In Tennessee there are two options when it comes to seeking protection from physical abuse, threats or harassment. They are both similar in whom they protect but each have different requirements. Both orders are issued by the court and civil in nature, but violations are punished as criminal contempt of court.

An order of protection orders the abuser to cease all contact of any kind with the victim for a period of one year. This includes phone calls, text messages, emails, and any form of social media or through a third party. In most cases this order is filed to prevent any further domestic violence and harassment. The victim must have either been in a romantic relationship, lived with or be related to the abuser. There are exceptions for sexual assault and stalking in which case no relationship is required. If you do not have one of these relationships or exceptions thereto then you must file a restraining order instead.

When an order of protection is filed, the Court will normally issue a temporary emergency protection order valid for 15 days, without a hearing. The order of protection is then served upon the other party and the case is set for hearing. If after a hearing on the issues, the Court finds that there is sufficient evidence to grant the order of protection then the Court puts down an order valid for 1 year. If the abuser violates either order of protection, they may be sentenced up to ten days in jail and in some rare circumstances charged with a criminal misdemeanor where the punishment increases significantly.

A restraining order is a court order that orders the abuser to cease all contact with the victim. This also includes phone calls, text messages, emails, forms of social media and third parties. A restraining order is typically issued to protect a person who is considered to be in imminent danger or irreparable damage is likely. Unlike an order of protection, you do not have to be related to or romantically involved with the abuser to file a restraining order. In certain cases this type of order can be used to prevent a parent from moving children from one county to another and place temporary holds on bank accounts. Once ordered by the Court the order is generally valid for 10 years, as opposed to 1 year for an order of protection.

It is also important to understand that unlike an order of protection there is usually not a temporary emergency order and you must wait until after the Court hearing to have any protection.

Violations of restraining orders are punishable as criminal contempt in the same manner as the order of protection, but violations cannot be charged as misdemeanors.

In either case it’s best to hire an attorney to help navigate through the process. Legal documents can often be tricky and difficult to understand. An attorney can help guide you with the necessary details needed to get the order approved.