Victims of domestic violence in St. Louis County can now file for an order of protection online, a move the court says is “now safer, simpler and easier for victims” during the COVID-19 health emergency.
Victims will be able to request a restraining order online, without the need to travel to the courthouse, arrange for child care or leave work. St. Louis County is the only judicial circuit in the state – and one of a few in the nation – where online filing for orders of protection is possible.
“We are concerned about an increase in domestic violence with the stay-at-home order currently in place,” St. Louis County Circuit Judge Jason Dodson said in a news release. “We want to ensure people have access to orders of protection and the remedies they provide without having to leave their homes.”
Thousands of restraining orders are filed annually in St. Louis County, the largest and busiest judicial circuit in the state of Missouri.
With shelter-in-place orders issued by St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and unemployment spiking, experts anticipate that domestic violence will increase, including intimate partner violence, child abuse and even family disputes.
Previously, victims of domestic violence seeking an order of protection had to come to the St. Louis County Courthouse in Clayton, fill out paperwork with the Adult Abuse Office during business hours, wait for a judge to review it, and in some cases come back a second time.
Now victims can simply download the necessary forms from the court’s website, www.stlcountycourts.com, complete them on their own computers and email them back to the court for review and approval by a judge. The online application process currently is available during regular business hours, Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday 9 a.m. to noon, but soon will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Online filing will also make processing requests for orders of protection easier and simpler for local law enforcement agencies who are often contacted by domestic violence victims after hours. In addition to the new online application process, the court has established a new domestic violence protocol to ensure that one judge is always on-call to review exclusively requests for orders of protection.
Starting April 20, court hearings on orders of protection can be conducted remotely, providing victims, respondents, attorneys and witness the option of appearing by videoconference. In-person hearings observing appropriate social distancing rules are also available at the courthouse for litigants without access to remote technology.
“We developed this innovation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to protect not only our staff, but victims of domestic violence in St. Louis County from potential exposure to the virus,” said St. Louis County Judge Amanda B. McNelley. “But this will have a positive impact on the way our courts address domestic violence and assist the victims of domestic violence in the long term.”