Before we usher in November, I want to take a moment and recognize October as being Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Did you know that Domestic Relations Court handles many different types of cases that may include domestic violence? This includes not only divorce and custody cases, but also civil protection orders.
What is a civil protection order? A CPO is an order issued by a court intended to protect victims from domestic violence. If granted, generally speaking, a CPO creates court-ordered space between two individuals. It can provide relief from a dangerous situation whether or not criminal charges are pursued.
There are five types of protection orders: stalking, dating violence, sexually oriented offenses, domestic violence and juvenile protection orders. In Domestic Relations Court, we handle primarily the dating and domestic violence CPOs.
Over the years, our court has observed a significant increase in CPO requests. In 2019, we had a total of 71 requests. In 2020, we had 129 requests. As of this writing, we have had more CPO requests this year, year to date, than over the same time period last year.
CPOs are a very important part of our legal process. They might not be the first thing you think of when you picture the business of Domestic Relations Court, but these types of issues (much like divorce and custody cases) have a huge effect not only on the impacted individual, but entire families as well. That’s why it’s so important to continually review and make sure the CPO process is serving residents to its fullest capability.
Earlier this month I had the honor of testifying before the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of the Ohio Judicial Conference concerning Senate Bill 210. If passed, the bill will improve the practice of domestic relations law in Ohio in several ways. One notable improvement will be the expansion of civil protection orders to correct an unintended gap in the CPO process.
Gap? Yes. Currently, some courts in Ohio may deny a civil protection order requested by a juvenile who is a victim of dating violence by an adult. For example, a 17-year-old girl may be unable to get a protection order against her 18-year-old former boyfriend. Why? Well, currently, the juvenile victim cannot request a CPO from a juvenile court because the respondent (alleged offender) is over the age of 18. On the other hand, the civil protection order action may not be able to be brought in Domestic Relations Court, as the request is made by a juvenile.
I believe it is important to have an accessible, legal process in place for people of all ages who feel as though they need court intervention, and I am proud to have testified about this protection order gap. If passed, SB 210 would specifically allow a juvenile to bring a request for a dating violence CPO against an adult in the Domestic Relations Court. Eliminating this gap will ensure people of all ages can seek help. It does not mean a CPO is automatically granted. As with anything else, the court makes sure there is a fair process for both sides.
A CPO request is considered a high priority by the court. An emergency hearing is heard usually the same day the CPO request is filed. The first hearing is often conducted ex parte, which means the petitioner (the person requesting the CPO) is the only party present. The respondent is not at the hearing.
On its face, this may seem concerning because usually due process requires both people be present. However, because these cases can be urgent in nature, sometimes requiring immediate action, Ohio law allows an initial hearing with only one person present. If an emergency civil protection order is granted, the court must schedule an additional hearing within 10 days to allow the respondent to be heard. If it is not granted, the court schedules it for further hearing but it is not required to be scheduled within 10 days.
If, at the second hearing, the court determines a civil protection order should be granted, the court can require many different things (depending on the facts of the case). Requirements may include things like exclusive use of a residence, prohibiting contact (or limited contact) and special visitation and child support orders, among other considerations.
Whether a CPO is granted or not, everyone (no matter their age) should have the ability to seek court intervention if they desire. As for SB 210, it is anticipated to have bipartisan support, and I look for it to be signed into law later this year.
Randall D. Fuller is judge of the Domestic Relations Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas. Judge Fuller is a life-long resident of Delaware County.