Filing for a civil protection order allows a petitioner to take private right of action against someone else for harassing them, threatening them, or committing a criminal offense against them, their property, or even a pet.

A civil protection order, heard in the Domestic Violence Division of the DC Superior Court, is known in other jurisdictions as a protective order and may be referred to colloquially as a stay away order. It is important to understand, however, that a stay away order in DC is actually obtained through a criminal case. A temporary restraining order is yet another kind of case in which you may request that someone stay away from you or your property; this case is heard in the DC Superior Court’s Civil Division and may be an option if you do not have the requisite relationship to the opposing party to file for a civil protection order.

You must reside, live, work, or attend school in DC in order to file a petition for a civil protection order in the Domestic Violence Division. Filing for a civil protection order in DC could be easier, faster, and less stressful with the professional help and guidance of an attorney.

Who Can the Petitioner File Against?

You can file a petition for a civil protection order against anyone with whom  you have or had a romantic, dating or sexual relationship, anyone that you are or were married to or in a domestic partnership with, anyone with whom you share a child, or anyone to whom you are related by blood, adoption, legal custody, or domestic partnership.

In DC, you can also file for a civil protection order on behalf of a minor child. These cases involve seeking to prevent the offender from physically or sexually abusing a child.

You can also file a petition for a civil protection order against anyone with whom you have or have had a partner in common. For example, if an ex-wife is jealous of her ex-husband’s new girlfriend, and the two of them are ganging up on him, any one of those parties can file for a civil protection order against any other party if the petitioner can allege that the respondent committed or threatened to commit a criminal offense against them.

Roommates and Other Unmarried Domestic Partners

A person who shares a mutual residence with the alleged abuser or offender could also seek a civil protection order. For example, roommates can file against each other; landlords residing with their tenants can file against a tenant; or a tenant can file against a landlord with whom the tenant shares a common living space such as a kitchen or bathroom. Landlords and tenants often share a common entryway into the home.

In some cases, the same tension and domestic violence dynamics can exist between roommates or landlords and tenants who share a home. In other words, if you share an apartment with a roommate or jointly own, lease, or rent property with a roommate who is  stalking, harassing, committing, or threatening to commit a criminal offense against you, you can file for a civil protection order in DC.

Can a Person File a Petition against a Stranger?

There must be some kind of relationship between the alleged victim and the respondent, unless the case involves stalking or sexual assault. A petitioner who has been the victim of stalking may justify filing a civil protection order regardless of whether the victim has had any romantic, intimate, or dating relationship with the respondent.

Many people try to seek civil protection orders against neighbors, co-workers, and employers, and unfortunately, that is not a relationship that qualifies them to file for a civil protection order under DC law.

Statute of Limitations for No-Contact Orders in DC

The imported statute of limitations for filing a civil protection order in DC is three years. In other words, if the respondent committed a criminal offense against you more than three years ago, then you will not be able to rely on that offense to make your case. In many cases, however, a recent incident will be the one that causes you to file even though you may have been suffering abuse for several years. In that case, you should talk to an experienced attorney about which allegations to include in your petition. The mosaic or pattern of abuse that exists or develops in a relationship well beyond three years may be relevant in your case.

It is crucial to consult an attorney about any offense that was committed recently especially if you are trying to seek a temporary protection order pending the civil protection order hearing that should occur within two weeks of filing a petition. Strategic timing is important in filing for a civil protection order, and you should consult with an attorney immediately if you do not feel safe in your home.

When a petitioner delays in filing for a civil protection order after a violent incident, the court may determine that the danger to you is not imminent and, therefore, the court may decline to issue a temporary protection order.

Especially if you also called the police or there may be a criminal investigation or prosecution, you should consult an attorney who can represent you and your interests instead of relying on the police or government who may not have your interests in mind.

When you decide to leave an abusive relationship is the most dangerous time, and you should talk to an attorney about the best safety plan for you, including whether and when to file for a civil protection order in DC.

Establishing Good Cause

In a civil protection order case, the petitioner makes allegations and has the burden of proof. The burden of proof is “good cause,” which means that the petitioner has to show the court that there is good cause to believe that the respondent has committed or threatened to commit a criminal offense against the petitioner before the judge can enter a civil protection order.

Good cause has been interpreted to mean a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the court must find that it is more likely than not that the respondent committed or threatened to commit the particular criminal offenses alleged.

Often, petitioners believe that they do not have enough evidence because they do not have pictures, witnesses, or audio or video recordings. A petitioner’s testimony, however, is generally the foundation of the case and can be the most powerful evidence. You should talk to a lawyer to prepare your evidence including what you will say if you have to testify in court.

In most cases, civil protection order matters settle. When the respondent consents to the entry of the order, then you need not present any evidence. You should talk to your lawyer about the many ways that the civil protection order case may conclude favorably to you.

How Long Does it Take to Obtain a Civil Protection Order?

The process of obtaining a civil protection order is designed to be quick because the law recognizes that survivors of violence deserve relief quickly. Survivors of violence may face life-threatening emergencies and danger to themselves and their children.

Almost all petitioners filing for a civil protection order and seeking temporary protection as a result of an emergency can obtain a temporary protection order on the same day that they file. Thereafter, petitioners wait only two weeks for their civil protection order hearing court date, and then the permanent civil protection order, lasting up to a year, is entered. In an ideal world, that is how it works.

In reality, the process can take longer. If the respondent is not served, then the petitioner is generally allowed a two-week continuance to serve the respondent. If the parties cannot come to an agreement, such as consent without admissions or  some way to resolve the case, filing for a civil protection order in DC can take longer because the court must hold a trial and hear the petitioner’s evidence as well as the respondent’s case or defense. The trial could be that same day, but if there are other cases scheduled to go to trial, then the parties will have to come back to court to have their case heard on another day.

In that case, the petitioner should request that the temporary protection order be extended until the next date. Because there are only two dedicated courtrooms in DC hearing civil protection order matters, it is possible that you will have to return to court a few times before the case concludes, especially if your case is complex or involving many witnesses or other evidence.

The court’s attorney negotiator is a lawyer who attempts to assist the parties in reaching a settlement of the case. The court’s attorney negotiator does not represent you and does not have any obligation to ensure that your rights and interests are protected or that the order will actually keep you safe. You should therefore retain your own lawyer who can help make sure that the order protects you and is consistent with your safety plan.

In the case of a simultaneous prosecution and criminal case, if you are the petitioner, you should discuss with a lawyer whether delaying the civil protection order matter to await the conclusion of the criminal case may be more favorable to you. In that case, even though you or your attorney may have to come back to court several times over the course of weeks or even months, your attorney should be able to explain why delay is to your advantage.