Remote Filing for Domestic Violence and Stalking Protective Petitions Now Available
CONCORD, NH – New Hampshire Circuit Courts are now accepting and processing remote petitions for protection from domestic violence or stalking filed electronically. Before the COVID-19 crisis, an in-person filing at a local courthouse was required. Since the Governor’s State of Emergency was issued on March 13, the courts are trying, where possible, to limit foot traffic at courthouses to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission among the public and staff. But with restricted access to courthouses, many people who would normally have filed for a protective order from an abuser may have become unable or hesitant to go request one.
Acknowledging this concern, the courts consulted with the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, NH Legal Assistance and private practice attorneys and then moved to create an alternative solution that would allow at-risk individuals a chance to file online and seek protection during the COVID-19 crisis. The pilot process debuted on May 26.
“We saw a 21-percent drop in domestic violence petitions filed in March and April from the same time last year and a 30-percent drop in stalking petitions filed,” notes the Administrative Judge of the Circuit Court David D. King. “While this may have partly been due to the Supreme Court’s extension of protective orders, we concluded it was more than likely due to access barriers enhanced by COVID-19, and we needed to act to help support people experiencing domestic violence and stalking who couldn’t make it to a courthouse. The electronic filing system provides a safe and private way for them to file for protective action. We are pleased to be able to put this measure in temporarily and we hope it will be a value add during this time. ”
To access the system, a filer will contact a Crisis Center or Family Justice Center. Working with the center, they will be given links to the appropriate online forms. Once the forms are submitted, the file will be given priority status by the appropriate court, which will contact the plaintiff and, if necessary, arrange a review with an Emergency Order Judge. If the judge grants the petition, the court will follow up with the plaintiff to schedule a hearing, which can be over the phone, and confirm how they want to receive the order, which can be done in person, by mail, or via email.
“We feel this temporary solution will provide a much-needed avenue for vulnerable populations who could not seek protection during the COVID-19 crisis,” says Domestic Violence Program Manager Sarah Freeman. “By using technology and this expedited process, the Courts will be better able to provide access to justice for many of the state’s most critically affected people and to speed up much-needed relief from domestic violence or abuse. It should be stressed that emailing the Domestic Violence or Stalking Petition, when working with a Crisis Center or Family Justice Center, is not a requirement but instead is an option. Plaintiffs may still file for relief in person at any Circuit Court location.”
For more information on how to obtain an order of protection, see the NHJB website https://www.courts.state.nh.us/fdpp/dv_petitions.htm