A year ago, you were brought to court by an ex spouse or significant other, or perhaps a family member. Maybe you consented to the entry of a Civil Protection Order (CPO), or maybe the judge entered an order after a hearing. One year has almost passed, and you’ve done everything the order required. You didn’t harass, assault, threaten, or stalk the petitioner. You stayed 100 feet away from her and didn’t contact her in any way. Yet a couple weeks before the order was set to expire, you are served with a motion to extend or modify the CPO. And it begins again. . .
Washington, D.C. law allows a petitioner to seek up to a one year extension of an existing CPO for “good cause.” In determining whether good cause exists to extend a CPO, the Court must consider the history of the relationship between the parties, and balance the potential harm that each party may suffer if the Court grants or denies the motion. Cruz-Foster v. Foster, 597 A.2d 927 (D.C. 1991).
So how does the court go about, as a practical matter, determining whether it should extend a Washington, D.C. CPO? First, they look at the underlying facts that caused the petitioner to seek the CPO in the first place. The court will look to see if there were any violent acts perpetrated by the respondent against the petitioner. If so, was it a pattern or history or an isolated incident? Was there stalking? How long did it last, and what did it include? Obviously, the more serious the acts that caused the original petition to be granted, the more likely the relationship history will be a factor in issuing a CPO extension.
But history is not the only factor to be considered by the judge. What the parties have been up to since the original CPO has been issued will also matter. Any violation that occurred during the year since the original CPO was issued will weigh heavily in favor of granting an extension. Even violations that have not previously been brought to the court’s attention will count against you in the extension hearing. If the court finds that the respondent violated the CPO in any way during the first year, it is likely that the court will find “good cause” to extend it.
Finally, the court will consider the “balance of the harms” if it decides to grant or deny the CPO extension. For instance, if the respondent will lose his job if the CPO is extended, the court will consider this factor in favor of denying the extension. However, if the court feels that the petitioner will be placed in danger if the extension is denied, it will almost always extend the CPO.
Petitioners will often make very creating arguments when seeking CPO extension. In one of my recent Washington, D.C. cases, the attorney for the petitioner used my client’s compliance with the original CPO as reason to extend the CPO. Her “logic,” was that since my client was in compliance with the CPO, it must have acted as a deterrent against his behavior, and should therefore be extended. As I pointed out in my written opposition to the extension, extending a CPO because it worked so well, means that a respondent’s compliance with the CPO actually counts against him. The faultiness of this reasoning boggles the mind, and still makes me scratch my head.
While “good cause,” is a low bar that needs to be met to obtain a CPO extension, it still prevents the court from simply rubber stamping an extension request. The petitioner will have to prove his or her case at a hearing, and convince the court that the extension is supported by the law. Since an extension means that a respondent in a small city like Washington, D.C. will have another year of hoping to avoid walking into the same restaurant or grocery store as the petitioner, putting up a fight may be warranted. The consequences of violating a CPO are too serious to take lightly.