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What Behaviors Qualify for a Domestic Violence Protective Order?

Domestic violence comes in many forms. If your partner or spouse has made you feel unsafe, you may be able to get a Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVPO). North Carolina provides a relatively broad categorization of behaviors that could warrant a DVPO. This article offers general information about acts that may qualify for a DVPO, but you can get personalized guidance by speaking to a Greensboro divorce lawyer.

Acts of Domestic Violence in North Carolina

When someone with whom you have a qualifying relationship commits an act of domestic violence, a DVPO can be a helpful safeguard against further violence or harassment. North Carolina considers the following to be acts of domestic violence[1]:

  • Intentionally causing physical harm
  • Trying to cause physical harm
  • Causing substantial emotional distress from fear of injury or harassment
  • Sexual assault

In order to be granted a DVPO based on harassment, you must prove that the acts had no legitimate purpose.[2]

Many people think harassing or harmful acts must fit into narrow parameters of dangerous or threatening behavior. Common examples include stalking, hitting, and brandishing a weapon. However, even a single seemingly innocent act can qualify for a DVPO if done in a threatening or harassing way, which is what happened in the case of Keenan v. Keenan.[3]

Keenan v. Keenan

Plaintiff in Keenan filed for a DVPO after Defendant, her ex-husband, mowed her grass without her permission. Plaintiff told Defendant numerous times not to come to her home to mow her grass. When he showed up the next day against her wishes, she also asked him to leave multiple times.

As part of his argument, Defendant stated that mowing the grass served a legitimate purpose, which he said was to protect his children’s best interests because the yard was overgrown. The trial court rejected this argument and entered the permanent DVPO. Defendant appealed.

This case also addressed the issue of multiple acts versus single acts of domestic violence and harassment. Defendant argued that North Carolina law requires two or more acts to be committed to satisfy the requirements of harassment in the context of domestic violence. The Court of Appeals disagreed and determined that a single act could be sufficient for a DVPO to be granted. It is worth noting that, while a single act precipitated the DVPO in Keenan, Defendant had a history of abusive behavior, which factored into the decision to grant the permanent DVPO.

Also in question in Keenan was whether mowing Plaintiff’s grass without her permission served a legitimate purpose. The appeals court ruled that because Defendant was asked and directed not to mow the grass, his behavior was intended to torment, terrorize, or terrify Plaintiff. Therefore, it did not serve a legitimate purpose.

The Keenan case shows that domestic violence does not need to be continuous behavior, repeated harassment, or physical harm to warrant a protective order.


[1]NC General Statute § 50B-1.

[2] North Carolina Judicial Branch. How to Get a Protection Order.

[3]Keenan v. Keenan, 2022-NCCOA-554.