok. If the abuser breaks the rules of the protection order then this is a crime and can lead to them being given a prison sentence of up to three years.
Protection orders usually have four conditions for the abuser (referred to in the protection order as the respondent):
- Non-violence: That person must not inflict any abuse, threaten to inflict abuse on you or your children; they may not damage, or threaten to damage your property, nor may they encourage someone else to abuse you or your children .
- Non contact: They must not enter any places you and your children live, watch you, follow you, or hang around in places you visit often, except in an emergency (or if required by the Court). This condition doesn’t apply if you still live with that person.
- No weapons or firearms: They must not possess any legal or illegal weapons
- An approved non-violence programme: They will probably be required to attend a non-violence programme approved by the court.
If you or your children were physically abused, or if delay may expose you or the family to more abuse, you can apply for a “protection order without notice” which could be granted within 24 hours (see I need protection right away – can I get a protection order urgently?).
Applying for a protection order can seem like a complex process but there are lots of people who can help you make your application, as we explain below.
How do I apply for a protection order?
You’ll need to fill out a form and write an affidavit (a sworn statement saying why you need a protection order), and give these to a Family Court. You can download the form, along with guidelines for completing it, from the Ministry of Justice website.
It would be a good idea to get help with this from a lawyer – if you can’t afford a lawyer you may be eligible for legal aid. You can also get help with applying for a protection order from Women’s Refuge or Shine. Your local CAB can help put you in touch with someone who can help.
When you apply for a protection order, the person against whom the protection order will be made (referred to in the application as the respondent) will be notified as soon as you have applied, before the Family Court has decided whether to make the order.
Unless you’ve applied for a “protection order without notice”, (see the question below) the respondent can oppose the protection order application but must do so before the Court makes its decision.
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I need protection right away – can I get a protection order urgently?
If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 111 and ask for the Police. They may issue a Police Safety Order.
Otherwise, you can apply for a protection order without notice This means the Family Court can give you a temporary protection order on the same day. The person whom the protection order is against (i.e. the respondent), won’t be notified until after the temporary protection order has been given. Copies of the temporary protection order will be sent to the Police and the respondent respectively.
The respondent has the right to oppose it in Family Court; if they do not oppose it, the temporary protection order automatically becomes final (permanent) after three months. If they do oppose it, you will have to go to Family Court.
What do I do if the protection order is breached?
If you feel you’re in immediate danger, dial 111 and ask for the Police.
Otherwise, tell your lawyer or contact your local Police station.
It’s a good idea to keep copies of your protection order at home and at your work, and carry one around you in your bag, in case you have to prove that you have a protection order against someone. If you have children who are also included in the order, let their school know also.
I moved out and got a protection order against my partner – now I want to move back in.
What do I need to do about the protection order?
When a protection order is in force, you can still live with them. The non-contact part of the protection order will be suspended, but the rest will stay in place. This means that your partner will still not be allowed to threaten you, abuse you or hold firearms.
If the abuse starts again, your partner would be breaching the conditions of the protection order and can be arrested. You can reinstate the non-contact part of the protection order so that your partner can not contact you or follow you.
What is a Police Safety Order?
The Police can issue a Police Safety Order (PSO) if they have reason to believe that family violence has occurred, or may occur. It can last up to five days, and doesn’t require the consent of the people involved.
If the Police decide to issue a PSO against someone, they can detain them for up to two hours while they issue the PSO, and that person has no right to appeal against it.
For the period that the PSO is in force, the person is bound by the PSO:
- must leave the address
- may not contact the person protected by the PSO (including any children covered by the Order)
- may not have any firearms
What happens if a Police Safety Order is breached?
If a person bound by a Police Safety Order (PSO) is found to have breached its conditions, they can be arrested and put before the Criminal Court, who may:
What is a property order?
When you apply for a protection order, you can also apply for a property order which determines who gets access to your home and furniture. There are different kinds of property orders:
Occupation order – gives you the exclusive right to live in a property which you or the respondent (the person you have filed the property order against, for example your ex-partner) owns or has a legal interest in. This means the respondent isn’t allowed to live there without your permission.
Tenancy order – makes you the sole tenant of a property which you and the respondent were renting jointly. As for an occupation order, the respondent can’t live in the rental property without permission from you.
Furniture order – lets you have possession of furniture and other household goods which you shared with the respondent. If you move to another home you’ll be able to take the furniture with you
You can apply for a property order even if you haven’t or don’t intend to apply for a protection order. The Judge’s decision will be based on whether the applicant needs it, and whether it is in the best interests of the children.
More information about property orders is on the Ministry of Justice website.