Civil Protection Orders 

What is a Civil Protection Order?

      Washington, D.C. law allows certain people to petition the court for a civil protection order ("CPO") to protect themselves from persons who might intend to do them harm.  The person who is asking for the CPO is called the "petitioner" and the person who is subject to a CPO is the "respondent." In order to get a CPO, the petitioner must  show "good cause" and must prove that the respondent engaged in conduct that constitutes a crime in the District of Columbia under the Intrafamily Offenses Act.  Generally, this covers criminal acts between family members, current or former spouses or romantic partners, current or former roommates, or parents with a child in common.  In addition, petitioners can seek a CPO for sexually-based offenses, such as  sexual assault or stalking, even if they are not in an interfamily relationship with the respondent.  To start the process, petitioners can go to the Domestic Violence Intake Center at D.C. Superior Court to file a petition. 

      A CPO is a court-order, which seeks to protect the petitioner from harm at the hands of the respondent. If a judge finds good cause for the CPO to be granted, the court has broad discretion to order remedies for the protection of the petitioner.  Frequently, the judge will order the respondent to stay-away from and have no contact with the petitioner.  In addition, the judge could order the respondent to vacate a joint residence shared with the petitioner, or could order the respondent to pay alimony or other financial support to the petitioner. Civil Protection Orders generally remain in place for one-year, but can be extended for good cause.  If the respondent violates the terms of a CPO, he or she could be charged with criminal contempt and could be sent to jail or fined up to $1000. 

Abuse of the CPO Process

     Civil Protection Orders are frequently sought in cases of Domestic Violence, where one party has a history of violent or threatening behavior against another.  However, CPO's can also be sought and obtained in the absence of any threats or violence.  Often, the CPO process is exploited by parties in order to gain an advantage in a divorce or other legal action.  The legal standard for granting a CPO is much lower than in a criminal case. When emotions are running high early in the divorce process, it is not uncommon for a savvy spouse to hurl accusations against his or her spouse in order to seek monetary support or exclusive access to a marital residence.  In addition, in divorces involving children, a CPO can have significant consequences for child custody.  While D.C. law generally applies a presumption in child custody cases that joint custody of children is preferable, there is a presumption AGAINST joint custody where there has been a finding of domestic violence.  Thus, if a parent can succeed in meeting the relatively low standard of proof in a CPO case, he or she could make it much harder for the other parent to have access to his or her children, even where none of the alleged domestic violence has involved the children. 

      Undoubtedly, the consequences are high in CPO proceedings.  If you find yourself a party in a CPO proceeding, whether as the petitioner or the respondent, you will need to consult a competent attorney who can advise you and protect your rights. Contact the Shinskie Law Group today, for a consultation.