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The Basics of Domestic Violence


An act of domestic violence may be addressed both in the criminal and civil courts. The criminal court is involved when the State of North Carolina, through the district attorney, brings criminal charges against the alleged abuser (most commonly for assault, communicating threats, or violating a domestic violence protective order). In the criminal context, the victim is a witness for the State, and the abuser is the Defendant. The civil court is involved when the victim (the Plaintiff/Petitioner) files a petition for a domestic violence protective order against the abuser (the Defendant/Respondent).

A domestic violence protective order is known by various names, all of which are synonymous. These names include DVPO, restraining order, 50B, and emergency protective order. For the court to grant a domestic violence protective order, the Plaintiff must prove both that:

  1. the victim is related to the abuser because they:
    1. Were or are currently married; or
    2. Were or are currently living together; or
    3. Are dating (this only applies to opposite sex relationships); or
    4. Have a child together; or
    5. Are related as parent and child, or as grandparent and grandchild.


  1. An act of domestic violence occurred, which is defined as:
    1. Causing physical harm; or
    2. Attempting to cause physical harm; or
    3. Placing the victim in fear of imminent, serious bodily injury or continued harassment that results in substantial emotional distress.

See North Carolina General Statutes Section 50B-1 for more information about the definition of domestic violence.

Once the court grants a domestic violence protective order, the court is empowered to enter additional orders, including:

1. Evicting the abuser from the home, if the victim and abuser live together.

2. Restraining the abuser from being near the victim, as well as the victim’s home, workplace, or anywhere else the court determines is necessary to protect the victim.

3. Granting temporary child custody of minor children and child support for such children.

4. Granting temporary spousal support (as the name implies, this is only allowed where the parties are currently married to each other).

5. Transferring possession of personal property owned by either the victim and/or the abuser (for example, motor vehicles and pets).

The purpose of the domestic violence protective order is to provide safety for the victim in a timely manner. The protective order lasts for up to one year and may be renewed by the court for good cause if the victim files a motion before the current protective order expires. To learn more about obtaining a domestic violence restraining order, or responding to one, contact a family law attorney.

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