Legal Information: District of Columbia

District of Columbia Restraining Orders

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Restraining Orders

Civil Protection Orders

Basic info

What is the legal definition of domestic violence in the District of Columbia?

This section defines domestic violence for the purposes of getting a civil protection order (CPO) in Washington, D.C.

You are eligible to file for a CPO against:

  1. a family member, household member, or intimate partner if s/he commits:
  2. a person regardless of your relationship with him/her if s/he commits:

Note: Crimes committed by a family member, household member, or intimate partner are called “intrafamily offenses.” You can read the definitions of family member, household member, and intimate partner in Who can get a civil protection order? You can read the definitions of some common crimes on our D.C. Crimes page.

1 D.C. Code § 16-1003(a)

What is the legal definition of sexual assault in the District of Columbia?

You are eligible to file for a civil protection order (CPO) against a person regardless of your relationship with him/her if s/he commits sexual assault against you.1

There are several sexual assault crimes in D.C.:

1 D.C. Code § 16-1001(14)
2 D.C. Code § 23-1907(9)

What types of civil protection orders are there? How long do they last?

There are two types of civil protection orders in Washington, D.C., temporary protection orders and final civil protection orders.

Temporary (ex parte) Protection Orders (TPOs)

A temporary protection order can be issued without the abuser being present in court and without prior notice to the abuser; this is what is meant by an ex parte order.1 A judge will hold an ex parte hearing on the day you file your petition unless it was filed too late in the day to review. In that case, a hearing on the ex parte order will be held the next day the court is open.2

The judge can give you this temporary order if the judge believes that your safety or welfare or the safety and welfare of an animal that belongs to you is in immediate danger from the abuser.3

The first temporary protection order that you get can last up to 14 days. Once you return to court, the judge can extend the temporary protection order for additional 14-day periods, for 28 days with good cause, or for a longer period if both parties consent. 4

Civil Protection Orders (CPOs)

A final civil protection order can be issued by a judge after one of the following happens:

1. there is a court hearing where you and the abuser appear and present evidence and testimony to the judge;
2. there is a court hearing where only you appear – the abuser fails to appear even though you can prove s/he was properly served with notice of the court date; or
3. in court, the abuser consents to the protection order being issued.

In option 1 or 2, above, the judge will only issue the final protection order if s/he has “good cause” to believe that the abuser committed or threatened to commit a criminal offense against you, your animal, or any animal in your household.5 For option 3, this is not a requirement.

A final CPO lasts up to two years - the expiration date should be included on the order. However, the length of the order is subject to change if either party files a motion in court and proves that there is “good cause” to extend, modify, or cancel (vacate) it.6 For information, see How do I change, extend, or cancel my civil protection order?

1 D.C. Code § 16-1004(b)
2 D.C. Code § 16-1004(c)
3 D.C. Code § 16-1004(d)
4 D.C. Code § 16-1004(e)
5 D.C. Code § 16-1005(c)
6 D.C. Code § 16-1004(d-1)

How much does it cost to file and serve a civil protection order? Do I need a lawyer?

Filing
There is no fee to file for a civil protection order.

Serving
As long as you have a valid home or work address for the person against whom you are getting the order, the Metropolitan Police Department will attempt to serve the protection order petition and motions at no charge when the party being served lives or works in the District of Columbia. If the person lives in Maryland or Virginia, service may also be free as part of an agreement between Washington, D.C. and the sheriff departments in the surrounding areas of Maryland and Virginia.1

Lawyer
Although you do not need a lawyer to file for a civil protection order, it may be to your advantage to have one. This is especially important if the abuser has a lawyer. Even if the abuser does not have a lawyer, it is recommended that you contact a lawyer to make sure that your legal rights are protected. To find free and paid lawyers, go to our D.C. Finding a Lawyer page.

For help in filing an order, you can go to the Domestic Violence Intake Center, which is in the superior court or United Medical Center. The Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia represents some people who file for civil protection orders. If the Office of the Attorney General cannot take your case, there may be other attorneys available to take your case.

In addition, the domestic violence agencies in your area and/or court staff may be able to answer some of your questions or help you fill out the necessary court forms. You will find information on legal assistance and domestic violence organizations on the D.C. Advocates and Shelters page. You will find contact information for courthouses on the D.C. Courthouse Locations page.

If you are going to be in court without a lawyer, our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section may be useful to you.

1 D.C. Courts Domestic Violence Case Management Plan

What protections can I get in a civil protection order?

In a temporary or final civil protection order, a judge can order the abuser to:

  • stop committing or threatening to commit criminal offenses against you and any other protected person named in the order;
  • stay away from you, any other protected person, and any other specific locations;
  • have no contact with you and any other protected person;
  • not enter the home or leave the home where you are living if that home is:
    • marital property of the parties;
    • jointly owned, leased, or rented and occupied by you and the abuser, including if you used to live there but had to leave due to the abuse;
    • owned, leased, or rented by you alone; or
    • jointly owned, leased, or rented by you and another person who is not the respondent;
  • give back or stop using property that you own together or you own individually;
  • participate in a psychiatric, medical treatment, or counseling program for domestic violence, parenting, alcohol, drugs, etc.;
  • pay your costs and attorney fees;
  • give up possession of any firearms or ammunition and not get any new firearms or ammunition;
  • give you financial assistance and/or spousal support to pay your rent/mortgage/bills or other expenses;
  • stay away from and not harm any animal you own, including ordering the abuser to give you back an animal that belongs to you but is in the abuser’s possession;
  • pay you child support;
  • not remove you and/or your children from his/her health insurance policy; and
  • reimburse you for medical costs, property damage, or other expenses you have due to the abuser’s actions, assuming you have medical bills, receipts, invoices, or estimates that you can bring to the final hearing. 1

The order can also:

  • order temporary custody of your children. If the abuser asks for custody, s/he needs to show the judge that custody will not endanger the child or harm the child’s development;
  • order temporary visitation. If the abuser asks for visitation, s/he needs to show the judge that visitation will not endanger the child or significantly harm the child’s emotional development);
  • order police assistance to help enforce the terms of the order, such as getting your keys returned or escorting the abuser home to collect personal belongings; and
  • order anything else that you can show you need in order to be free from the violence.1

Whether or not the judge grants any or all of these depends on the facts of your case.

1 D.C. Code § 16-1004(c)

If the abuser lives in a different state, can I still get an order against him/her?

When you and the abuser live in different states, the judge may not have “personal jurisdiction” (power) over an out-of-state abuser. This means that the court may not be able to grant an order against him/her.

There are a few ways that a court can have personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state abuser:

  1. The abuser has a substantial connection to your state. Perhaps the abuser regularly travels to your state to visit you, for business, to see extended family, or the abuser lived in your state and recently fled.
  2. One of the acts of abuse “happened” in your state. Perhaps the abuser sends you threatening texts or harassing phone calls from another state but you read the messages or answer the calls while you are in your state. The judge could decide that the abuse “happened” to you while you were in your state. It may also be possible that the abuser was in your state when s/he abused you s/he but has since left the state.
  3. If you file your petition and the abuser gets served with the court petition while s/he is in your state, this is another way for the court to get jurisdiction.

However, even if none of the above apply to your situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get an order. If you file, you may be granted an order on consent or the judge may find other circumstances that allow the order to be granted.

You can read more about personal jurisdiction in our Court System Basics - Personal Jurisdiction section.

Note: If the judge in your state refuses to issue an order, you can file for an order in the courthouse in the state where the abuser lives. However, remember that you will likely need to file the petition in person and attend various court dates, which could be difficult if the abuser’s state is far away.

Eligibility for a civil protection order

Who can get a civil protection order?

You may be eligible for a civil protection order if a family member, household member, or intimate partner commits or threatens to commit any crime against you or if s/he commits or threatens to commit cruelty to animals against a pet that you have or own. These types of crimes are called “intrafamily offenses.”1

A “family member” is someone you are related to by blood, adoption, legal custody, marriage, or domestic partnership, or who is the child of your intimate partner.1

A “household member” is someone you live/lived with at some point in the last year. It also could include someone with whom you have a close relationship that would make it appropriate for a judge to grant get a civil protection order against that person.2

An “intimate partner” is

  • a current or former spouse or domestic partner;
  • someone with whom you have a child in common;
  • someone with whom you are or were in a romantic, dating, or sexual relationship; or
  • someone who was seeking to be in a romantic, dating, or sexual relationship with you.3

In addition, you can also file against anyone who sexually assaults you or traffics you even if the relationship between you and the offender does not fall into one of the above categories.4

If you are unable to file a petition by yourself or, in the case of certain minors, if you are unable to file for one with the assistance of a parent, guardian, custodian, or other appropriate adult, the Attorney General may file the petition on your behalf. To get the Attorney General to do this, you, your representative, or a government agency must make this request to the Attorney General. If the Attorney General files on your behalf, the Attorney General actually represents the interests of the District of Columbia and not specifically your particular interests. You are not even legally required to be at the court dates.5

Note: You can file for a civil protection order in D.C. if you live, work, or go to school in D.C., if you are under the legal custody of a government agency in D.C., or if the incident(s) contained in the petition occurred in D.C.1

1 D.C. Code § 16-1001(5A)
2 D.C. Code § 16-1001(5B)
3 D.C. Code § 16-1001(6A)
4 D.C. Code § 16-1003(a)
5 D.C. Code § 16-1003(f)
6 D.C. Code § 16-1006

Can I file for a civil protection order if I am a minor?

Whether you can file on your own will depend on your age and who you are filing against.

  • If you are 16 or 17, you can file by yourself in all cases.1
  • If you are age 13 through 15, you can file your petition on your own if you are a victim of an intrafamily offense, sexual assault, or child sex trafficking.2
  • If you are age 12 or under, your parent, guardian, or custodian must file the petition on your behalf.3 The parent, guardian or custodian must come to all court dates, but the minor is not required to be present at any of the court dates.4

If you are age 13 through 17 and you would like someone to file on your behalf instead of filing on your own, the following people can do so:

  • a parent, legal guardian, or legal custodian;
  • an adult who is related to you by blood, adoption, legal custody, marriage, or domestic partnership; or
  • a sexual assault youth victim advocate.5

Whenever a parent or guardian files the petition for a minor who is age 13 or older, the judge has to consider the minor’s wishes in deciding whether to issue the final protection order and in determining what terms will be included in that order.6

If you fall into one of the categories that requires you to have a parent, guardian, custodian or other appropriate adult file for you but no one is willing to do so, the Attorney General may file the petition on your behalf if you, your representative, or a government agency make this request to the Attorney General. In this case, though, the Attorney General actually represents the interests of the District of Columbia and not specifically your particular interests.7 You are not legally required to be at the court dates.8

Note: If you are a minor filing by yourself but you live with your parent, guardian, or custodian, the court will send a copy of your court papers to that parent, guardian, or custodian, unless the judge feels that it would not be in your best interests to do so. The judge might then send the notice of the court hearing to another appropriate adult.9

The court can appoint an attorney for a minor if the minor does not have an attorney, and if appointing an attorney would not delay a judge’s decision on a TPO or CPO.10

1 D.C. Code § 16-1003(a)
2 D.C. Code § 16-1003(b)
3 D.C. Code § 16-1003(c)
4 D.C. Code § 16-1005(a-1)(2)
5 D.C. Code § 16-1003(d)
6 D.C. Code § 16-1005(a-1)(3)
7 D.C. Code § 16-1003(f)(1)(A)
8 D.C. Code § 16-1005(a-1)(1)
9 D.C. Code § 16-1007(b)
10 D.C. Code § 16-1003(g)

Can I file for a civil protection order against a minor?

If you are the custodial parent, guardian, or legal custodian of the minor against whom you are trying to file, you cannot file a petition for civil protection against the minor.1 If you have any other qualifying relationship to the minor, such as boyfriend/girlfriend, you can file a petition against the minor as long as the minor is 13 years of age or older.2

When filing against a minor, the minor’s custodial parent, guardian, or custodian, must be served with notice of the court hearing and an order to appear, a copy of the petition, and the temporary protection order, if the judge gives you one.3

1 D.C. Code § 16-1003(e)
2 D.C. Code § 16-1001(13)
3 D.C. Code § 16-1007(a)

Can I get a civil protection order against a same-sex partner?

In D.C., you may apply for a civil protection order against a current or former same-sex partner as long as the relationship meets the requirements listed in Who can get a civil protection order?  You must also be the victim of an act of domestic violence, which is explained here What is the legal definition of domestic violence in the District of Columbia?

You can find information about LGBTQIA victims of abuse and what types of barriers they may face on our LGBTQIA Victims page.

I was sexually assaulted by a stranger/friend. Can I file for a civil protection order?

If you are a victim of sexual assault, sex or labor trafficking, or child sex trafficking, you can file for a civil protection order against the offender regardless of your relationship to him/her. This means that you could file for a civil protection order if the person who sexually assaulted or trafficked you is a stranger, co-worker, acquaintance, etc.

What are my options if I don’t qualify for a civil protection order?

To qualify for a civil protection order (CPO), you must either be filing based on a crime committed by a family member, household member, or intimate partner, or you must be filing against someone who sexually assaulted or trafficked you. See Who can get a civil protection order? to see if your relationship meets the requirements.

Even if you do not qualify for a CPO, if you are experiencing stalking, you may be eligible for an anti-stalking order.

If you don’t qualify for a CPO, remember that the abuser may still be committing a crime for which you can get a criminal court restraining order if s/he is charged with a crime. For example, assault is illegal in D.C., no matter who assaults you, even though you may not qualify for a CPO if you do not have an eligible relationship with the abuser.

The steps for getting a civil protection order

Step 1: Get the necessary forms.

After the abuse occurs, you can get the necessary paperwork to request a civil protection order (CPO) and fill it out in a few ways.

You can file for a CPO at the Domestic Violence Clerk, D.C. Superior Court (Moultrie Courthouse), Room 4510, 500 Indiana Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.

You can also file for a CPO online by filling out a petition and emailing it to the Domestic Violence Clerk at DVDatdcsc.gov.1Fillable forms are available on this website.

If you are filing based on intimate partner violence or sexual assault, you may be able to have an advocate assist you in filling out the petition and provide other support services at one of D.C.’s Domestic Violence Intake Centers (DVICs). The DVICs are located at:

  • D.C. Superior Court (Moultrie Courthouse), Room 4550, 500 Indiana Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20001; and
  • The Anacostia Professional Building, Room 400, 2041 Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE, Washington, D.C. 20020.1

You can file up to three years after the incident,2 but a delay in filing may make the judge less likely to believe that you are in danger and need the court’s protection. If the Intake Center staff cannot help you because of a conflict of interest (e.g., they already helped the respondent in the past), you will be provided with all of the necessary forms to fill out yourself.

Tell the intake counselor that you want to file for a civil protection order. If you are in immediate danger, tell the intake counselor you also want to file a temporary protection order (TPO). The temporary protection order lasts for up to 14 days, or until your hearing for the final civil protection order.3 You must ask for a temporary protection order the same day you file for a civil protection order.

1 D.C. Superior Court website
2 See D.C. Code § 12-301(8)
3 D.C. Code § 16-1004(e)

Step 2: Fill out a petition for a civil protection order.

On the petition, you will be the “petitioner” and the abuser will be the “respondent.”

Write about the most recent incident of violence, using descriptive language - words like “slapping,” “hitting,” “grabbing,” “threatening,” “choking,” etc. - that fits your situation. Include details and dates, if possible. Be specific.

Be prepared that this process may take several hours. If your children are toilet-trained, they can stay in the courthouse daycare center while you file this petition if you file at the Domestic Violence Clerk’s office or the DVIC located in the court.1 If they are not toilet-trained or if you file through the DVIC located in the Anacostia Professional Building, you will have to keep them with you.

1 D.C. Courts website

Step 3: A judge will consider your petition.

You or an intake counselor will take the forms to the clerk’s office, where court staff will open a court file for you. Court staff will then direct you to the courtroom, where a judge will look at your petition and decide if there is enough immediate danger to give you a temporary order. Temporary protection order hearings at the Anacostia Professional Building are conducted via a video teleconference with the judge where you will sit in front of a camera and watch the judge on a television screen.

In either case, the judge may ask you some questions, or may decide based only on what is written in your petition. If the judge grants the temporary protection order, you will get a copy of it. The judge will also set a hearing date for your final protection order within 14 days. Even if you are not granted the temporary protection order, the judge can still set your case down for a hearing within 14 days.

Step 4: Service of process

The abuser must be “served,” or given the papers that tell him/her about the hearing date, your petition stating what s/he did, and your temporary protection order if the judge gave you one. If the abuser lives in D.C., or some nearby Maryland and Virginia locations, the police will try to serve him/her with copies of the papers you filed. There is no charge to have the authorities serve the abuser.1 You will have to tell them where the abuser lives or works or where s/he can be located. If the abuser does not live in D.C., or if you would prefer someone other than the authorities to serve the papers, you have two options:

  • arrange for a friend or family member over the age of 18 to serve him/her; or
  • hire a process server.2

Note: You should not try to serve the papers yourself. It could put you in danger, and service from you would not be legally valid.1

You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question called What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?

1 D.C. Courts Domestic Violence Case Management Plan
2 D.C. Superior Court Domestic Violence Unit, Rule 3(a)(1)

Step 5: Hearing for a civil protection order

You must show up to your court hearing if you want to get a final protection order. If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary protection order will expire and you will have to start the process over.

You have the right to bring a lawyer to represent you at the hearing. It is a good idea to see a lawyer if you think the abuser will have a lawyer or if you think the abuser will challenge the protection order or if you are also seeking custody or child support.

If the abuser fails to appear in court (“defaults”), the judge may decide to grant you the civil protection order in his/her absence or s/he may decide to reschedule the hearing.

If you both show up at the hearing and the abuser does not consent to having the civil protection order issued, the judge will hold a hearing where you will both be able to present testimony, witnesses, and other evidence. It is generally best to have a lawyer represent you at this hearing to make sure that your rights are fully protected. If the judge finds that the abuser has committed or attempted to commit a crime against you, s/he may grant you a civil protection order.

See our Preparing for Court – By Yourself page in the At the Hearing section for ways you can show the judge that you were abused if you end up representing yourself at the hearing.

After the hearing

Can the abuser have a gun?

Once you get a civil protection order, there may be laws that prohibit the respondent from having a gun in his/her possession. There are a few places where you can find this information:

  • first, read the questions on this page to see if judges in the District of Columbia have to power to remove guns as part of a temporary or final order;
  • second, go to our State Gun Laws section to read about D.C.’s specific gun-related laws; and
  • third you can read our Federal Gun Laws section to understand the federal laws that apply to all states.

You can read more about keeping an abuser from accessing guns on the National Domestic Violence and Firearms Resource Center’s website.

Now that I have the protection order, can I get my landlord to change my locks?

If the abuser is a tenant in your rented home or apartment, and you have a protection order that states that the abuser has to stay away from you, any other household member, or the apartment, you can get your locks changed. The landlord must change the locks to all entrance doors to your apartment within five business days of your request.1

You can also request for your locks to be changed even if the abuser is not a tenant in your home. For more information, go to our D.C. Housing Laws page.

1 D.C. Code § 42-3505.08(a)

I was not granted a civil protection order, what can I do?

If you are not granted civil protection order, there are still some things you can do to stay safe. It might be a good idea to contact one of the domestic violence resource centers in your area to get help, support, and advice on how to stay safe. They can help you develop a safety plan and help connect you with the resources you need. For safety planning help, ideas, and information, go to our Safety Tips page. You will find a list of D.C. resources on our D.C. Places that Help.

You can also reapply for a civil protection order if a new incident of domestic abuse occurs after you are denied the order.

If you believe the judge made an error of law, you can talk to a lawyer about the possibility of an appeal. Generally, appeals are complicated and you will most likely need the help of a lawyer. You can find general information about appeals on our File an Appeal page.

What can I do if the abuser violates the order?

When you have a civil protection order, you are generally the one who will report any violations of that order. If the abuser violates the order, you can call the police and report the violation. Violation of a temporary or final civil protection order is known as “criminal contempt” and is also a misdemeanor crime, which can be punished by a fine, imprisonment for up to 180 days, or both.1 Also, if the abuser committed a crime while violating the order, such as hitting you, s/he can also be charged with any other crime that s/he committed and punished separately for that crime.

Another option is to file a violation petition (contempt petition) in court. You could return to the Intake Center where you can file:

  • a Motion to Adjudicate Civil Contempt, for things such as nonpayment of monetary support, where you would be asking the court to make the abuser follow the order by imposing a fine or jail time; or
  • a Motion to Adjudicate Criminal Contempt, for things such as the abuser contacting, threatening, or abusing you, where you would be asking that the Office of the Attorney General bring charges against the abuser.1

For more information about contempt, including the difference between criminal contempt and civil contempt, go to our general Domestic Violence Restraining Orders page.

1 D.C. Code § 16-1005(f), (g)

How do I change, extend, or cancel my civil protection order?

To change (modify) the terms of your order, you can file a motion that asks the judge to change your order if you have “good cause” After you file a motion with the court, you will have to attend another court hearing to convince the judge that the change to the order is necessary.1

To extend a final civil protection order beyond its expiration date, you would file a motion to extend the order if you believe you still need protection from the court. You will have to give the judge “good cause” to extend the order.1 Any violations of the order are usually considered enough of a reason, but you do not need to show that the respondent violated the order to get it extended.2 Generally, you should go to court to file this motion with enough time to have a hearing before the order expires. However, if you file a motion to extend any time before your order expires, your order will remain in effect until the judge holds a hearing and makes a decision on your motion. 3

A judge can extend an order for any amount of time that the judge thinks is appropriate. However, if the judge decides to extend the order for more than two years, then the judge must believe that one of the following happened:

  • the respondent violated the CPO;
  • before you got the CPO that is being extended, you had another CPO against the same person; or
  • that there are other convincing circumstances relating to your safety or welfare that require the CPO be extended for more than two years.4

If you want to cancel your order because you no longer feel you need protection of the court, you can file a motion to vacate the order.1 However, we strongly suggest that you talk to an advocate or lawyer before doing this to make sure this is the step you want to take. If you think you no longer need the order because the abuser hasn’t been bothering you lately, remember that s/he likely stayed away from you because you had the order. If you remove the order, there is nothing to prevent the abuse from re-starting. Instead of vacating the order completely, you may be able to change (modify) the order. This would allow you to keep some of the protection, while placing fewer restrictions on the respondent.

Any motion you file must be served on the respondent. You will both have the chance to appear at the court date where you will explain why you want to change, extend, or cancel (vacate) the order to the judge. The judge will review the evidence and decide what actions, if any, to take. Please recognize that only a judge can change a civil protection order. An agreement between you and the abuser outside of court does not change the requirements of the civil protection order.

1 D.C. Code § 16-1005(d-1)(1)
2 D.C. Code § 16-1005(d-1)(2)
3 D.C. Superior Court Domestic Violence Unit, Rule 7(d)
4 D.C. Code § 16-1005(d-1)(3)

What happens if I move? Is my order still effective?

Your civil protection order can be enforced even if you move to another state or U.S. territory. If you move, your order must be given full faith and credit in any other state, territorial or tribal court, which means that your order will be valid and enforceable wherever you go within the US and its territories. Some states require that you register your order with them before an abuser can be prosecuted for a violation of the order. If you move, you might want to call the clerk of court in your new area and tell the clerk that you have a civil protection order from D.C. and ask if you need to register it with them.

For more information, please see our Moving to Another State with a Civil Protection Order section.

For information on enforcing a military protective order (MPO) off the military installation, or enforcing a civil protection order (CPO) on a military installation, please see our Military Protective Orders page.

What should I do when I leave the courthouse?

Here are some things you may want to consider doing. However, you will have to evaluate each one to see if it works for your situation.

  • Review the protection order before you leave the courthouse. If something is wrong or missing, ask the clerk how to correct the order before you leave.
  • Make several copies of the protection order as soon as possible.
  • Keep a copy of the protection order with you at all times.
  • Leave copies of the order at your workplace, at your home, at the children’s school or daycare, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on.
  • Give a copy of the order along with a picture of the respondent to security or the person at the front desk where you live and/or work.
  • Give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order.
  • Take steps to safety plan, including changing your locks, if permitted by law, and your phone number.

Ongoing safety planning is important after receiving the order. People can do a number of things to increase their safety during violent incidents, when preparing to leave an abusive relationship, and when they are at home, work, and school. Many batterers obey protective orders, but some do not. It is important to build on the things you have already been doing to keep yourself safe. Click on the following link for suggestions on Staying Safe. Advocates at local resource centers can also assist you in designing a safety plan and can provide other forms of support as well. To find resources in D.C., please see our D.C. Advocates and Shelters page.

Anti-Stalking Orders

Basic info and definitions

What is the legal definition of stalking in D.C.?

This section defines stalking for the purposes of getting an anti-stalking order (ASO).

In Washington, D.C., stalking is when:

  1. someone commits any of the following acts against you more than one time, known as a “course of conduct”:
  • follows you, monitors you, places you under surveillance, threatens you, or communicates to or about you;
  • interferes with, damages, or takes your property, or damages or enters your home illegally; or
  • uses your personal identifying information;1 and
  1. one of the following must be true:
  • The stalker must intend to cause you to:
    • fear for your safety or the safety of another person;
    • feel seriously alarmed, disturbed, or frightened; or
    • suffer emotional distress; or
  • The stalker must know that the course of conduct would reasonably cause you to:
    • fear for your safety or the safety of another person;
    • feel seriously alarmed, disturbed, or frightened; or
    • suffer emotional distress; or
  • The stalker should know that the course of conduct would cause a reasonable person in your circumstances to:
    • fear for his/her safety or the safety of another person;
    • feel seriously alarmed, disturbed, or frightened; or
    • suffer emotional distress.2

Note: At least one instance of the course of conduct must have occurred within 90 days before filing for an anti-stalking order.3 If conduct is ongoing, then each 24-hour period is considered a separate incident.4

1 D.C. Code § 22-3132(8)
2 D.C. Code § 22-3133(a)
3 D.C. Code § 16-1062(a)
4 D.C. Code § 22-3133(c)

What types of anti-stalking orders are there?

There are two types of anti-stalking orders (ASOs) in Washington, D.C., a temporary ex parte anti-stalking order and a final anti-stalking order.

Temporary (Ex Parte) Anti-Stalking Order (TASO)
When you file a petition for an ASO, you can request that the court issue a temporary order without giving prior notice to the respondent, known as an “ex parte” order. A judge will hold an ex parte hearing on the day you file your petition unless it was filed too late in the day to review. In that case, a hearing on the ex parte order will be held the next day the court is open.

A judge can issue a TASO if you show that your safety, the safety of a household member, or the safety of your animal is immediately endangered by the respondent.1 The first TASO that you get can last up to 14 days. Once you return to court, the judge can extend the TASO for additional 14-day periods, for 28 days with good cause, or for a longer period if both parties consent.2

Final Anti-Stalking Order (ASO)
A final ASO can be issued by a judge after one of the following happens:

  1. there is a court hearing where you and the stalker appear and present evidence and testimony to the judge;3
  2. there is a court hearing where only you appear – the stalker fails to appear even though you can prove s/he was properly served with notice of the court date;4 or
  3. in court, the stalker consents to an ASO being issued. A stalker can consent to an ASO without admitting to stalking.3

In option 1 or 2, above, the judge will only issue the final ASO if s/he believes that it is more likely than not that the respondent stalked you. For option 3, this is not a requirement.

A final ASO lasts up to two years - the expiration date should be included on the order.5 However, the length of the order can change if either party files a motion in court and proves that there is “good cause” to extend it, change (modify) it, or cancel (vacate) it.6 For more information, see How do I change, cancel, or extend my anti-stalking order?

1 D.C. Code § 16-1063(d)
2 D.C. Code § 16-1063(e)(2)
3 D.C. Code § 16-1064(c)
4 D.C. Code § 16-1065(c)
5 D.C. Code § 16-1064(d)
6 D.C. Code § 16-1064(e)

How much does it cost to file and serve the anti-stalking order? Do I need a lawyer?

Filing
There is no fee to file for an anti-stalking order (ASO).

Serving
As long as you have a valid home or work address for the person against whom you are getting the order, the Metropolitan Police Department will attempt to serve the ASO petition at no charge when the party being served lives or works in the District of Columbia. If the person lives in Maryland or Virginia, service may also be free as part of an agreement between Washington, D.C. and the sheriff departments in the surrounding areas of Maryland and Virginia.

Lawyer
Although you do not need a lawyer to file for an ASO, it may be to your advantage to have one. This is especially important if the stalker has a lawyer. Even if the stalker does not have a lawyer, it is recommended that you contact a lawyer to make sure that your legal rights are protected. To find free and paid lawyers, go to our D.C. Finding a Lawyer page.

In addition, the domestic violence agencies in your area and/or court staff may be able to answer some of your questions or help you fill out the necessary court forms. You will find information on legal assistance and domestic violence organizations on the D.C. Advocates and Shelters page. You will find contact information for courthouses on the D.C. Courthouse Locations page.

If you are going to be in court without a lawyer, our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section may be useful to you.

What protections can I get in an anti-stalking order?

You can get the same protections in a temporary and final anti-stalking order (ASO). A judge may order any or all of the following:

  • that the respondent not commit or threaten to commit any crime against you or anyone else named in the order;
  • that the respondent stay away from and/or have no contact with you, or any other people or locations named in the order;
  • that the respondent give back or stops using property that you own together or that you own individually;
  • that the respondent pay your costs and attorney fees;
  • that the police department take action that is necessary to enforce anything ordered in the ASO;
  • that the respondent stay away from and not harm any animal you own;
  • that the respondent must do, or not do, any other actions that are necessary for your safety; and
  • that the respondent cannot own firearms or ammunition and that the respondent must turn in any firearms or ammunition to the police.1

1 D.C. Code § 16-1064(c)

If the stalker lives in a different state, can I still get an anti-stalking order?

If the stalker does not live in D.C., the judge may still have the ability to issue an anti-stalking order against the stalker if one of the following is true:

  • at least one instance of stalking happened in D.C.;
  • at least one instance of stalking had an effect on you in D.C.;1
  • communication from the stalker was made or received in D.C.; or
  • you live in D.C. and are able to access electronic communications from the stalker while in D.C., such as through social media or email.2

However, even if none of the above apply to your situation, it does not necessarily mean that you can’t get an order. If you file, the stalker may agree to the order or the judge may find other circumstances that allow the order to be granted.

You can read more about personal jurisdiction in our Court System Basics - Personal Jurisdiction section.

Note: If the judge in your state refuses to issue an order, you can file for an order in the courthouse in the state where the stalker lives. However, remember that you will likely need to file the petition in person and attend various court dates, which could be difficult if the stalker’s state is far away.

1 D.C. Code § 21-3135(a)
2 D.C. Code § 21-3135(b)

Who is eligible for an anti-stalking order

Who can get an anti-stalking order?

You may be eligible for an anti-stalking order (ASO) if you are being stalked by someone with whom you do not have an intimate, family, or household relationship. If you are being stalked by a family member, a household member, or a current or former intimate partner, then you would have to apply for a civil protection order instead. Anti-stalking orders are only for situations in which the relationship between the petitioner and respondent does not qualify under a civil protection order.

Can I file for an anti-stalking order if I am a minor?

If you are age 16 or older, you can file a petition for an anti-stalking order (ASO) on your own behalf. If you are under 16, you cannot file on your own behalf.

Depending on your age, a “qualified adult” can file on your behalf as follows:

  • If you are age 13 through 17, the following people can file for you:
    • a parent, legal guardian, or legal custodian; or
    • an adult that you choose who is related to you by blood, adoption, custody, marriage, or domestic partnership.
  • If you are age 12 or under, the following people can file for you:
    • a parent, legal guardian, or legal custodian.1

The court can appoint an attorney for a minor but only if appointing an attorney would not delay the judge’s decision on a temporary or final ASO.2

1 D.C. Code § 16-1062(c)
2 D.C. Code § 16-1062(e)

Steps for getting an anti-stalking order

The steps for getting an anti-stalking order (ASO) are generally the same as the steps for getting a civil protection order, except that you usually will not be able to receive assistance from an intake counselor at either Domestic Violence Intake Center. This means you can either file for an ASO at the Domestic Violence Clerk at D.C. Superior Court or you can file online, but you cannot file through the Domestic Violence Intake Center at the Anacostia Professional Building.

You can file for an ASO at the Domestic Violence Clerk, D.C. Superior Court (Moultrie Courthouse), Room 4510, 500 Indiana Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.

You can also file for an ASO online by filling out a petition and emailing it to the Domestic Violence Clerk at DVDatdcsc.gov. Fillable forms are available on the DC courts website.

After the hearing

How do I change, extend, or cancel my anti-stalking order?

To change (modify) the terms of your anti-stalking order (ASO), you would file a motion to modify in which you would ask the judge to change your order. You will have to serve the motion on the respondent, and then attend another court hearing to convince the judge that this change to the order is necessary. There does not need to have been a violation of the ASO for a judge to order a modification.1

To extend a final ASO beyond its expiration date, you would file a motion to extend the order if you believe you still need protection from the court. You will have to give the judge “good cause” to extend the order. You do not need to show that the respondent violated the order for a judge to believe there is “good cause” to extend it.

Generally, you should go to court to file this motion with enough time to have a hearing before the order expires. However, if you file a motion to extend any time before your order expires, your order will remain in effect until the judge holds a hearing and makes a decision on your motion. A judge can extend an order for any amount of time that the judge thinks is appropriate. However, if the judge decides to extend the order for more than two years, then the judge must believe that one of the following is true:

  • the respondent violated the ASO;
  • before you got the ASO that is being extended, you had another ASO against the same person; or
  • there are other convincing circumstances relating to your safety or welfare that require the ASO to be extended for more than two years.2

If you no longer want the anti-stalking order, you can file to cancel the order, known as a motion to vacate the order. However, we strongly suggest that you talk to an advocate or lawyer before doing this to make sure this is the step you want to take. If you think you no longer need the order because the stalker hasn’t been bothering you lately, remember that s/he likely stayed away from you because you had the order. If you remove the order, there is nothing to prevent the stalking from re-starting. Instead of vacating the order completely, you may be able to modify the order. This would allow you to keep some of the protections, while placing fewer restrictions on the respondent.

Any motion you file must be served on the respondent. You will both have the chance to appear at the court date where you will explain why you want to change, extend, or vacate the order to the judge. The judge will review the evidence and decide what actions, if any, to take. Only a judge can change an ASO. An agreement between you and the stalker outside of court does not change the requirements of the ASO.

1 D.C. Code § 16-1064(e)
2 D.C. Code § 16-1064(e)(3)

What can I do if the stalker violates the anti-stalking order?

When you have an anti-stalking order (ASO), you are generally the one who will report any violations of that order. If the stalker violates the order, you can call the police and report the violation. Violation of a temporary or final ASO is known as “criminal contempt” and is also a misdemeanor crime, which can be punished by a fine of up to $1,000, by imprisonment for up to 180 days, or both.1 Also, if the stalker committed a separate crime while violating the order, such as hitting you, s/he can also be charged and punished separately for that crime.

Another option is to file a violation petition in court for contempt. You could return to the Domestic Violence Clerk to file:

  • a Motion to Adjudicate Civil Contempt, where you would be asking the court to make the stalker follow the order by imposing a fine or jail time; or
  • a Motion to Adjudicate Criminal Contempt, where you would be asking that the Office of the Attorney General bring charges against the stalker.1

1 D.C. Code § 16-1064(g), (h)

Extreme Risk Protection Orders

Basic info

What is an extreme risk protection order?

An extreme risk protection order is a civil court order prohibiting an individual (called the respondent) from having possession or control of, purchasing, or receiving any:

  • firearm;
  • ammunition;
  • registration certificate;
  • license to carry a concealed pistol; or
  • dealer’s license.1

1 D.C. Code § 7-2510.01(1)

Who can file for an extreme risk protection order?

You can file for an extreme risk protection order if there is significant danger that the respondent will cause bodily injury to himself/herself or others by having possession or control of, purchasing, or receiving any firearm or ammunition and:

  1. you are related to the respondent by:
    • blood;
    • adoption;
    • guardianship;
    • marriage
    • domestic partnership;
  2. you and the respondent:
    • have a child in common;
    • live together; or
    • have a romantic, dating, or sexual relationship; or
  3. you are filing in your official capacity as any of the following:
    • a sworn member of the Metropolitan Police Department; or
    • a mental health professional.1

1 D.C. Code § 7-2510.01(2)

What types of orders are there? How long do they last?

There are two types of extreme risk protection orders: ex parte extreme risk protection orders and final extreme risk protection orders.

An ex parte extreme risk protection order is issued without the respondent having notice of the case beforehand and without the respondent being present at the hearing. An ex parte extreme risk protection order can last up to 14 days. If the judge schedules a new hearing date to give more time for the respondent to be served with notice of the case, the judge can extend the ex parte order for additional 14-day periods.1

A final extreme risk protection order can be issued after the respondent has notice of the case and a chance to participate in a hearing. A police officer must serve the respondent with notice of the hearing at least five business days before the hearing date. If a police officer is unable to serve the respondent, the judge can schedule a new hearing date and give the police another chance to serve the respondent.If the respondent is still unable to be served after the judge has set a new hearing date, the judge can dismiss the petition “without prejudice,” which means it can be re-filed.2 If the judge issues a final extreme risk protection order, it will last for one year after the date the order is issued.3

1 D.C. Code § 7-2510.04(h)
2 D.C. Code § 7-2510.03(b)
3 D.C. Code § 7-2510.03(i)

What protections can I get in an extreme risk protection order?

In both an ex parte and a final extreme risk protection order, the judge can order that the respondent not possess, control, purchase, or receive any:

  • firearm;
  • ammunition;
  • registration certificate;
  • license to carry a concealed pistol; or
  • dealer’s license.1

1 D.C. Code §§ 7-2510.03(h); 7-2510.03(g)

Getting the order

How do I get an extreme risk protection order?

You can file for an extreme risk protection order if you are related to the respondent, are dating, living with, or have a child with the respondent, or are a certain type of professional. You can start the process by filing a petition at the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. Your petition must:

  • be written;
  • include facts that support your claim that the respondent presents a significant danger of causing bodily injury to himself/herself or others by having possession or control of, purchasing, or receiving any firearm or ammunition; and
  • include information about the number, types, and location of the respondent’s firearms and ammunition if you have that information.1

Your petition must be served to the Office of the Attorney General and the respondent.1

1 D.C. Code § 7-2510.02(a)

How will a judge make a decision about whether or not to grant the order?

The judge can issue an extreme risk protection order if the judge finds that there is significant danger that the respondent will cause bodily injury to himself/herself or others by having possession or control of, purchasing, or receiving any firearm or ammunition.1 When deciding if there is significant danger, the judge will consider factors such as:

  • the respondent’s history or pattern of threats or acts of violence;
  • any recent threats or acts of violence;
  • whether the respondent got hold of firearms, ammunition, or other deadly or dangerous weapons within one year before the petition for an extreme risk protection order was filed;
  • the respondent’s illegal or careless use, display, waving (brandishing) of a firearm or other weapon;
  • the respondent’s criminal history;
  • the respondent’s violation of any court orders;
  • evidence that the respondent is having a mental health crisis or other dangerous mental health issues; and
  • the respondent’s use of drugs (a controlled substance).2

1 D.C. Code § 7-2510.03(g)
2 D.C. Code §§ 7-2510.04(e); 7-2510.03(e)

Can I renew an extreme risk protection order?

If you are the petitioner in an extreme risk protection order case, you can request that the judge extend the order before it expires. At least 120 days before the order expires, the court is required to let you know that the order will be expiring and give you instructions on how to renew the order.1 When deciding whether to renew the extreme risk protection order, the judge will consider the same factors s/he considered when deciding whether to grant the original order.2

1 D.C. Code § 7-2510.06(a)
2 D.C. Code § 7-2510.06(d)

What happens if the respondent violates the order?

If the respondent violates an extreme risk protection order, s/he can be convicted of a crime. If the respondent is convicted, the judge could order the respondent to pay a fine of up to $1,000, go to jail for up to 180 days, or both.

The judge can also order that the respondent not possess, control, purchase, or receive a firearm or ammunition for five years after the date of conviction.1

1 D.C. Code §§ 7-2510.11(b); 22-3571.01

Moving to Another State with a Civil Protection Order

If you are moving out of state or are going to be out of the state for any reason, your civil protection order can still be enforceable.

General rules

Can I get my civil protection order from D.C. enforced in another state?

Yes. If you have a valid Washington, D.C. civil protection order that meets federal standards, it can be enforced in another state.  The Violence Against Women Act, which is a federal law, states that all valid civil protection orders granted in the United States receive “full faith and credit” in all state and tribal courts within the US, including US territories.  See How do I know if my civil protection order is good under federal law? to find out if your civil protection qualifies.

Each state must enforce out-of-state civil protection orders in the same way it enforces its own orders, which means that if the abuser violates your out-of-state civil protection order, s/he will be punished according to the laws of whatever state you are in when the order is violated. This is what is meant by “full faith and credit.”

 

How do I know if my civil protection order is good under federal law?

A civil protection order is good anywhere in the United States as long as:

  • It was issued to prevent violent or threatening acts, harassing behavior, sexual violence, or it was issued to prevent another person from coming near you or contacting you.1
  • The court that issued the order had jurisdiction over the people and case. (In other words, the court had the authority to hear the case.)
  • The abuser received notice of the order and had an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story.
    • In the case of ex parte temporary and emergency orders, the abuser must receive notice and have an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story at a hearing that is scheduled before the temporary order expires.2

Note: For information on enforcing a military protective order (MPO) off the military installation, or enforcing a civil protection order (CPO) on a military installation, please see our Military Protective Orders page.

1 18 U.S.C. § 2266(5)
2 18 U.S.C. § 2265(a),(b)

I have a temporary ex parte order. Can it be enforced in another state?

Yes. An ex parte temporary order can be enforced in other states as long as it meets the requirements listed in How do I know if my civil protection order is good under federal law?1

Note: The state where you are going generally cannot extend your ex parte temporary order or issue you a permanent order when the temporary one expires.  If you need to extend your temporary order, you will have to contact the state that issued the order and arrange to be at the hearing in person or by telephone (if that is an option offered by the court).  However, you may be able to reapply for one in the new state that you are moving to if you meet the requirements for getting a protective order in that state – but, if you apply for one in a new state, the abuser would know what state you are living in, which may put you in danger.  To read the requirements for getting a restraining order in the new state, go to our Restraining Orders page and select the state from the drop-down.

1 See 18 U.S.C. § 2265(b)(2)

Getting your civil protection order enforced in another state

How do I get my civil protection order enforced in another state?

Federal law does not require you to take any special steps to get your civil protection order enforced in another state.

Many states do have laws or regulations (rules) about registering or filing of out-of-state orders, which can make enforcement easier, but a valid civil protection order is enforceable regardless of whether it has been registered or filed in the new state.1  Rules differ from state to state, so it may be helpful to find out what the rules are in your new state.  You can contact a local domestic violence organization for more information by visiting our Advocates and Shelters page and entering your new state in the drop-down menu.

Note: It is important to keep a copy of your civil protection order with you at all times.  It is also a good idea to know the rules of states you will be living in or visiting to ensure that your out-of-state order can be enforced in a timely manner.

1 18 U.S.C. § 2265(d)(2)

 

Do I need anything special to get my civil protection order enforced in another state?

In some states, you will need a certified copy of your civil protection order. A certified copy proves that it is a true and correct copy; it is signed and initialed by the clerk of court that gave you the order, and usually has some kind of court stamp or seal on it.

If your copy is not a certified copy, call or go to the court that gave you the order and ask the clerk’s office for a certified copy. There is no cost for getting certified copies of civil protection orders in Washington, D.C.

Note: It is a good idea to keep a copy of the order with you at all times. You may also want to bring several copies of the order with you when you move to leave copies of the order at your work place, at your home, at the children’s school or daycare, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on. You may want to give a copy to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work along with a photo of the abuser and give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order.

Can I get someone to help me? Do I need a lawyer?

You do not need a lawyer to get your civil protection order enforced in another state.

However, you may want to get help from a local domestic violence advocate or attorney in the state to which you move.  A domestic violence advocate can let you know what the advantages and disadvantages are for registering your civil protection order, and help you through the process if you decide to do so.

To find a domestic violence advocate or an attorney in the state you are moving to, select your state from the Advocates and Shelters page for advocates or the Finding a Lawyer page for legal services.

Do I need to tell the court in Washington, D.C. if I move?

If you won’t be getting mail at your old address, you may want to give the court a new address where your mail can be sent. The court that gave you your protection order likely should have an up-to-date address for you at all times so that you can be notified in case the abuser asks the judge to dismiss the order or if your order is changed in any way.

If you provide your new address to the court staff, make sure they know that you want to keep it confidential. It should be kept in a confidential part of your file where the public will not have access to it. If you feel unsafe giving your new address, you may be able to use the address of a friend you trust or a P.O. box instead.

Enforcing custody provisions in another state

I was granted temporary custody with my civil protection order. Can I take my kids out of the state?

Maybe.  It may depend on the exact wording of the custody provision in your civil protection order.  You may have to first seek the permission of the judge before leaving.  If the abuser was granted visitation rights with your children, then you may have to have the order changed, or show the court that there is a fair and realistic alternative to the current visitation schedule.

If you are unsure about whether or not you can take your kids out of the state, it is important to talk to a lawyer who understands domestic violence and custody laws, and can help you make the safest decision for you and your children.  You can find contact information legal assistance on our D.C. Finding a Lawyer page. 

 

I was granted temporary custody with my civil protection order. Will another state enforce this custody order?

Yes. Custody, visitation, and child support provisions that are included in a civil protection order can be enforced across state lines. Law enforcement and courts in another state are required by federal law to enforce these provisions.1

1 18 U.S.C. § 2266(5)(B)

Enforcing Your Out-of-State Order in D.C.

If you are planning to move to D.C. or are going to be in D.C. for any reason, your out-of-state protection or restraining order can be enforced.

General rules for out-of-state orders in D.C.

Can I get my protection order enforced in Washington, D.C.? What are the requirements?

Yes.  Your protection order can be enforced in Washington, D.C. as long as:

  • It was issued to prevent violent or threatening acts, harassing behavior, sexual violence, or it was issued to prevent another person from coming near you or contacting you.1
  • The court that issued the order had jurisdiction over the people and case. (In other words, the court had the authority to hear the case.)
  • The abuser received notice of the order and had an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story.
    • In the case of ex parte temporary and emergency orders, the abuser must receive notice and have an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story at a hearing that is scheduled before the temporary order expires.2

Note: For information on enforcing a military protective order (MPO) off the military installation, or enforcing a civil protection order (CPO) on a military installation, please see our Military Protective Orders page.

1 18 U.S.C. § 2266(5)
2 18 U.S.C. § 2265(a),(b)

 

Can I have my out-of-state protection order changed, extended, or canceled in D.C.?

It’s possible that you may be able to change, extend, or cancel your order in a D.C. court. Once you register your out-of-state order in D.C., the court will provide you with a registered order.1 The judge may allow you to petition to change, extend, or cancel the registered (out-of-state) order as if it were issued in that state.

However, it’s also possible that the judge may find that s/he does not have jurisdiction (power) over your whole order or over certain issues included in your order, such as custody, and may require that you file a motion or petition in the court where the order was issued. If you have to file in the state where the order was issued, you may be able to request that you attend the court hearing by telephone rather than in person, so that you do not need to return to the state where the abuser is living. To find out more information about how to modify a restraining order, see the Restraining Orders page for the state where your order was issued. You may also wish to speak with an attorney in D.C. to find out if you can file to modify your out-of-state order in D.C.

If your order does expire while you are living in Washington, D.C., you may be able to get a new one issued in D.C., but this may be difficult to do if no new incidents of abuse have occurred in Washington, D.C. To find out more information on how to get a protection order in Washington, D.C., visit our Civil Protection Orders page.

1 D.C. Code § 16-1044(c)

I was granted temporary custody with my protection order. Will I still have temporary custody of my children in D.C.?

Yes.  As long as the child custody provision complies with certain federal laws,1 D.C. can enforce a temporary custody order that is part of a protection order.  To have someone read over your order and tell you if it meets these standards, contact a lawyer in your area.  To find a lawyer in your area, go to our D.C. Finding a Lawyer page.

1 The federal laws are the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA) or the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1980.

Registering your out-of-state order in D.C.

If I don’t have a hard copy of my out-of-state order, how can law enforcement enforce it?

To enforce an out-of-state order, law enforcement typically may rely on the National Crime Information Center Protection Order File (NCIC-POF). The NCIC-POF is a nationwide, electronic database that contains information about orders of protection that were issued in each state and territory in the U.S. The Protection Order File (POF) contains court orders that are issued to prevent acts of domestic violence, or to prevent someone from stalking, intimidating, or harassing another person. It contains orders issued by both civil and criminal state courts. The types of protection orders issued and the information contained in them vary from state to state.1

There is no way for the general public to access the NCIC-POF. That means you cannot confirm a protection order is in the registry or add a protection order to the registry without the help of a government agency that has access to it.

Typically, the state police or criminal justice agency in the state has the responsibility of reporting protection orders to NCIC. However, in some cases, the courts have taken on that role and they manage the protection order reporting process.2 NCIC–POF is used by law enforcement agencies when they need to verify and enforce an out-of-state protection order. It is managed by the FBI and state law enforcement officials.

However, not all states routinely enter protection orders into the NCIC. Instead, some states may enter the orders only in their own state protection order registry, which would not be accessible to law enforcement in other states. According to a 2016 report by the National Center for State Courts, more than 700,000 protection orders that were registered in state protection order databases were not registered in the federal NCIC Protection Order File.2 This means that if a law enforcement officer is trying to enforce a protection order from another state that is missing from the NCIC, the victim would likely need to show the officer a hard copy of the order to get it immediately enforced. If you no longer have a copy of your original order, you may want to contact the court that issued the order to ask them how you can get another copy sent to you.

1 National Center for Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit
2 See State Progress in Record Reporting for Firearm-Related Background Checks: Protection Order Submissions, prepared by the National Center for State Courts, April 2016

How do I register my protection order in Washington, D.C.?

Anyone may register a foreign (out-of-state) protection order in Washington, D.C.  To register a foreign protection order, you have to present a certified copy of the order to the Superior Court and file an affidavit stating that to the best of your knowledge, the order is currently in effect.1

If you need help registering your protection order, you can contact a local domestic violence organization in Washington, D.C. for assistance.  You can find contact information for organizations in your area here on our D.C. Advocates and Shelters page.

1 D.C. Code § 16-1044(b)

Do I have to register my protection order in D.C. in order to get it enforced?

No. Neither federal law nor D.C. law1 requires that you register your protection order in order to get it enforced. (However, if your order is not entered into the registry, it may be more difficult for a D.C. law enforcement official to determine whether your order is real, and it could take longer to get your order enforced.) It is also not required that you show the police officer a certified copy of your order, as long as the order seems valid, the officer must enforce it. If you don’t have any copy of the order at the time you report the violation, the officer could even consider other information in determining whether there is probable cause to believe that a valid protection order exists.2

1 D.C. Code § 16-1043(c)
2 D.C. Code § 16-1043(a),(b)

Will the abuser be notified if I register my protection order?

Under the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which applies to all U.S. states and territories, the court is not permitted to notify the abuser when a protective order has been registered or filed in a new state unless you specifically request that the abuser be notified.1  However, you may wish to confirm that the clerk is aware of this law before registering the order if your address is confidential.

However, remember that there may be a possibility that the abuser could somehow find out what state you have moved to.  It is important to continue to safety plan, even if you are no longer in the state where the abuser is living.  We have some safety planning tips to get you started on our Staying Safe page.  You can also contact a local domestic violence organization to get help in developing a personalized safety plan.  You will find contact information for organizations in your area on our D.C. Advocates and Shelters page.

1 18 U.S.C. § 2265(d)

Does it cost anything to register my civil protection order?

No. There is no fee for registering your civil protection order in Washington, D.C.1

1 D.C. Code § 16-1044(f)

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