Protection orders: Can the civil legal system help protect me?

Please Note:

  • If you are currently experiencing domestic violence, harassment, sexual assault, or stalking, get help from your local domestic violence shelter. Shelters provide safety planning, temporary shelter, legal advocacy, counseling, and other services. To find the program nearest you, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or text "START" to 88788.
  • StrongHearts Native Helpline is a peer support service of the National
    Domestic Violence Hotline. Advocates are available 24/7 by texting or
    calling 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) or through the online chat at
    strongheartshelpline.org.

Part 1: Basics

You will learn:

  • What a protection order is
  • Types of protection orders that help prevent domestic violence or other kinds of behavior that frightens you or puts you at risk
  • Asking for a protection order is free and you don't need a lawyer
  • How your protection order protects you and how long it can last

It is a civil court order (an order you request), issued by a judge, meant to protect you from another person. You can ask for a protection order if you are experiencing domestic violence, harassment, sexual assault, or stalking.

See definitions of each of these below. You can also ask for a protection order if you are a vulnerable adult experiencing abuse or neglect, or on behalf of such an adult.

Washington State law at RCW 7.105.010(8) states that domestic violence happens when you are related to, living with now or have lived with, or have ever been in an intimate relationship with does any of these:

  • Harms you physically, including sexual assault
  • Causes you to fear immediate physical harm or assault
  • Stalks you, including online (called cyberstalking)
  • Engages in behavior that causes you physical, emotional, or psychological harm, and unreasonably interferes with your free will and personal liberty (called coercive control)

No one has the right to threaten or hurt you. The abuser's relationship to you does not matter.

These are a few examples:

  • Driving recklessly with you and/or the children in the vehicle to scare and force you to do what the person wants you to do over your own wishes
  • Threatening to kill themselves if you don't stay in the relationship with them
  • Telling your friends and family that they are going to destroy your career or report you to immigration because you are ending the relationship
  • Threatening to blackmail you

You can read the law to see more examples at RCW 7.105.010(37).

Washington State law defines it as someone's behavior that seriously alarms, annoys, torments, or is detrimental to you. This behavior has no legitimate purpose. You can read the state law about this at RCW 9A.46.110 and RCW 7.105.010(35).

Under state law, stalking as a crime happens when all these are true:

  • Someone intentionally and repeatedly harasses or follows you. This can include them using a GPS or other tracking device to track your whereabouts.
  • You have a reasonable fear that they want to hurt someone (it does not have to be you), or someone's property (it does not have to be yours).
  • The stalker knows or should know that they are frightening, intimidating, or harassing you.

If this describes your situation, consider calling the police.

* Cyber harassment is also a stalking crime. You can read the law about this at RCW 9A.90.120.

Read Protecting elders and vulnerable adults from abuse and neglect to learn more. That fact sheet also talks about other options for vulnerable adults besides protection orders.

It includes rape, but for purposes of getting a protection order, state law defines it more generally as any sexual conduct or penetration that you did not freely agree to (is nonconsensual). Read the law at RCW 7.105.100(b) to learn more.

No. You can only ask for a restraining order as part of a family law action (like a divorce or parentage case) you are filing or responding to. You do not need to be involved in a family law case to ask for a protection order. Read I have experienced domestic violence. Should I file a protection order (PO)? to learn more.

Part 2: Getting a protection order

No. You can do it yourself or you can ask someone from a domestic violence shelter to help you.

There is no fee.

The forms are available in District and Superior Courts statewide. Check with your local court first.

You can also use our printable How to File for a Protection Order packet, or our do-it-yourself interview program, Washington Forms Online, to fill out the forms at WashingtonLawHelp.org.

* Are you a Tribal Member or living in a Tribal Community or on a Reservation? You may have the choice of filing for a protection order in a State Court or a Tribal Court. Each Tribe's code and/or process may differ. Contact the Tribal Court to learn more. (Use the Tribal Court directory at bit.ly/3xG65rt.) State Court forms may not work in Tribal Court.

Part 3: After you get your protection order

You should always carry a certified copy of it with you. A certified copy is a copy the clerk makes for you with a raised seal on it.

You must call the police to report a violation.

Yes. They enter your Protection Order in a statewide computer system. It is enforceable statewide and in other states.

It lasts either for a fixed period or permanently. You can read the law about this at RCW 7.105.310. If it protects children, the part of it that relates to protection of the children can only last, at the longest, one year.

You can ask a judge to renew the order before it expires. The judge must renew your order unless the person the Order protects you from can prove they are no longer a risk to you and/or your children.

This is a crime. The police must enforce your order and arrest the person who has harmed you. You can read the law about this at RCW 7.105.450.

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Last Review and Update: Jul 26, 2023
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