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How can I use a PPO to Protect Myself from Domestic Violence?

Though often not talked about, domestic violence is one of the most significant problems that people involved in family law cases face.  To make matters worse, the loss of control that a domestic abuser often experiences during a family law case can often lead the abuser to become even more threatening, violent, and abusive.  So, it is important that any person facing a family law dispute is aware of the process of using a Personal Protection Order (PPO) to prevent such threats and abuse.

How do I get a PPO?

The party seeking the PPO is called the “petitioner,” and the party against whom the PPO is being sought is the “respondent.”  There are actually three different kinds of PPO’s a petitioner can seek, each pertaining to a certain relationship between the parties involved or a certain behavior of the respondent.  The first type of PPO is a domestic relationship PPO.  This type of PPO is only available if the parties are or have been married, have a child together, have lived together, or have dated.  The second type of PPO, a stalking PPO, does not require a particular relationship between the parties, but it does require at least two instances of stalking behavior by the respondent.  The third type of PPO, a sexual assault PPO, requires neither a particular relationship nor multiple instances of a behavior.  It is available when the respondent has threatened the petitioner with sexual assault or has been convicted of sexually assaulting the petitioner.

If the petitioner’s situation fits into any of those three categories, then the petitioner can file a Petition for a PPO and ask the family law court to enter a PPO against the respondent.  Many courts have special clinics or offices where petitioners can come and seek assistance in completing their PPO Petition.  Generally, petitioners will first ask the Judge to enter the PPO without the respondent knowing the petitioner has filed for it.  This is called an “ex parte” PPO.  If the Judge feels that there is sufficient danger in providing notice to the other side that a Petition has been filed, then the Judge will sign the ex parte PPO, and the PPO is immediately effective.  He will also note on the PPO exactly what type of behaviors by the respondent are prohibited.  This can be anything from threatening the petitioner to stepping onto his or her property to showing up at her work.

If, however, the Judge feels that he or she needs additional facts – or needs to hear from the other side – before he or she can determine whether a PPO is appropriate, then he or she will set the matter for a hearing.  Both parties are to attend the hearing and provide evidence as to why a PPO is – or is not – appropriate.  Both parties have the option of hiring an attorney to represent him or her at this hearing.  It can be a significant advantage to have an attorney at this stage, as a competent attorney is well-versed in developing and setting forth the relevant facts necessary to prevail.  If the Judge is satisfied that the Petitioner has shown that the requirements for the particular PPO being sought have been fulfilled, then he or she will sign the PPO, and it is immediately effective.  Just as with an ex parte PPO, the Judge checks boxes on the PPO to show what actions the respondent must refrain from.

How does a PPO work?

What does it mean that the PPO is now “effective?”  It means that it gets entered in law enforcement’s statewide database and is now immediately enforceable by any law enforcement officer in the state.  Thus, if the respondent commits any of the offenses prohibited by the PPO, the petitioner can immediately call the police.  Upon responding to the scene, if the officers find the respondent to be in violation of the PPO, they are to arrest him on the spot.  One exception is that, if the respondent has not yet been personally served with a copy of the PPO, law enforcement must advise the respondent of the existence of the PPO and give him or her the opportunity to rectify the violation (such as by leaving the petitioner’s property).  If the respondent does not rectify the violation, he or she will be arrested. 

If a respondent is arrested for a violation of a PPO, or if a petitioner feels that a PPO was violated but an arrest did not occur, a hearing will be held by the court that issued the PPO.  At that hearing, both parties are expected to formally present their evidence as to whether or not a violation occurred, and the Judge makes a determination.  Again, having an attorney at this hearing provides the represented party with the best chance of proving his or her case.  If the Judge finds a violation, he or she can sentence the respondent to up to 93 days in jail and a $500 fine.

It is also important to know that, within certain time periods after the PPO has been entered, both the petitioner and the respondent can file motions related to the PPO.  The petitioner can ask the court to extend, modify, or terminate the PPO.  Similarly, the respondent can request that the PPO be modified or rescinded.  At a hearing on any of these issues, the Judge will be attempting to determine whether a PPO is still necessary and what, specifically, it should prohibit.    

How do I make a PPO work for me?

Dealing with a family law issue can be extremely stressful and overwhelming.  It becomes far more so when your personal safety is being threatened.  The PPO process can be a very effective tool in protecting yourself, but it can also become its own source of stress, and the stakes are high.  Having an attorney you trust to guide you through the steps and represent you at the proceedings helps ensure that the process does what it is designed to do: keep you safe.

Can’t Find an Answer to Your Question About Personal Protection Orders?

If you have a question about PPO’s that was not included in this article, please call our office and Michigan family law and divorce attorney Carlo J. Martina can answer your questions. Mr. Martina can also represent you in all family law and divorce proceedings to ensure your rights and interests are protected.

Call Michigan divorce lawyer Carlo J. Martina today at (734) 254-1140 to schedule a consultation.

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