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Civilian and Military Protection Orders: Which Should I Get?

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded

3710EN - There are key differences between the issuance and enforcement of protection orders by state courts (civilian protection orders) and protection orders issued and enforced by the military (military protection orders). Knowing the differences will help you decide what kind of protection order to get.

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Introduction: A Story

Janette has a civilian job on a military base in Spokane. She recently ended a relationship with Chris, who is stationed there.

Against her wishes, Chris kept calling Janette and stopping by her office. Janette went to base command. She explained that she wanted Chris to leave her alone.

Chris' commanding officer (CO) ordered him to stop having any contact with Janette. The CO gave a military protection order to Jeanette. The CO explained that Chris will be held accountable if he bothers her.

A week later, Janette is shopping off base in the local grocery store. Chris approaches her and asks her to give their relationship another chance. She tries to walk away. He starts following her, shouting.

Bystanders call 911. The cops arrive.

Janette explains that she has a military protection order. The police look at her order but say they cannot enforce it. They refer her to the local DV advocacy program to get a protection order from state court.

What happened here?

This story illustrates a common problem. There are key differences between the issuance and enforcement of protection orders by state courts (civilian protection orders) and protection orders issued and enforced by the military (military protection orders). Knowing the differences will help you decide what kind of protection order to get.

Civilian and military protection orders are issued differently:

Civilian protection orders: State courts issue final protection orders after the respondent has had notice of the protection order and the chance to have a hearing. The respondent gets due process.

  • "Due process" means that at the hearing, the respondent gets to tell their side of the story and defend himself/herself against the petitioner's allegations.

Military protection orders:  A commanding officer (CO) issues these orders. The military process allows CO's to order the service member to stop the abuse. The CO may also order the service member to do certain things or limit their access to firearms. The service member gets no chance to respond. The service member does not have due process protections. This is why states, tribes and territories will not enforce military protection orders.

What if I would rather get a civilian protection order against someone who is in the military and living/working on base?

You have to have the person served with your protection order papers. Service of civilian orders on military installations is not easy. Local law enforcement and service agencies do not have the authority to serve documents on military installations. You may need to arrange for service to take place off base.

In your situation, base command and civilian law enforcement may have entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that agrees how service of process will take place on individuals located on base. Check with local law enforcement to see if they have one. This will make service easier for you.

Will they enforce a civilian protection order on base?

The Department of Defense (DoD) has directed that protection orders issued by civilian courts have full force and effect on military installations.

Will they enforce a military protection order off base?

No. Civilian courts and law enforcement do not have the power to enforce military protection orders. You should report service members' violations of civilian and military protection orders to base command or military police.

Where can I get more information?

You might also want to read these publications:

Domestic Violence: How the Legal System Can Help Protect You

Tips on Getting Your Paperwork Ready so You Can Get Help with Your Family Law Case

Where can I get help?

The following agencies have information on protection orders and the military and may be able to help you in this area of protection order law:

The military's Family Advocacy Programs (FAP) promote public awareness within military and civilian communities and coordinate intervention at all levels, including law enforcement, social services, health services, and legal services. An FAP can tell you about your options through the military, as well as the civilian court system.

The Battered Women's Justice Project's Military Advocacy Program provides technical help in matters related to domestic violence and military service members. They will discuss the pros and cons and help you navigate both military and civilian domestic violence responses. Call 703-822-8118.

If you decide to get a civilian protection order, our Domestic Violence Order for Protection - Self-Help Forms online interview can help.

Northwest Justice Project would like to acknowledge the work of the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit (NCPOFFC). This publication is based on information disseminated in NCPOFFC's newsletter.


This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of November 2013.

© 2013 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)
Last Review and Update: Nov 19, 2013