I have experienced domestic violence. Should I file a protection order (PO)?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

If you are being hurt, harassed, threatened, or stalked, you should talk with a domestic violence program. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE.

We provide here general information about different civil legal relief available.

We do not mean to persuade nor discourage you from seeking protections the law affords you. Our goal is to help you make an informed decision about the best course of action for your situation.

Please talk with an advocate for information and advice for your situation.

Washington State law says domestic violence is when someone does one of these:

  • Hits, assaults (including sexual assault), or harms you physically

  • Causes you to fear immediate physical harm or assault

  • Stalks you, including by stalking you online (cyberstalking)

  • Engages in behavior to cause you physical, emotional, or psychological harm, and unreasonably interferes with your free will and personal liberty (coercive control)

The person causing the harm or threatening is, generally, a family member or a current or former intimate partner.

Read Protection Orders: Can the civil legal system help protect me? for the full definition.

It is a civil court order (an order you request), issued by a judge, meant to protect you from another person.

You can file this type of order if one of these is true:

  • you are experiencing physical harm, bodily injury, assault, stalking, unlawful harassment, coercive control, or sexual assault by a family or household member
  • you fear imminent physical harm or bodily injury by a family or household member

Protection Orders are very effective for many people, but they are not a good option for everyone. Below are some questions to consider.

Filing for a PO starts a court process that requires you to be at court for hearings and get ready for hearings by gathering and submitting evidence.

  • Other matters may need your immediate attention first (homelessness, therapy for trauma, financial problems, new school or childcare, new job).

  • You may not have the contact information to serve the other party.

  • You may not be ready to see or engage with the batterer in court.

  • The batterer may hire an aggressive lawyer.

  • You may not be ready to discuss your personal matters in open court.

  • You may be pressured to file a family law case. There may be good reasons for you not to do that. You may not feel ready to file a family law case.

  • The batterer can use information filed in the PO case in a family law case. If you decided on your own to dismiss your case, the batterer can use that against you in court in the future.

  • Filing for a PO may aggravate your batterer more.

  • Filing for a PO may cause your batterer to try to retaliate against you.

It is a time-consuming process:

  • You may not be able to get a lawyer to represent you. Representing yourself can be hard.

  • You may not be able to take the time off work or find childcare to go to court. There could be delays and multiple hearings.

  • Your batterer may bring up negative things about you. You will have to respond.

  • Your batterer may get very litigious (your batter files many things in court that you must respond to, or the batterer schedules many hearings) because the only time they can see you is in court.

The court will decide what the Order says:

  • The court may issue a PO that allows the other party visits with the children or keeps you from being able to move away with the kids.

  • The court may issue an order that makes it harder for you to prove your case in any family law action.

  • If the PO allows unsupervised visits with children, it can be hard to change that later in a family law case.

The court will sign a Denial Order if they think you did not prove your case. Then the batterer can contact or come near you again.

  • If you do not win, the other person may become bolder in what they are doing. They may feel like they were right and try to use the denial of the PO against you in a family law case.

  • The court may think you really just want a custody order. The court may think you are trying to cut corners by filing for a PO.

  • If the court denies your request for a PO, it could make it harder for you to get DV restrictions in a parenting plan.

Protection Orders are meant to keep you safe by keeping your batterer from contacting or coming near you.

You should not file for a PO if any of these is what you want from a court order:

  • A temporary residential schedule

  • Making the other person move out of your place

  • To get your children back when the other party is keeping them from you

  • To keep the other person from leaving the state with the children

  • To get things you own from the other person

Both types of court orders can include orders related to issues including money, the place you live, personal items, maintenance (alimony), safety, child support, parenting plans, and Guardians ad Litem.

If you really want a court to enter orders saying who has temporary custody of a child or temporary possession of a home or vehicle, instead of filing for a protection order, you may want to file a family law case and ask for temporary orders, or even an immediate restraining order.

Temporary orders can give you certain rights and/or protections after your family law case has started, but before it is final. Courts grant these orders only after notice has been given to the other side and there has been a hearing before a judge or commissioner where each party can speak and present evidence.

The types of temporary orders you can get include, but are not limited, to these:

  • Temporary parenting plan

  • Temporary child support order

  • Temporary spousal support order

  • Temporary restraining order

  • Temporary order regarding possession of a home

  • Temporary order regarding payment of bills

We have packets with forms and instructions for getting temporary orders in various types of family law cases:

If this is an emergency and you think you need an order that immediately restrains the other side from contacting or coming near you or your child, think about asking for an immediate restraining order. If granted, immediate restraining orders take effect right away and remain in effect until the court can hold a hearing. At that time, a judge or commissioner will decide if there is reason to continue the order.

Immediate restraining orders are for emergencies only. You ask for this order usually with little or no advance notice to the other party. To get an immediate restraining order, you must prove that unless the court grants the order now, irreparable harm will happen. 

We have packets with forms and instructions for getting immediate restraining orders in various types of family law cases:

* Whether to file a family law case, or whether to ask for immediate or temporary orders, can be complicated. It depends on many factors. Talk with a lawyer before making this decision

Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. They can refer you to a local agency. An advocate at that agency can help you with safety planning.

In the meantime, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is your biggest worry?

  • What priorities do you have?

  • What is most important to you now, in the next few months, and long-term?

  • How do you think the children are doing?

  • How do you view the risks? What do they mean to you?

  • What scares you? Why? Why not?

  • What have you done in the past to help protect you or your kids?

  • What decisions have you made about contact with your partner?


Protection order forms are available from the court clerk or your local domestic violence program. You can also use our printable How to File for a Protection Order packet, or our do-it-yourself interview program, Washington Forms Online.

*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.) The state court forms may not work in Tribal Court. 

  • When filling out the Petition, you must check all the boxes you want the court to order. If the box is not checked, the court will not order it.

  • If you are asking that the other party return personal belongings to you, put the specific items you need (passport, credit card, cell phone, stroller, car seat, children's toys, and so on). Do not write "my stuff" or "children's stuff".

  • When filling out the statement section of the Petition, be as specific and descriptive as possible. Put the date, names, what, when, and where. Use names rather than pronouns. If you cannot remember the date, put the time of year the thing happened (around a holiday, the season, how old was your child) or about how long ago.

  • If the most recent episode of abuse happened a while ago, explain why you are filing now.

  • When filling out the statement section of the Petition, focus on the legal definition of domestic violence (hits, assaults, physical harm, or fear of immediate physical harm or assault, or stalking).

  • Describe what happened when you or your minor children were physically harmed, sexually assaulted, stalked, or put in imminent fear that you would be harmed or assaulted.

  • You must give specifics. Putting things like"my husband is verbally and physically abusive to me," or "he threatened to kill me," does not help. The court will not know what that means. Describe what the batterer does (hit, kick, shove, slap) that is abusive. What did they say when they threatened you? Do not just say you were afraid. Say what you were afraid would happen to you or your child and why. If you got hurt, explain how the injury happened. The more detail you can give about the batterer's actions and your response, the better.

  • Do not talk about parenting issues. Only talk about physical abuse, and threats of physical harm or stalking. 

  • File documents with your Petition that help prove what your Petition says. You can use police reports, text messages, emails, pictures, medical records, etc. You can file some documents like medical records and certain pictures under seal: then the public cannot view them. You must file these before your hearing date. Some courts will not consider evidence that is only offered at the time of the hearing. Ask the court clerk about filing deadlines in your county.

  • Fill out the Order form. Check the same boxes that you checked in the Petition. You can ask the court to enter your proposed Order.

  • If you want the court to order the respondent to surrender weapons, you must check the "Credible Threat" box in the Order.

Northwest Justice acknowledges the work of the Washington State Coalition against Domestic Violence. The safety planning questions listed here come from WCDAV's Safety Planning with Survivors: Core Concepts.

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

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Last Review and Update: Sep 27, 2022
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