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Legal Information: District of Columbia

Restraining Orders

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October 29, 2020

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 your state’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?

Possibly.  Any victim of a criminal domestic violence incident can make a request in writing that the landlord change the locks (without providing proof of the incident) as long as the abuser does not live with you.  If the abuser is a tenant in your apartment, along with the written request, you need to provide the landlord with a copy of the protection order, which must state that the abuser has to stay away from you, any other household member, or the apartment.  The landlord must change the locks to all entrance doors to your apartment within 5 business days of your request.1  

The landlord will pay the initial cost of changing the locks, but you have to reimburse the landlord within 45 days of him/her providing you with proof of the cost.  You might also have to pay whatever additional fee the building normally charges tenants to change locks.2

Note: To understand what relationships qualify as “domestic violence” for the purposes of this law, read Who is protected under this housing law?

1 D.C. Code § 42-3505.08(a)
2 D.C. Code § 42-3505.08(b)

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 DC 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 Filing Appeals 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 can be a misdemeanor crime, which can be punished by a fine, imprisonment for not more than 180 days, or both.1 Also, if the abuser committed a crime while violating the order (e.g., s/he violated the order by 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); or
  • a Motion to Adjudicate Criminal Contempt (for things such as the abuser contacting, threatening, or abusing you).

1 D.C. Code § 16-1005(f),(g)

How do I change or extend my civil protection order?

To change the terms of your order, you can ask the judge to change your order if your circumstances change.1 You will have to file a motion with the court and then attend another court hearing to convince the judge this change to the order is necessary.

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. 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.2

If you no longer feel you need protection of the court, you can file a motion to vacate (rescind) 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 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 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)
2 D.C. Superior Court Domestic Violence Unit, Rule 7(d)

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

Your civil protection order can be enforced even if you move to another state.  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.

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.


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 restraining 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 DC Advocates and Shelters page.