Civil domestic abuse protective orders can now include pets

By Alisa Diehl, Staff Attorney with Iowa Legal Aid

Domestic violence affects all aspects of a victim’s life and threats of harm often keep victims trapped. One way that an abuser may try to control a victim is by abusing or threatening to abuse the family pet, companion, or service animal. Victims might not be able to take “Fido” or “Fluffy” with them when they leave. In this situation, leaving an abuser can become even more difficult, and may prevent a victim from leaving at all.

An Iowa law that took effect on July 1, 2014 has helped change this situation. The law expands the protection for victims of domestic abuse in civil protective orders. The Domestic Abuse chapter of the Iowa Code has long allowed victims to file for a civil protective order against an abuser. Iowa courts may order that an abuser stop the domestic abuse, award temporary custody and visitation of the children, order the abuser to pay child support, and award temporary possession of property including a home and vehicle, among other things.

Beginning on July 1, 2014 the law was changed to allow a court to give a victim care and possession of pets or companion animals. This law does not apply to livestock such as cows, pigs and chickens that are held for business reasons.

How does it work?

A civil domestic abuse case is started by filing a petition with the Clerk of Court, asking for a protective order. There is no filing fee. The Clerks of Court can provide the forms. The petition must state the victim’s relationship to the abuser, whether they have children together, and details of the abuse. Under the new law, the petition can also name or describe any pet or companion animal that is:

Owned or held by the victim, the abuser, or minor children of the parties who may be affected by the protective order.

The new law doesn’t just cover traditional pets like cats and dogs! All pets and companion animals are covered, as long as they aren’t livestock.

Once the petition is filed, it is reviewed by a judge who decides whether to issue a temporary protective order right away. The temporary protective order protects the victim from abuse by ordering the alleged abuser to stay away from him or her. It also prohibits the alleged abuser from talking to the victim directly or through others. The temporary order can also include temporary orders for child custody, visitation, and possession of property. Now, possession and care of a qualifying animal can also be awarded. The temporary order also sets a hearing to decide if a final protective order should be entered. The final order can also include orders for child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, and possession of property, including possession and care of a pet.

What can the court do to protect pets and companion animals?

The court can give the pet to the victim in the temporary protective order, the final protective order, or both.

These orders can stop the alleged abuser from keeping or hurting the pet.

The court can also prohibit the alleged abuser from taking, hiding or coming near the animal, and prohibit the alleged abuser from threatening, harming, attacking the animal, or getting rid of the animal.

If an abuser intentionally violates the pet protections in a civil protective order, the abuser could be found in contempt of court and could even be charged with a crime.

Iowa Legal Aid provides free legal assistance to low-income Iowans in all 99 counties with civil legal problems involving basic necessities and safety. Information about the civil protective orders and other civil legal issues is available on Iowa Legal Aid’s websites, and is a free, members only site that provides a comprehensive collection of information on legal topics, upcoming events including continuing legal education opportunities, and resources on civil law practice for members of Iowa’s justice communit