New Texas Protective Order Laws for 2012 Making Domestic Violence Victims Safer

New laws are now making victims of stalking and domestic violence safer throughout the state of Texas. Six bills were passed in the most recent legislative session governing protective orders, a legal tool used to prevent contact between a victim and an accused stalker or abuser. Those six bills were part of the larger 20 new statutes and rules that were put on the books in 2011 as part of a statewide crackdown on stalking and domestic violence.

Why Is the State Cracking Down Now?

Stalking is notoriously hard to prove, and that is in large part responsible for it being one of the most under-reported and under-charged crimes in Texas. According to data provided by Aaron Setliff of the Texas Council on Family Violence, an estimated 3.4 million individuals are stalked annually, with 30 percent of the victims being stalked by an intimate partner. Stalking is involved in nearly 80 percent of the "femicide" cases seen in Texas annually, so curbing that behavior with tougher laws could lead to a lower female homicide rate.

How Did the Laws Governing Protective Orders Change?

In addition to SB 789 allowing a permanent (life-long) protective order under certain circumstances for the first time - the previous limit was two years - the newest Texas laws dealing with protective orders and the Texas Family Code concern:

  • Pets and other companion animals - SB 279 allows protective orders to include pets, service animals and other companion animals. The new law provides for the protection of removing the pet and/or harming the pet while the order is in place. These protective orders may also include protection from threatening to harm the pets. Now victims of family violence can safeguard the beloved family dog or cat.
  • Dating violence now includes non-intimate partners, making protective orders available to a new boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse. Dating violence is defined by SB 116 as an act by an individual that is committed against a victim because of the victim's marriage to or dating relationship with an individual with whom the individual is or has been in a dating relationship or marriage
  • Victims of sexual assault - there is no longer a requirement for an applicant to prove that the applicant is the subject of a threat that reasonably places the applicant in fear of further harm from the alleged offender. Now, under SB 649, the only required finding is reasonable grounds to believe the applicant is a victim of a sexual assault
  • Stalking victims - these weren't available under the law in the past unless the victim had also been subjected to sexual assault or domestic abuse. Under SB 250, the Court must find that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the applicant is the victim of stalking. The new stalking protective orders will order the stalker to stay away.

These new laws recognize the usefulness of protective orders as a legal tool and make them available to more Texans than ever before. If you or a loved one is being abused, seek help from law enforcement or the court system. If you need help filing for a protective order in conjunction with a legal separation or divorce, consult an experienced family law attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options for protection.