Military Protective Orders: Understanding Your Options

Depressed woman looking out of rainy window - Domestic violence concept

Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, is present everywhere in American society, often just under the surface. Rich families, poor families, and those in between; families of every race and ethnicity; families in cities, suburbs, and rural areas. And, of course, domestic violence is present in military installations, too.

Since intimate partner violence is so prevalent, it’s not surprising that many military families are dealing with the issue. But just as in other settings, domestic abuse is not something victims often talk about, either out of a sense of shame, love for their partner, or worry that reporting it will make things worse for the family.

This blog post is to reassure you that if you are a military spouse experiencing domestic violence, you are not alone. There are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family. And there are people to help you get the protection you need. Here are some questions we frequently get about Military Protective Orders (MPOs).

What is a Military Protective Order?

A Military Protective Order is an order that can be issued by a commanding officer to protect someone who has experienced domestic violence or child abuse by a service member under that officer’s command.

Who Can Get an MPO?

A civilian or member or service member can file a request for an MPO against a service member on active duty who has hurt them or their child. The service member must be either:

  • A current or former spouse;
  • Someone with whom the victim has a child in common, even if they were never married; or
  • A current or former intimate partner with whom the victim lived, even if they were never married or had a child together.

What Does an MPO Do?

The MPO can require an alleged abuser who is a service member to do or not do certain things.

These include:

  • Not having any contact or communication with the victim or a member of their household or family. In addition to prohibiting in-person contact, the MPO can also prohibit phone calls, written correspondence, emails, and contact through social media or another person.
  • Staying away from the family home, whether on or off of the military installation, and staying away from the victim’s job and their mutual children’s schools, daycares, etc.
  • Leaving a public place if the victim is there
  • Attending counseling sessions
  • Moving into barracks
  • Surrendering weapons issued to them by the government.

The commander may be able to add other directives or restrictions to the MPO if they are necessary to keep the victim safe, so if there’s something specific you think you need, let the commander know. Make sure to get a copy of the MPO and carry it with you at all times

I am a Service Member, but my Abuser is Not. Can I Still Get an MPO?

A commander cannot issue an MPO against a civilian; you will have to get a civil “Order of Protection” from the South Carolina Family Court. The commander can, however, bar a civilian from entering the military installation, so this could protect you while you are on the installation.

How Long is an MPO Effective?

At least initially, MPOs are usually short-term solutions. An MPO can be in effect for as few as ten days. Once an MPO is issued, the usual process is for the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) to obtain more information about the current situation and the history of the victim and the alleged abuser. The FAP will provide this information to the commander and the MPO may be extended if the risk to the victim is ongoing.

If you are granted an MPO, it may or may not have an expiration date on it. However, the commander has the authority to modify or terminate the MPO regardless of that date if doing so is warranted. Also, an MPO issued by one command cannot be enforced by another if the service member is transferred. A new MPO would be needed.

How Do I Get an MPO?

If you need an MPO, you can contact the service member’s commander directly, but it may be easier to initiate the process through a FAP advocate or an attorney experienced in family law and military issues.

Unlike in civil (state) court, there is not a hearing about whether the protective order should be issued, so you won’t have to be in a hearing room with your abuser. The decision about whether to issue an MPO rests with the commander. There is no charge to request or receive an MPO.

Do I Need an Order of Protection if I Have an MPO?

Possibly. MPOs cannot be enforced by civilian law enforcement, so it may make sense to have a protective order that can be. If you have an Order of Protection, however, under federal law it has full force and effect on military installations.

How Do I Appeal a Baseless MPO Against Me?

Under some circumstances, an MPO can be issued when there are no grounds for it. This can, of course, cause serious problems for the service member. If you feel an order against you is baseless, you may want to consult an attorney experienced in these matters who can advocate for you with your commander or the Staff Judge Advocate.

If you have questions about getting, enforcing, or appealing a military or civilian protective order, we invite you to contact Brinkley Law Firm to schedule a consultation.

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Since founding Brinkley Law Firm in 2011, attorney Stephanie Brinkley has helped families grow and expand by navigating them through the legal challenges surrounding Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) and Adoption. As an attorney who focuses on f… Read More
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Maggie M. Ramsey brings to the firm considerable knowledge and experience in matters that impact Lowcountry families. Her services are dedicated to assisting families, especially those who serve the community through military service, government cont… Read More

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