Updates to Tennessee Orders of Protection

On July 1, 2011, a new statute went into effect, changing how Tennessee deals with Orders of Protection. When an Order of Protection is issued, the Court orders that the defendant not abuse or threaten the Plaintiff. The Defendant is also restrained from damaging the Plaintiff’s property, belongings or pets. Only certain people can request an Order of Protection, including:

  • Current or former spouses;
  • Individuals who live together or used to live together;
  • People who are dating or previously dated;
  • Individuals who have or used to have a sexual relationship;
  • People related by blood or adoption;
  • Those who are related or who were related by marriage;
  • Or the children of any individual mentioned above.

Previously, when an alleged victim requested an Order of Protection, the courts required the accused to pay all costs associated with the process, even if no Order of Protection was ultimately granted. Fines could never be assessed against the victim, which encouraged some frivolous claims since the person seeking protection had nothing to lose.

However, the state legislature addressed this potential abuse by passing a law that places the financial burden on the Petitioner (the one seeking the Order of Protection) if the Order is not granted. Before making the Petitioner pay court costs, the court must find 3 things. First, the court must find that the Petitioner was not a victim of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault. Secondly, the court must find that the reason the Order of Protection was denied was because the Petitioner was not a victim. Finally, the court must find that the Petitioner knew their claims were false when the petition was filed. If a court finds those three things, the Court can require the Petitioner to pay all court costs.

In domestic situations, where relationships are at stake and emotions are high, this legislation will balance the need to protect victims of domestic abuse against the need to deter false and vindictive claims of abuse. Those who are genuinely concerned about their safety or the safety of their children can still seek an Order of Protection without incurring any cost, as long as they do not make claims they know to be false. However, with this law, the legislature has recognized that Orders of Protection have a serious impact on the lives of those accused of abuse. These types of orders are often abused in family law cases, especially when children are involved. In light of this new approach, those seeking an Order of Protection should be sure their allegations are well founded.

This legislation also provides greater protection to those victims who are awarded an Order of Protection. Judges in Tennessee are now able to require defendants to wear a GPS monitoring system as a condition of bail in any case involving domestic violence, aggravated stalking or especially aggravated stalking. This may also be required if the defendant has been previously found in violation of an Order of Protection. Before ordering a defendant to wear a GPS device, the judge must consider whether wearing the device will deter the aggressor from injuring, killing, threatening or stalking the victim before trial. The benefit of these tracking systems is that victims will be warned if the defendant enters a restricted area, allowing the victim time to either leave the area or find a safe place.

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