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Legal Information: District of Columbia

Restraining Orders

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Updated: 
August 31, 2021

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

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.