A Brief Evolution of Protective Orders in Virginia

On July 1, 2011 the Virginia legislature put into effect sweeping changes that expanded the scope of protective orders in Virginia. The new law now covers any violent, forceful or threatening behavior that results in injury or places one at reasonable risk of death, sexual assault or injury. The protective order process has expanded to cover just about anyone who alleges abuse or threats of violence.

The motivation for the 2011 change in state law was the nationally publicized death of University of Virginia student Yeardley Love, whose ex-boyfriend, George W. Huguely V, was convicted of second-degree murder in her 2010 death.

Authorities said it would have been difficult for Love to have received a protective order under Virginia’s old law, which was deemed lacking compared with laws in many other states.

Some have argued that the new law is over-reaching.  This article from the Richmond Times Dispatch discusses a general misunderstanding of the new law amongst the public and the strain that this misunderstanding has placed on local courts.


There are currently three types of protective orders that victims can obtain from the courts:

Emergency protective orders are issued in crisis situations in which immediate protection is needed from an alleged abuser. They are issued by magistrates or judges and last 72 hours or until a court hearing can be held.

Preliminary protective orders can be obtained on the same day they are requested if a judge determines the petitioner is legitimately in fear of death, sexual assault or injury. They can last up to 15 days or until a hearing for a full protective order is held with input from the alleged abuser.

Full protective orders are more permanent and prohibit an abuser for an extended period from contacting or making further attempts to harm the victim. They can last up to two years. A judge may grant one following a full hearing after the issuance of a preliminary protective order.

If you have any questions about protective orders and how they work, please call Winslow & McCurry for a consultation at 804-423-1382.