New CPO law takes effect in D.C.

by Jamison Koehler on May 4, 2021
Restraining Order

D.C. has amended its laws affecting civil protection orders (CPOs).  

Passed on December 15, 2020, the Intrafamily Offenses and Anti-Stalking Orders Amendment Act of 2020 took effect on April 27, 2021.  

While still offering protection to victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse, the new law replaces the three categories of “intrafamily offenses” with household members, intimate partners, and family members.  

The new law extends the timelines related to both CPOs and temporary protection orders (TPOs). It adds coverage for instances of animal cruelty and for victims of sex trafficking.  It increases independent access to the protective system to minors.  It requires the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to assign at least six officers to effect service of stay-away orders.  Finally, the new law provides a new and separate process to deal with stalking for parties who do not fall into one of the three categories covered by “intrafamily offenses.”

Defining “Household Members”

Under the old law, the category of “interpersonal violence” included all people who lived together.  It also included “common partners”; that is, former spouses/partners of the current spouse/partner.  

The new category of “household members” drops the “common partner” component. As D.C. Council explains: “These cases lack the familial, intimate, or close relationship that typify other cases eligible for a civil protection order.” Instead, stalking by these parties can be now addressed through the new anti-stalking procedures for people who do not fit one of the categories of intrafamily offenses.  

The new law also clarifies that civil protection orders are not to be misused by parties who are really attempting to resolve a landlord tenant dispute. As D.C. Council puts it: “This change addresses concerns that landlords have been using the civil protection order process to circumvent procedural protections that tenants enjoy in landlord-tenant court.”

Including “Intimate Partners”

The new law preserves the “intimate partner” category from the old law. However, in addition to spouses, domestic partners, and romantic, dating, and sexual partners, it now includes those people who are merely seeking to be in some type of romantic, dating or sexual relationship.  This closes an important gap in coverage.  

Defining “Family Members”

The new category of “family members” preserves most of the elements of the former category of “intrafamily violence:” individuals related by blood, adoption, legal custody, marriage or domestic partnership.  But it extends the definition of “child in common” to include “the child of an intimate partner.”  

Extending the Duration of TPOs and CPOs

TPOs can remain in effect now for 28 days instead of 14.  The one-year timeframe for CPOs has been raised to two years – or longer in cases in which the judge finds compelling circumstances.  

The committee report quotes Jamie Sparano of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia: “There are many situations in which a one-year order simply is not enough. For example, the abuse may be so egregious that a client will still be fearful in a year’s time, or a survivor may need more than a year to secure a safety transfer to an apartment somewhere safe fron their abuser.”

Extending CPO Protection to Victims of Sex Trafficking

The new law allows victims of sex trafficking to seek protection through a CPO against a party who has used “coercion to cause the petitioner to engage in a commercial sex act.”  The purpose of this change is to extend the protections available to sex trafficking survivors.  

Increasing Independent Access to Minors

Under the old law, minors between the age of 12 and 16 could only file their own petitions when they were alleging intimate partner violence.  Under the new law, these minors are now allowed to petition for a protective order when alleging any intrafamily offense or when alleging sexual assault by a party who does not have a significant relationship to the victim.  Marta Beresin of Georgetown Law provides the rationale for this change: “The right to independently pursue protection from dating abuse and sexual assault is critical to a young person’s safety and well-being.”

Improved Service of Process by MPD

One of the major weaknesses of the former system was the inability of petitioners to effect service of the stay-away order on the other party.  The committee report quotes Gretta Gardner, Deputy Director of the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence: “Without service, the physical and emotional efforts that are required of domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, who are often pro se and unfamiliar with the process, to seek safety through the court system is all for naught.”

Resources devoted by the MPD to effecting service of stay-away orders has fluctuated considerably over the years.  The new law requires MPD to assign at least 6 officers to this task.  

Creating Separate Process for Stalking Allegations in Which Parties are not Related

The law creates a new process for adjudicating stalking complaints in cases in which the parties are not related in some way.   

The old law allowed petitions filed on the basis of stalking, sexual assault or sexual abuse to be granted regardless of the parties’ relationship.  Although claims of sexual assault and sexual abuse will continue to be handled within the CPO framework through the D.C. Superior Court Domestic Violence Division, stalking complaints in which the allegations do not meet the criteria of “intrafamily offenses” will now be handled through the Civil Division.

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