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 DVDdcsc.gov.1 Fillable forms are available on the D.C. Courts 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.
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.