Protection Orders Keep Domestic Violence Survivors Safe

By Tonya Sams

Survivors of domestic violence may need to take extra precautions after leaving their abusers. Filing a civil protection order (CPO) is one way that they can protect themselves. A CPO can be filed with the Domestic Relations Court or Common Pleas Court. Victims can do this on their own (called pro se) or with the help of an attorney.

When the CPO petition is filed by the victim of abuse (petitioner), the court will hold a hearing on the same day. This first hearing is called an ex parte, because only the petitioner takes part in this hearing; the abuser is not there. During this time the most recent incidents of abuse will be discussed. The court then determines if the request for a CPO will be granted.

After the first hearing, another hearing will be scheduled within seven to ten court days. This hearing is called a “full hearing.” The abuser will be notified by the court to attend the hearing. The petitioner must bring all related documentation such as police reports and medical records documenting treatment related to the abuse. The petitioner should also bring copies of records of previous domestic violence or violent crime convictions that involve the abuser. Any witnesses to the abuse should also come to the hearing.

If the abuser opposes the CPO or fails to appear for the full hearing, the court will listen to the testimony of those who are present and then determine if a CPO should be granted for a period of up to five years. If the CPO is granted, the victim may (and should!) request several certified copies of the CPO from the clerk of courts, free of charge. It is recommended that you carry a copy of this order with you at all times.

If the abuser violates the order, first find a safe place to go and then call the police. Be sure to show the police a certified copy of the CPO. Also, be sure to notify a victim advocate or attorney. Violating a CPO could result in court supervision, community service, jail time, probation, or counseling. When a CPO is granted, the abuser could lose visitation rights to see their children (if applicable) and may have to pay support to the victims and children. If a vehicle is involved, they may be ordered to give it to the victim to use. They may also be ordered to attend counseling for substance abuse, anger management, or batterer’s counseling. If they still reside in the same home as the victim, they can be ordered to leave the residence.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, Legal Aid may be able to help. A Legal Aid attorney can help people file civil protection orders against their abusers as well as direct them to community resources to help them escape those abusive relationships. Legal Aid’s “Domestic Violence” brochure is available at Domestic Violence – Legal Aid Society of Cleveland (lasclev.org) For further information, call 888-817-3777 or visit lasclev.org/contact.

Tonya Sams is the Development & Communications Assistant at the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.