A regular restraining order can take time to get, because a person must schedule and attend a court hearing to get one. When more immediate intervention is needed, a person may seek to get an emergency protective order (EPO). An emergency protective order functions like a restraining order, but can be put into place much more quickly. An emergency protective order is a court order that directs one person to refrain from committing certain acts against another person. 

For example, a protective order might direct a husband not to come within the physical presence of his wife. This type of protection is commonly needed for victims of spousal abuse (domestic violence) and child abuse.

An emergency protective order is also sought by victims of stalking and other types of harassment. In some states, a different kind of order applies in cases of stalking or harassment by someone who is not a family member. However, whether it is an EPO or has a different title, the order contributes to the safety of victims until a permanent protective order can be put in place. 

Emergency protective orders may or may not differ from a temporary restraining order (TRO), depending on the state. Most commonly, however, emergency protective orders can be put into place more quickly than TROs. 

The procedure for getting an EPO varies from state to state and even within states. In some jurisdictions, in order to get an EPO, a victim can contact the police. It is the police who contact a judge on behalf of the victim and ask that the court issue an EPO. This is done in cases where the victim fears for their safety or their life if protection from their abuser is not established immediately.

Because EPOs are issued so quickly, they usually do not involve the same court proceeding required to obtain temporary or permanent restraining orders. The main difference between an EPO and TRO or permanent protective order is that a court issues an EPO without giving notice of the hearing to the abuser, who is referred to as the “respondent” in court. In all other court proceedings, the respondent must be given notice of the hearing so they have an opportunity to attend and be heard. 

In other jurisdictions, to get an EPO, the victim must give an account of the violence in which the respondent has engaged. A victim must also state why they believe they are in imminent danger. Evidence such as calls to the police and medical treatment given for an injury should be included. Victims must file an EPO application with their county court which includes this type of information. 

Many courts have forms for this purpose and do not charge a fee for filing the application. Most likely, the application will be brought before a judge within 24 hours. An EPO order from a judge should be shared with the victim’s local police department to strengthen the protection it offers.

An EPO only becomes effective after the respondent is provided with a copy of the order.  The sheriff’s office serves the order on the respondent.

From the time that the judge grants an EPO until it expires or some further hearing takes place, the judge can order the following for protection of the victim:

  • The respondent should have no contact with the victim;
  • The respondent should not commit any further violence;
  • The respondent should not dispose of or damage property;
  • The respondent should stay a specific distance from the victim’s residence, school, work, minor children, or other family members;
  • The respondent should vacate the family residence;
  • The victim should have temporary custody of the children;
  • The respondent should obey any other orders as needed.

An EPO is temporary only. How long it lasts varies from state to state. In some states it lasts until a full hearing is scheduled within 14 days of the application for the EPO. The full hearing can only take place after a respondent is given notice of the hearing so that they have an opportunity to attend.  

If the respondent is not served by the date of the court hearing, the court has the power to keep an EPO in place for up to six months. In this case the court would regularly review the case, usually at two-week intervals. In other states, however, an EPO will last for days only and the victim must seek a restraining order to get longer lasting protection.

What Can an Emergency Protective Order Accomplish?

Emergency protective orders are sought in cases where a person fears immediate danger to themselves or to their children. They allow victims to keep their abusers away from them, even from a home where they both live.

An emergency protective order may also:

  • Prohibit the abuser from trying to contact the victim in any fashion, unless certain types of communications are expressly allowed;
  • Prohibit the offender from seeking to commit any violence to the victim with an EPO;
  • Prohibit the offender from damaging any of the victim’s property;
  • Require the offender to stay a certain distance away from the victim’s home, schools and workplaces;.
  • Prohibit the offender from contacting the victim’s children, whether or not they have also been subject to abuse;
  • Require the offender to officially move out if they share a home with the victim; and
  • Remove custody of any children involved away from the respondent.

Certain items might be standard for an EPO, however a judge is able to add or delete provisions to an EPO. 

How Long Is an Emergency Protective Order Enforceable?

Emergency protective orders are intended to be temporary only.  The length of time for which they are enforceable varies from state to state. In some states they may stay in place for as little as 5 to 7 days. This is because their purpose is to provide protection from imminent danger until an order with a longer life, such as a temporary restraining order or restraining order, can be put in place. More permanent orders of protection require that both parties have an opportunity to be heard by a judge, in the interest of fairness.

However, since these permanent orders take longer to obtain, EPOs exist to protect victims when there is a serious and immediate need. They are not meant to be used to prevent behavior that is merely annoying. In some states, if weapons are involved, the EPO might last longer, e.g. as much as several months. Courts take EPOs seriously, because they can lead to serious consequences for the respondent, such as the loss of child custody or access to their home. 

Can an Emergency Protective Order Be Dropped?

An EPO can end if the victim does nothing to seek to extend it before the date which the court has set for it to end. So, if the court issues the order with an effective period of 5 days and the victim does nothing further, the EPO will end after 5 days.

If the victim wants the protection offered by an EPO to continue beyond a few days, then they must file for a temporary or permanent restraining order. 

The respondent who wants an EPO dropped has to file a motion to remove or modify the EPO with the court that issued the order. This motion can be supported by a statement from the victim stating that they do not intend to seek enforcement of the order and support its termination. The respondent would have to work with the victim or the victim’s attorney in order to arrange such a statement.

In any event, the court then holds a hearing on the motion to remove or modify the EPO. The respondent and the victim both have the opportunity to appear and present evidence for or against the motion. After hearing all of the evidence and the arguments of the parties, the court decides to either continue the EPO or to remove or modify it.

What Happens When an Emergency Protective Order Is Violated?

The exact penalties for violating an EPO vary from state to state. Depending on the nature of the violation and the history of the respondent, a violation might be a misdemeanor with the possibility of up to a year in jail and a fine of several thousand dollars. 

If the respondent who violates the EPO has violated the same or another EPO before, a court might treat the violation as a felony. Or, if weapons are involved, a court must treat it more harshly. If charged as a felony, in some states a violation might be punishable by a term of years in the state prison and by larger fines as high as $10,000. 

Should I Contact a Lawyer if I Need an Emergency Protective Order?

You should contact the police if you are in immediate danger from an abuser or offender. You should tell the police that you would like them to seek an emergency protective order on your behalf. Or, if time and circumstances allow it, you can engage the services of an experienced criminal lawyer when you are in need of a protective order. In some states, you might have to seek an EPO yourself and then you would definitely want to be represented by an experienced criminal lawyer.

Your lawyer can help with the process of obtaining protective orders and working with the police on your behalf. You will also want their representation when you appear in court for a hearing of an application for any kind of protective order, whether emergency or permanent.