WomensLaw is not just for women. We serve and support all survivors, no matter their sex or gender.

Legal Information: Federal


View all
June 25, 2013

What are the differences between the military and the civilian justice system?

One of the main differences is that in the military, the commanding officer has the authority to decide what behavior to address and whether to use judicial, administrative, or other means to deal with domestic abuse or domestic violence.  There are some general guidelines, but the important point is that the commander can use his/her full discretion to decide what to do.

The civilian justice system deals with domestic violence/abuse in a different way than the military system does.  The civilian justice system makes decisions based on the state’s laws.  Courts will decide what punishment or other action to take, based on testimony and evidence from both sides.  Please see your state's page on this site (www.WomensLaw.org) to see how the civilian justice system handles domestic violence/abuse in your state.

In both the military and civilian justice systems, you can seek a protective order requiring the abuser to stay away from you and your children, your home, your workplace or school and not engage in any violent conduct.  Protective orders have different names in the various states, but the MPO or military protective order is consistently called that among all the Services.  You can have both an MPO and a civil protective order (CPO) at the same time.  However, the procedure for getting an MPO and a CPO and the duration of the orders are quite different in both systems.  See Military Protective Orders for more information on MPOs.