Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (FAQ)
Authored By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA)
What does Montana law say about domestic abuse?
It is against the law for a partner or family member to:
- cause you bodily harm, or
- cause you fear of bodily harm.
If you are being physically harmed, and/or being threatened with harm, your partner is breaking the law!
If you are in a violent relationship, there are options:
- Report the abuse to the police,
- Get an Order of Protection,
- Get help and support from someone you trust, and/or
- Call a crisis hotline, such as 1-800-799-SAFE.
What is an Order of Protection?
An Order of Protection is a court order, signed by a judge, which prohibits the person who has harmed you or threatened to harm you from having further contact with you. The order may also require the other person to transfer certain property to you, and may prohibit the person from concealing or disposing of property.
There is no filing fee for an Order of Protection. If the court finds you are in danger of harm, you will get a Temporary Order of Protection that orders your abuser to stay away from you until a hearing is held. When the court gives you your Temporary Order of Protection, it will also set a hearing. You must attend the hearing if you want the Temporary Order of Protection to remain in effect.
At the hearing, the judge will decide how long your Order of Protection will remain in effect.
Who is eligible for an Order of Protection?
You can ask for an Order of Protection if the person abusing you, or threatening to abuse you, is a family member, intimate partner, or former intimate partner. You can also ask for an Order of Protection if someone is stalking you, or has sexually assaulted you, whether or not you have had an intimate relationship with that person.
Do I need an attorney?
You do not need an attorney to get an Order of Protection. However, if any of the following are true, you should talk to an attorney either before you file or before your hearing:
- children are involved,
- you think the other party will have an attorney, or
- you think your request is particularly complicated.
Montana Legal Services Association may provide free legal help in Order of Protection cases for financially eligible individuals.
Where do I file for an Order of Protection?
An Order of Protection can be filed in city, justice, or district court. If you and the other party have a family law action filed in district court (i.e. divorce and/or custody action), the order must be filed in district court.
What if the abuser violates the Order of Protection?
Violation of an Order of Protection is a crime. You should call local law enforcement immediately to report the violation. The abuser may be arrested and may not be released from jail until there is a hearing before a judge. You should also keep a written log of all violations and/or suspected violations. This log may be used to show a pattern of behavior that may be helpful in the future prosecution of the abuser.
What services does the Montana Legal Services Association provide?
The Montana Legal Services Domestic Violence Unit provides the following free civil legal services for eligible low-income individuals:
- Legal advice,
- Forms and assistance to help you represent yourself,
- Referrals to free lawyers or advocates that can help you with your case,
- Direct representation in court and administrative hearings.
Please note that not all services are available in all areas of the state. Contact the Montana Legal Services Association to find out what services are available in your area.
Where can I get more information and support?
- To find a domestic violence program or shelter near you, contact the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence at (406) 443-7794 or 1-888-404-7794, or visit their Website at www.mcadsv.com
- Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
How do I get more help?
Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) provides free civil legal help to low-income people. Contact us to see if you qualify:
- Apply anytime online at mtlsa.org;
- Call our Helpline at 1-800-666-6899 (Helpline hours are limited).
What help can I find at MLSA?
- Legal advice and representation;
- Referrals to volunteer attorneys and other providers;
- Self-help clinics and materials.