Step 1: Go to one of the Domestic Violence Intake Centers.
After the abuse occurs, go to one of the Domestic Violence Intake Centers (DVICs) as soon as possible after an incident occurs. (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
The DVICs are located at:
- D.C. Superior Court (Moultrie Courthouse), Room 4550, 500 Indiana Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20001; and
- United Medical Center (formerly Greater Southeast Hospital), 1328 Southern Avenue, S.E., Room 311, Washington, D.C. 20032.2
You can file up to three years after the incident,3 but a delay in filing may make the judge less likely to believe you. 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. Note: If you are filing for a civil protection order due to sexual assault or stalking by a stranger or filing agianst a family member, it is possible that you might not qualify for help through the DVIC; however, you can still file for the civil protection order on your own with the clerk’s office.
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.4 You must file for a temporary protection order the same day you file for a civil protection order.
1 D.C. Code § 16-1006
2D.C. Superior Court website
3 See D.C. Code § 12-301(8)
4 D.C. Code § 16-1004(b)
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.” An intake counselor will help you with the paperwork.
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 DVIC located in the court. If they are not toilet trained or if you file at the DVIC located at United Medical Center, you will have to keep them with you.
Note: If the abuser was arrested, and there is a criminal case against him/her, you may meet with someone from the U.S. Attorney’s Office called a victim witness advocate. You are known as the “complaining witness” in the criminal case. The advocate may help you prepare for the criminal case and get you other needed assistance. The criminal case is separate and different from the civil case you are filing.
Step 3: Decide whether or not to file for child support.
If you have children in common with the abuser, you can file for child support if the children are living with you. If you believe that filing for child support will place you in danger from the abuser, you do not have to file – this is true even if you are on public assistance. If you fear for your safety, let the clerk at the intake center know that you do not wish to file for child support.
Step 4: Finish filing your petition.
A court advocate will help you file your petition and explain where to go for your hearing. S/he may also be able to assist you in finding other resources, such as shelter housing, emergency funds, and counseling.
Step 5: A judge will consider your petition.
The intake counselor will take your completed 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 United Medical Center are conducted via a video teleconference with the judge. 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 with 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 6: 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. 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.
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.
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?
Step 7: 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 normally 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, custody or child support.
If the abuser fails to appear in court, the judge may decide to grant you the civil protection order in his/her absence (s/he would be in “default” for not appearing) 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 the At the Hearing page for ways you can show the judge that you were abused if you end up representing yourself at the hearing.