Civil Protection Orders in the District of Columbia

If you have been abused by a family member, boyfriend, girlfriend, a new or former partner of your current boyfriend or girlfriend or by someone with whom you live or lived with, or someone has stalked you, you may be eligible for a Civil Protection Order or “CPO.” A CPO is designed to protect an individual from further harm and temporarily resolve issues between the parties that might, if not addressed, become a problem or require communication between the parties during the pendency of the CPO. Therefore, in addition to the “stay away” and “no contact” provisions, a CPO offers a wide array of relief. CPOs last for one year initially and can be modified or extended for an additional year. Violations of a CPO are punishable by contempt or as a criminal misdemeanor. The victim is referred to as the “petitioner” and the offender is referred to as the “respondent.”

The Intrafamily Offenses Act or “Act” authorizes the issuance of a CPO. There are two requirements to obtain a CPO under the Act. First you must prove that you have an intrafamily relationship with the individual accused of committing what is called an intrafamily offense. Second, the court must find that there is “good cause to believe” that the individual accused of committing what is called an intrafamily offense committed or threatened to commit an intrafamily offense against you. The “good cause” requirement is equivalent to a preponderance standard.

The petitioner must show that he or she is related to the respondent by blood, marriage, legal custody, having a child in common, sharing a residence currently or at any time in the past, sharing a current or former romantic partner, spouse or domestic partner, a history of being stalked by the Respondent or maintaining or having maintained a romantic relationship.

To obtain a CPO, the Petitioner must show that the Respondent committed an act punishable as a criminal offense upon Petitioner’s person. The Intrafamily Offenses Act defines an intrafamily offense as an act punishable as a criminal offense committed by the Respondent upon a person with whom the Respondent shares an intrafamily relationship. Assaults and threats are the most common intrafamily offenses but a Petitioner may allege any criminal offense listed in the D.C. Code to meet this requirement.

Examples Include:

  • Assault or threatened assault in a menacing manner
  • Threats to bodily harm
  • Cruelty to children
  • Stalking
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Kidnapping, and
  • Parental kidnapping

    Self-defense can become a significant issue in a CPO case when both parties allege violent conduct by the other. A person who actually believes that he or she is in imminent danger of bodily harm and has reasonable grounds for that belief is entitled to use a reasonable amount of force to protect themselves from the aggressor. The test of reasonable belief is whether, in the heat of the moment, the person threatened reasonably believed that they were in imminent danger or bodily harm.