In Minnesota, "domestic abuse" is defined to include physical harm, or threats intended to inflict fear of physical harm, upon a household member. Victims of domestic abuse may seek an Order for Protection. That Order may preclude the abuser from the home, or communicating with the victim, among other things.

From domestic violence to stranger-induced assault, a variety of encounters leave Minnesotans fearing for their safety. Thankfully, the state offers several countermeasures designed to restore security. Two main opportunities for victims: orders for protection and harassment restraining orders. Although similar in many respects, these options hold several key differences, as outlined below:

Order for Protection (OFP)

An order for protection’s primary objective is to protect the issuer from an abusive blood relative, significant other, former significant other, or roommate. The petitioner must have either suffered physical harm, the threat of physical harm, or forced sexual contact. If the OFP is granted, the alleged abuser may be removed from his or her home. Additionally, temporary custody decisions may be made based on the OFP. The petitioner can request for guns to be removed from the offender’s home. Violations are entered into the OFP State System, and thus subject to police access whenever a 911 call is made.

Harassment Restraining Order (HRO)

No relationship is required to establish a harassment restraining order. The petitioner, however must have suffered physical or sexual assault, or more than one unwanted act (including speech) intended to harm his or her safety or privacy.

A key difference between HROs and OFPs: with HROs, petitioners cannot request for gun removal or alter custody arrangements. Furthermore, while law enforcement officials can forcibly remove offenders from premises following successful filing of an OFP, HROs merely grant them the power to restrict abusers from returning home.

Choosing Between OFP and HRO

Ready to file an OFP or HRO? Your decision will largely depend on how you know the abuser, and how you anticipate the action will impact that person. Typically, law enforcement officials take OFPs more seriously than HROs. In most cases, if the victim is related to or has lived with the perpetrator, an OFP is the preferred option.

Both OFPs and HROs can be granted without a hearing, so take action today if you believe that either approach is warranted. A skilled Minnesota attorney can help you navigate the filing process and achieve the protection you deserve.

An OFP or HRO could be your ticket to a safer and more secure life in Minnesota. Seek support from the Brown Law Offices, P.A.

The Family Law Show returns, with a summary of the issues involved in obtaining, or defending against, an Order for Protection or Harassment Restraining Order.

The conduct giving rise to either Order may impact litigants in three types of cases: a civil case, a family case and a criminal case – often concurrently.

Topics discussed in this podcast include Minnesota’s Domestic Abuse Act, the impact an OFP or Restraining Order may have in family court, the standards and procedures involved in obtaining an Order for Protection, the standards and procedures involved in obtaining a Harassment Restraining Order and the criminal consequences that may stem from violating either type of Order.


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Acts of domestic abuse that occur during a marriage can have a substantial impact on custody proceedings.  A finding of domestic abuse can prohibit parties from sharing joint physical custody of their children.

Minnesota’s Domestic Abuse Act is contained within Minnesota Statutes Section 518B. It defines domestic abuse as “physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of imminent physical harm between family or household members” or “criminal sexual conduct” committed against the family or household member by an adult family or household member.” The physical acts described above are relatively straightforward.  Difficulties arise, however, when threats of physical harm are not followed with an act resulting in physical harm.  The question for the Court involves whether a threat results in fear of harm and whether that fear was reasonable under the circumstances.

A litigant bringing an act of domestic abuse to the attention of the court is ultimately seeking an Order for Protection. Such an Order prohibits contact by the offending party upon the victim, and often denies the perpetrator access to the victim’s residence and place of employment.

In order to secure an Order for Protection, the victim will first petition the court without notice to the perpetrator.  The court must accept as true the allegations contained within the petition.  If these allegations rise to the level of domestic abuse as defined by law, the court will enter a temporary order.  Then, the perpetrator is served with notice of the entry of the order.  At that point, the perpetrator may contest the issuance of the order by participating in an evidentiary hearing (a mini trial) on the issues.

If an Order for Protection is entered, criminal penalties are attached to a violation of the order.  As an additional consequence, if the situation involves acts of domestic abuse among a husband and wife who are dissolving their marriage, it is rather unlikely the court will consider an award of joint physical custody of the children of the parties.

A host of implications follow the issuance of an Order for Protection in Minnesota when a marital dissolution action is pending or will be filed:

Marriage dissolution petition. A petition for dissolution of marriage or legal separation must allege whether an OFP that governs the parties or a party and a minor child of the parties is in effect and, if so, the district court or similar jurisdiction in which it was entered.

Custody disputes. In a proceeding where two or more parties seek custody of a child, the court must consider and evaluate all relevant factors in determining the best interests of the child. One of the relevant factors set forth in Minnesota law is the effect on the child of the actions of abuse that has occurred between the parents or the parties. When joint legal or physical custody is contemplated, the court must consider whether domestic abuse has occurred between the parents. If domestic abuse has occurred between the parents, the court must apply a rebuttable presumption that joint legal or physical custody is not in the best interests of the child.

Parenting plan. Upon the request of both parents, a parenting plan may be created in lieu of an order for child custody. A parenting plan must include a schedule of time each parent spends with the child, a designation of decision-making responsibilities, and a method of dispute resolution. The court may not require a parenting plan that provides for joint legal custody or the use of dispute resolution processes (other than the judicial process) if the court finds that either parent has engaged in acts of domestic abuse or child abuse. In determining custody, a court must consider a finding under the Domestic Abuse Act or under a similar law of another state that domestic abuse has occurred between the parties.

Parenting time. Upon the request of either parent, the court must grant parenting time on behalf of the child and parent to enable them to maintain a parent-child relationship that will be in the best interests of the child. If the court finds, however, after a hearing, that parenting time is likely to endanger the child’s physical or emotional health or impair the child’s emotional development, the court must restrict parenting time and may deny parenting time entirely, if the circumstances warrant. If a parent requests supervised parenting time and an OFP is in effect, the judge or judicial officer must consider the OFP in making a decision regarding parenting time.

Modification of parenting time. If a parent specifically alleges that parenting time places the parent or child in danger of harm, the court must hold a hearing at the earliest possible time to determine the need to modify the order granting parenting time. The court must modify an order granting or denying parenting time whenever modification would serve the best interests of the child. Parenting time may not be restricted unless the parenting time is likely to endanger the child’s physical or emotional health or impair the child’s emotional development or the parent has chronically and unreasonably failed to comply with court-ordered parenting time.

Additional parenting time to provide child care. The court may allow additional parenting time to provide child care while the other parent is working, subject to reasonableness and the best interests of the child. In making this determination, the court must consider whether domestic abuse has occurred between the parties.

Move to another state. If a parenting-time order is in effect, the court must look at the effect of domestic abuse on the safety and welfare of the child and the parent when considering a request from a parent to move a child to another state. The burden of proof is upon the parent requesting the move, except that if the court finds that the person requesting the move is a victim of domestic violence, the burden of proof is on the parent opposing the move.

Custody and parenting time of children to unmarried persons. A proceeding by a father whose paternity has been recognized under Minnesota law to petition for rights of parenting time or custody may not be combined with a proceeding under the Domestic Abuse Act. Also, a petition by certain other individuals (e.g., grandparents or a person with whom a child has resided) for visitation rights may not be combined with a proceeding under the Domestic Abuse Act.

Participation in a parenting plan when a person is convicted of certain offenses. If a person seeking child custody or parenting time has been convicted of an applicable crime, the person seeking custody or parenting time has the burden to prove that custody or parenting time is in the best interests of the child. This provision applies if the conviction occurred within the preceding five years; the person currently is incarcerated, on probation or under supervised release for the offense; or the victim of the crime was a family or household member. In these cases, the court may not grant custody or parenting time to the person unless it finds that the custody or parenting time is in the best interests of the child. Also, if a person who has court-ordered custody of a child or parenting-time rights is convicted of an applicable crime and no action is pending regarding custody or parenting time, the sentencing court must refer the matter to the appropriate family court or action. The family court must:

  • Grant temporary custody to the noncustodial parent, unless it finds that another custody arrangement is in the best interests of the child; or
  • Suspend parenting-time rights, unless it finds that parenting time with the convicted person is in the best interests of the child.

Proceedings under this law must be expedited. The defendant has the burden of proving that continued custody or parenting time is in the best interests of the child. If the victim of the crime as a family or household member, the standard of proof is clear and convincing evidence.

Temporary orders and restraining orders. A temporary order in a proceeding brought for custody, dissolution, legal separation, or related matters may not vacate or modify an order granted under the Domestic Abuse Act restraining an abusing party from committing acts of domestic abuse. Upon proper motion the court may, however, hear a motion for modification of an OFP concurrently with a proceeding for dissolution of marriage.

Guardian ad litem. In all child custody, marriage dissolution, or legal separation proceedings in which custody or parenting time of a minor child is an issue, the court must appoint a guardian ad litem if the court has reason to believe that the minor child is a victim of domestic child abuse or neglect. The guardian ad litem must represent the interests of the child and provide advice to the  court on custody and parenting time.

The violaton of an Order for Protection in Minnesota can yield a number of penalties for those who are found to have done so, including criminal penalties, civil contempt and firearm possession implications.

Criminal penalties. Minnesota law provides misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, and felony penalties for a violation of an OFP issued under the Domestic Abuse Act or under a similar law of another state, the District of Columbia, tribal lands, or U.S. territories. In addition, any violation of an OFP constitutes contempt of court and is subject to the penalties for contempt. A known violation of an OFP is a misdemeanor. The penalty is a gross misdemeanor if the person knowingly violates an OFP within ten years of a previous qualified domestic violence-related offense conviction or adjudication of delinquency. The penalty is a five-year felony if the person knowingly violates the order within ten years of the first of two or more previous qualified domestic violence-related offense convictions or adjudications of delinquency. Felony penalties also apply to persons who commit the violation while possessing a dangerous weapon. The law provides minimum sentences upon misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, and felony convictions. The law also requires the court to order the defendant to participate in counseling or other appropriate programs selected by the court.

Statement of obligation and bond. The court may require the respondent to acknowledge an obligation to comply with an OFP on the record if the court finds that (1) the respondent has violated an OFP, and (2) there is reason to believe that the respondent will commit a further violation of the provisions of the order restraining the respondent from committing acts of domestic abuse, or excluding the respondent from the petitioner’s residence. The court also may require the respondent to post a bond sufficient to deter the respondent from committing additional violations. If the respondent refuses to comply with an order to acknowledge the obligation or to post a bond, the court must commit the respondent to the county jail during the term of the OFP or until the respondent complies.

Order to show cause. The court may issue an order to the respondent requiring the respondent to appear and show cause within 14 days why the respondent should not be found in contempt of court and punished. This order may be issued upon the filing of an affidavit by the petitioner, a peace officer, or an interested party designated by the court, alleging that the respondent has violated an OFP.

New order to replace expired order. If an OFP has expired between the time of an alleged violation and the court’s hearing on the violation, the court may grant a new OFP based solely on the respondent’s alleged violation of a prior order, which is effective until the hearing on the alleged violation of the prior order. If the court finds that the respondent has violated the order, the court may extend the relief granted in the new OFP for a fixed period, not to exceed one year, except when the court determines that a longer fixed period is appropriate.

Firearm and/or pistol possession. No person who has been convicted of domestic assault in Minnesota or elsewhere or of violating a domestic abuse OFP may possess a pistol unless three years have elapsed since the date of conviction and, during that time, the person has not been convicted of any other assault crime or OFP violation.