Rules and Process for Obtaining and Fighting a VPO

The Victim protective order (“VPO”) is a tool in state court intended to protect victims of violence and harassment from assaultive conduct. A VPO in Oklahoma provides a legal process to protect both men and woman from abusive or harassing behavior from those with a current or former close relationship with the victim in need of a VPO. Once a VPO is in place it provides protections through potential civil and criminal penalties if or when the VPO is violated by the subject of the VPO. The following is a brief explanation of the Oklahoma VPO Process and rules governing eligibility for a VPO in Oklahoma. 

Eligibility for a Victim Protective Order in Oklahoma

The following individuals are eligible to seek a protective order in Oklahoma:

  1. The victim of stalking;
  2. The victim of harassment;
  3. The victim of domestic abuse;
  4. The victim of rape; or
  5. any adult or household member on behalf of any other family member or household member that is a minor with the age of 16 or 17 years.

In order to seek a VPO against an individual, there must be a relationship or specific acts must take place, in order to make the party qualify as someone eligible to seek a VPO. In Oklahoma, the partying bringing or filing the VPO is called the Petitioner, which is the same as the partying filing a lawsuit in a civil action. However, the party that the VPO is brought against is called the Defendant, which is the same title as the accused in a criminal case.

In order for a relationship to qualify for the purposes of a VPO in Oklahoma, the parties must be connected as follows: married, former spouses, present spouse of former spouse, dating relationship, former dating relationship, child-parent, biological parents of the same child, related by marriage, or live in the same household. All these relationships point to a close tie between the Petitioner and Defendant.  

A “dating relationship” is defined at Oklahoma Statutes Title 22 Section 60.1 as intimate association, primarily characterized by affectionate or sexual involvement.  For purposes of this act, a casual acquaintance or ordinary fraternization between persons in a business or social context shall not constitute a dating relationship.

However, the following victim-perpetrator relationships qualify for an emergency temporary VPO or emergency ex parte VPO; regardless of the relationship between the parties: rape victims, forcible sodomy victims, victims of a sex offense, kidnapping victims, victims of assault and battery with a deadly weapon, and immediate family members of the victim of murder.

Eligibility to seek a VPO in Oklahoma does not rest on the parties relationship alone. In order to be eligible to seek a VPO in Oklahoma jurisdiction must be proper in the Court. Jurisdiction is the Court’s authority to make binding decisions or rule on a case. In order for a Court in Oklahoma to have authority over a VPO case, at least one of the following jurisdictional requirements must be met in the case:

  1. The Petitioner of the VPO is a resident in the county in Oklahoma where the Petition is filed;
  2. The Defendant to the VPO is a resident of the county in Oklahoma where the Petition is filed; or
  3. The act constituting the Petition for a VPO must have occurred in the county in Oklahoma where the Petition is filed.

So far, we have addressed the individuals eligible to seek a VPO in Oklahoma and the jurisdiction of the court to order a VPO in Oklahoma. Next, we will address the specifics of the acts necessary to constitute a VPO; the defendant’s conduct must include: 1) attempting or causing physical harm; 2) threatening imminent physical harm; 3) stalking; or 4) harassment. Stalking requires the Petitioner to make a complaint against the defendant with the applicable law enforcement agency or police department prior to filing a Petition for a VPO. 

Domestic Abuse

The term domestic abuse can mean different things in different context. However, for the purpose of a VPO in Oklahoma, domestic abuse is defined at Oklahoma Statutes Title 22 Section 60.1 means any act of physical harm or the threat of imminent physical harm which is committed by an adult, emancipated minor, or minor child thirteen (13) years of age or older against another adult, emancipated minor or minor child who is currently or was previously an intimate partner or family or household member;

  1. “Family or household members” means:
    1. parents, including grandparents, stepparents, adoptive parents and foster parents,
    2. children, including grandchildren, stepchildren, adopted children and foster children,
    3. persons otherwise related by blood or marriage living in the same household, and
    4. persons otherwise related by blood or marriage;

Stalking

Stalking for the purpose of supporting a protective order in Oklahoma requires unconsented contact that occurred multiple times over a period of time. The following is a lengthy definition of stalking; however, it is directly from the statute that defines terms for victim protective orders.

The term stalking, for purposes of a victim protective order in Oklahoma, is also defined at Oklahoma Statutes Title 22 Section 60.1, as willful, malicious, and repeated following or harassment of a person by an adult, emancipated minor, or minor thirteen (13) years of age or older, in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to feel frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested and actually causes the person being followed or harassed to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested.  Stalking also means a course of conduct composed of a series of two or more separate acts over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of purpose or unconsented contact with a person that is initiated or continued without the consent of the individual or in disregard of the expressed desire of the individual that the contact be avoided or discontinued.  Unconsented contact or course of conduct includes, but is not limited to:

  1. following or appearing within the sight of that individual,
  2. approaching or confronting that individual in a public place or on private property,
  3. appearing at the workplace or residence of that individual,
  4. entering onto or remaining on property owned, leased or occupied by that individual,
  5. contacting that individual by telephone,
  6. sending mail or electronic communications to that individual, or
  7. placing an object on, or delivering an object to, property owned, leased or occupied by that individual. 

Harassment

Harassment for purposes of a victim protective order in Oklahoma requires a pattern of conduct that irritates or causes fear in a person without a legitimate purpose, i.e. not an isolated incident.

The term harassment, for purposes of a victim protective order in Oklahoma, is also defined at Oklahoma Statutes Title 22 Section 60.1, as knowing and willful course or pattern of conduct by a family or household member or an individual who is or has been involved in a dating relationship with the person, directed at a specific person which seriously alarms or annoys the person, and which serves no legitimate purpose.  The course of conduct must be such as would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress and must actually cause substantial distress to the person.  “Harassment” shall include, but not be limited to, harassing or obscene telephone calls in violation of Section 1172 of Title 21 of the Oklahoma Statutes and fear of death or bodily injury

Now that we have defined the relevant terms for protective orders in Oklahoma, we can turn to the process how to seek a victim protective order in Oklahoma. 

How Can I Get a Victim Protective Order in Oklahoma?

There are two avenues to get a victim protective order in Oklahoma: emergency ex-parte orders and emergency temporary ex-parte order, the tool used depends on access to the courthouse by the Petitioner.

Prior to a VPO having any force of law or effect, the Defendant must be served with the VPO. In most counties in Oklahoma, the Court Rules requires the sheriff’s office attempt service of process of the VPO on the Defendant. However, you can increase the likelihood of the Defendant being served if you have accurate information on his/her address and other contact information. 

What must be served on Defendant to VPO?

In order for the Defendant in an Oklahoma VPO to be considered “properly served,” the defendant must receive a copy of the following:

  • Filed copy of the Petition for Protective Order;
  • Notice of Hearing;
  • Filed copy of the Emergency Ex-parte Order issued by the court

When the sheriff’s office is unable to serve the Defendant or your process server is unable to serve the Defendant, the court may issue a new emergency order with a new hearing date and direct service be made upon the Defendant. Failure to serve the Defendant cannot be grounds to dismiss an ex-parte VPO, unless the Petitioner requests dismissal or fails to appear at a hearing. 

Emergency Ex-parte Order

Victims may seek an emergency ex-parte order during business hours for the county courthouse. Emergency ex-parte orders are covered in Oklahoma Statutes Title 22 Section 60.3, which is the most common tool used to obtain a VPO. First, you must go to the county courthouse, the appropriate courthouse for your action is based on the criteria described above, and fill out the Petition to seek a protective order. Typically, the paperwork will be available at the court clerk’s office. The document is simply called Petition for Protective Order. 

Once the paperwork is completed at the courthouse, the Court will hold an ex-parte hearing, meaning a hearing without the Defendant or subject of the protective order present and decide if sufficient grounds have been presented to enter an ex-parte order against the Defendant. The court will only issue an emergency ex-parte order if it finds an imminent and present danger of domestic abuse, stalking, harassment, or a qualifying sexual assault has occurred. The emergency order has full force and effect, once served, until the full VPO hearing, at which the Defendant appears. 

Fortunately, if the Defendant has been served with the emergency protective order and fails to appear at the protective order hearing, the emergency order stays in full force and effect. However, a final protective order will typically not be entered against a Defendant by default for failing to appear at the final VPO hearing and you will need to get an additional court date to attempt to secure the presence of the Defendant to your VPO.

Emergency Temporary Ex-parte Order

Victims may seek an emergency temporary ex-parte order when the courthouse is closed, if the Petitioner is the victim of domestic violence, stalking, harassment, rape, forcible sodomy, a sex offense, kidnapping or assault and battery with a deadly weapon, or a family member of a murder victim. 

The procedures and rules for emergency temporary ex-parte protective orders are governed by Oklahoma Statute Title 22 Section 40.3.  In order to initiate the process a victim must contact law enforcement or police and present information to support the basis for the emergency ex-parte temporary victim protective order.  Law enforcement officers have access to county judges to seek permission to grant these types of protective orders when courthouses are closed; however, the emergency order wil only be valid until a hearing before a judge, which must occur within 14 days of issuance of the emergency temporary order. 

Victim Protective Order Hearing

Victim Protective Order hearings must be scheduled within 14 days of filing the Petition for Protective Order; however, the court has authority to schedule a full VPO hearing within 72 hours of the issuance of an emergency ex-parte. Fortunately or unfortunately, dependent upon which side of the protective order you are on, an emergency VPO can suspend your visitation rights with your children, even children in your home that you are a custodial parent for if the Court enters an order that applies to minor children. 

Petitions for a VPO renew every 14 days with a new hearing date being scheduled, until the VPO Defendant is served. Again, a VPO shall not be dismissed or expire, solely on the basis of the Defendant avoiding service or failing to appear at the hearing. However, the Petitioner to a VPO can request the Court dismiss the Petition; however, the Court must enter an order dismissing the VPO. Additionally, a final protective order shall be granted or denied within six months of service on the Defendant, unless the parties agree for the temporary VPO to remain in effect. 

How to Prepare for Your Victim Protective Order Hearing in Oklahoma

The first step towards success in seeking a protective order or defending yourself against a victim protective order is to retain competent counsel. The rules and requirements to support a protective order are explained in detail above; however, you will be better prepared to present your case or your defense, if you have an experienced VPO attorney. 

The next step to prepare for your VPO hearing is to have a detailed discussion with your VPO attorney about how to best present evidence to support your victim protective order or what you can present to defend against the victim protective order. You may find your VPO case will be strengthened by presenting witnesses and exhibits or evidence to support your case. You will be held to the rules of evidence, whether you retain counsel or not, and it will be easier to ensure the evidence you want presented to the court is admitted, if you have experienced counsel assisting you in presenting your case.

There are many elements to telling a compelling story to support a victim protective order or to defend against one; however, thinking through your strategy is an important part of identifying what evidence you want to present, how you will present it, and what you will need to do in order for it to be deemed admissible. 

What Happens at the VPO Hearing

The specific procedures for Victim Protective Order hearings in Oklahoma are covered in Oklahoma Statutes Title 22 Section 60.4; however, the following is a overview of the process.

VPO hearings are similar to civil trials, i.e. both sides are permitted the opportunity to present evidence to support their position. The Petitioner of the VPO has the burden of proof, therefore he or she goes first. The Petitioner will have the opportunity to present witnesses and evidence to support the request for a protective order. After the Petitioner presents their case, the Defendant will have the opportunity to defend against the imposition of a protective order by presenting his or her evidence. Both parties are allowed to attack or cross-examine the witnesses presented by the other party. This is one of many aspects of a protective order that warrants retaining experienced VPO counsel. The burden of proof at the protective order is preponderance of the evidence. The petitioner must present enough evidence to convince the judge a protective order is necessary. 

The court has wide latitude to use terms that the Court believes will decrease the risk of domestic abuse, harassment, stalking, or sexual assault by the Defendant against the Petitioner and the Petitioner’s immediate family/household members. Courts tend to err on the conservative side when it comes to protective orders and place more restrictions in place, rather than less.  

In the case of a pending criminal action, the Court will hold off on holding a final protective order hearing and leave the temporary order in place, to avoid the Defendant deciding between exercising his/her Constitutional rights to remain silent or his/her right to speak on their behalf in the protective order hearing. 

The court may assess costs and fees against the defendant or attorney fees and costs against the Petitioner, if the court finds the protective order was frivolously filed

Unfortunately, we have seen in our divorce and child custody practice that protective orders are an often-abused tool to seek an upper hand in child custody proceedings. Therefore, the Oklahoma legislature enacted the following statute to provide consequences for abuse of the protective order tool. Oklahoma Statutes Title 22 Section 60.4 states the following at Subsection H:

1. It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly and willfully seek a protective order against a spouse or ex-spouse pursuant to the Protection from Domestic Abuse Act for purposes of harassment, undue advantage, intimidation, or limitation of child visitation rights in any divorce proceeding or separation action without justifiable cause.

2. The violator shall, upon conviction thereof, be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for a period not exceeding one (1) year or by a fine not to exceed Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00), or by both such fine and imprisonment.

3. A second or subsequent conviction under this subsection shall be a felony punishable by imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections for a period not to exceed two (2) years, or by a fine not to exceed Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000.00), or by both such fine and imprisonment.

OKLA. STAT. tit. 22 §60.4(H)(emphasis added)

Testifying at Your VPO Hearing

You will never be required to testify at your Victim Protective Order meeting; however, it is to your advantage to tell your story, so long as it will not incriminate you in pending or  a potential criminal case. Your testimony will be required by a court reporter, in most VPO hearings, and that information can be used against you in a criminal case. Whether you testify or not, it is important to present as much compelling and relevant evidence as you can to support your petition for a protective order or to defend against one. 

Final Victim Protective Order entered, what Now?

First and foremost, the Defendant to the VPO is required to abide by the terms of the Order, which will at a minimum include no contact with the Petitioner and not appearing at the Petitioner’s home or place of business, without a civil stand down or law enforcement presence. Final protective orders can be put in place for a maximum of five years in Oklahoma and the violation of a protective order is a crime in Oklahoma. Additionally, it is important to know that the Petitioner in a protective order cannot be in violation of the Order. Only the Defendant can violate a protective order. Therefore, you cannot rely on the Petitioner contacting you as a defense to violating a protective order. 

Impacts of a VPO Places Against a Defendant

The principle impact of a VPO is an order to stop contact between the Defendant and the Petitioner. However, it can have many additional impacts, including the following:

  • Prohibited the Defendant from attempting or having any contact with the Petitioner by any means, including telephone, mail, e-mail, social media, or any other means, including using a third party to contact the Petitioner; 
  • Prohibiting the use of any other means to accomplish visible force or the threat of force against the Petitioner;
  • Placing the Petitioner in any form of reasonable fear of bodily harm or further prohibited conduct or the Petitioner’s immediate family or household members; 
  • means, or any other manner at any time or place unless specifically authorized by the court;
  • Prohibit the Defendant from terminating telephone or other services used by the Petitioner without a separate court order; 
  • Immediate surrender of all firearms or other dangerous weapons; and/or
  • Requirement to obtain domestic abuse counseling or other treatment options.

This is not an exhaustive list, meeting with an experienced victim protective order attorney is the best way to ensure you know what you are facing as a Defendant in a VPO or what you may seek as relief, if you are the Petitioner seeking a VPO.

What You Can do if Someone Files a VPO on You

We have represented many clients facing what you are faced with, if you have been served with a VPO in Oklahoma. It is a scary and understandably upsetting proposition. Unfortunately, the amount of evidence necessary to support the entry of an Emergency Ex-parte VPO is low. The VPO process serves a very important public service; however, as the Defendant in a VPO, it is scary to know how easy your reputation and freedoms can be diminished by entry of an Emergency Ex-parte VPO or especially a final VPO. 

VPO cases are very public in Oklahoma with the prevalence and access to court records provided by oscn.net Anyone at any time can search the docket on oscn.net and identify any person with a pending VPO and obtain a copy of the Petition supporting the Petition for VPO. This information is not said to scare you, but rather to inform you that the matter is serious and it is important that seek experienced VPO counsel to assist you in this process.

Additionally, you must obey the VPO first and seek to fight it second. 

How to Beat a VPO in Oklahoma

The petitioner can win at the VPO hearing if they put on enough evidence to make the court believe that a final protective order should be in effect. The defendant can win at the hearing if the petitioner does not put on enough evidence to have the court believe that a protective order should be in effect. If the parties show up to the hearing and the petitioner states that he or she wants the VPO dropped, then the judge will dismiss the VPO. A VPO can also get dismissed if the petitioner does not show up.

Do not take any action that prevents another party from showing up in court. Don’t threaten or a harass witness with the intent to prevent them from testifying. Doing any of these things will hurt your case and potentially subject you to criminal liability.

Next Step in Your Oklahoma VPO Case

You need Your Fierce AdvocatesÔ, if you or a loved one are seeking or fighting a VPO in Oklahoma.  Cannon & Associates has an outstanding record of assisting clients on both sides of victim protective orders. Fill out the form on this page now to discuss your VPO case with our team or you may reach our Director of Client Care at [email protected] or by calling or texting (405) 657-2323.