The Power of a “Piece of Paper” – A Look at the Power of Protection Orders in Domestic Violence Cases

Brandon Brehm | October 14, 2018

denver legal advocacy

As domestic violence awareness month is upon us, we feel it was important to discuss a common tool that is often considered by many survivors, protection orders. 

A protection order, commonly known as a restraining order, is an order issued by a court, which implements legal restrictions on an individual. These restrictions can include contacting  or going near another individual. Restraining orders are frequently mentioned in the media, and portrayed in various ways. Some of these portrayals are accurate, while some are not. However, a frequent portrayal is that protection orders “are just a piece of paper”. While yes, the court order is typically presented on a piece of paper, we want to share information about the protection order process in the state of Colorado to highlight the strength and courage it can take to obtain one, and the power that the piece of paper has as a tool for survivors of domestic violence.


Typically there are two types protection orders used in assault cases in Colorado, a criminal protection order and a civil protection order. There are important distinctions between the two types. Criminal Protection orders, also known as MRO’s (Mandatory Restraining Orders) are entered by the state automatically upon the arrest of someone who has committed a crime against another person, such as domestic violence. These protection orders can be positive in that they are automatically entered upon arrest and the survivor does not have to take action for them to be put in place. However, these orders also have some downsides for survivors. If a survivor depends financially or otherwise on the person who was arrested  criminal protection orders can compromise the survivor’s stability or ability to maintain their housing or finances.. Criminal protection orders only last as long as the criminal case continues and through the sentence. For example, if someone is sentenced to 60 days in jail and 1 year of probation, then the protection order will expire automatically at the end of the probation. However, these cases do not consider the survivor’s perspective and there is very little agency that one has in impacting the outcome of these cases. This is where a civil protection order can be useful. 

Civil Protection Orders are issued at the request of the survivor and the survivor has significant agency to impact the details of the case. In the State of Colorado, civil protection orders can be made permanent, can request different address be protected and can include children that are also in danger. 

Survivors interested in obtaining a civil protection order can apply for one in the county where they live, work, or where the other party lives or works, or where the incidents occurred. The process is as follows;

  1. The survivor fills out paperwork to request that the court issue a civil protection order.
  2. The survivor submits that paperwork to the clerk of the court, the paperwork is processed and then the survivor is sent to see a judge or magistrate that is on duty. Typically, this happens the same day the paperwork is submitted*. 
  3. The survivor will appear before the judge and testify as to why they are seeking protection from the court. The judge evaluates the testimony on the basis of the survivor being in imminent danger, and that there is a threat to their life, health or safety. This testimony usually lasts between 5 and 15 minutes. Evidence other than the statement of the survivor is not needed at this time.
  4. If the judge finds that the legal standard for a protection order has been met, then they will likely issue a Temporary Protection Order (TPO)
  5. From there, the TPO must be officially delivered (or served) on the other party. Typically this is done through law enforcement in the county the other party to be restrained, is located.
  6. Upon successful service, the temporary protection order is in full effect.
  7. Within 14 days, there must be another hearing, called a Permanent Protection Order Hearing. In this hearing, the survivor presents evidence to the judge and the other party is able to respond, and provide their side of events. After hearing from both sides, the judge will make a determination whether to make the temporary protection order permanent, or dismiss the case. Mediation options* usually offered as well, and mediation can present other options for the survivor, such as continuing the temporary protection order for one year.

    Mediation is optional for DV survivors.


A civil protection order can provide some important safety tools for survivors. A few benefits can include; 1) being able to provide multiple addresses that can be protected whether the survivor is present at the location or not. 2) In certain circumstances they can grant temporary care and control of children to a particular parent. 3) They provide strict consequences for violations, and reduce the amount of evidence needed for an arrest to occur warrant to issue. 4) They can remove a party from a shared home, regardless of the lease details and 5) getting a survivors voice heard, recorded and presented in a public setting. 

While protection orders certainly cannot guarantee the safety of a survivor, they can provide important and potentially life saving tools for a survivor. To refer to a protection order as “just a piece of paper” it diminishes the effort a survivor has put forth to obtain one, and ignores some of the benefits they can provide for the right circumstances.

Protection Orders are one of many tools that are available to survivors, and can provide powerful protections for those who obtain them. If you’re considering a protection order or have questions about if a protection order may be right for you, please contact your local advocacy organization. If you are in Jefferson County, Family Tree’s Legal Advocacy Program can provide assistance through the process, attend court hearings and can connect survivors to other options and tools. Please contact us at (303) 271-6559 or for more information, or to ask questions. Services are available in Spanish.

Nuestros servicios están disponibles en Español.

* Each court house operates slightly differently in terms of when they accept applications for protection orders, contact the advocacy agency in your county for more information about times and procedures of various courthouses.