Domestic Violence: Can the Legal System Help Protect Me?
Authored By: Northwest Justice Project
- Read this in:
- Spanish / Español
This defines domestic violence, advises how you can protect yourself and your family by getting a protection order or restraining order, and provides information on where to get help. #3700EN
- What is domestic violence?
- How does the law define domestic violence?
- What are some examples of things that can cause fear of immediate harm?
- How can I protect myself and/or my children right now?
- Can the civil legal system help?
- Can I get an Order for Protection?
- How do I get an Order for Protection?
- Can I get the Order immediately?
- What happens at the return hearing?
- What does an Order for Protection do?
- How do I use the Order for Protection?
- Will it protect me outside my county?
- I already have an Order of Protection from Canada. Do I need to get another one here?
- When will the Order for Protection end (expire)?
- What if Respondent violates the Order?
- What is a Restraining Order?
- What can a restraining order do?
- What is an Anti-Harassment Order?
- Can I get an Anti-Harassment Order?
- What is stalking?
- What if the person has threatened me with a gun?
- Can the criminal justice system help?
- They arrested the perpetrator. Am I safe now?
- Should I press criminal charges?
- Do I need to testify in a criminal trial?
- Can I ask for a No-Contact Order
- How will the court punish the perpetrator?
- What is victim’s compensation?
- Important Info
- Download this publication with attached table comparing different types of orders
It is a pattern of physically and/or emotionally abusive behavior used to control someone with whom the abuser has an intimate or family relationship.
Washington law says domestic violence happens when someone does one of these:
Hits, assaults (including sexual assault), or harms you physically in any way
Causes you to fear immediate physical harm or assault
The person causing the harm or threatening you must be one of these:
A family member
A spouse or domestic partner
A former spouse or former domestic partner
Someone you live with now or used to live with who you have or had a dating relationship with
Someone you have a child with
Starting 7/28/19, someone age 16 or older who you live with now or used to live with and have or had a dating relationship with
Starting 7/28/19, someone 16 or older with whom you have or had a dating relationship
restraining your freedom of movement
destroying your property
making verbal threats to hurt you
making threats by text or social media
*No one has the right to threaten or hurt you. The abuser’s relationship to you does not matter.
If you are currently a domestic violence victim, get help from the 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: 1.800.799.7233.
There are different types of court orders that may help protect you and your children. The attached table explains:
the types of orders available
who may get them
how to get them
how much they cost
other important information
Yes, if you have been assaulted or threatened by:
someone you live with
a spouse or ex-spouse
a domestic partner or ex-domestic partner
someone you are dating or have dated
When you ask for an Order for Protection, you are the Petitioner. The person you want the court to restrain is the Respondent.
*You do not need a lawyer.
There is no fee to file for this. The forms are available in District, Municipal, and Superior Courts statewide. Check with your local court first. They may have their own forms you must use. The forms are also on the state courts website: http://www.courts.wa.gov/forms/index.cfm?fa=forms.contribute&formID=16.
When filling out a Petition for an Order for Protection, you must list facts showing that Respondent has committed acts of domestic violence against you and/or your children. They do not have to be recent if the past domestic violence makes you still afraid.
Yes. You can get a Temporary Order for Protection immediately when you fill out the petition and a judge signs it. The sheriff then gives the Respondent a copy of the Order.
You will have a hearing for a permanent order two weeks later. Some courts call this a “return hearing.” The clerk of the court where you file will tell you where the judge will hold the return hearing.
Respondent can give their side of the story. If Respondent does not show up at the hearing, and you cannot prove they got enough notice of the hearing, ask the judge to extend the emergency order until Respondent can get notice and you can schedule another hearing. Otherwise, you will not have protection until the court enters another order.
It can order Respondent to stop contacting you.
It can order Respondent to stop threatening, harassing, stalking, or bothering you or your children.
It can order Respondent not to harass you in-person, or by phone, mail, or electronically.
It can keep Respondent from your home, work, school, or your children’s school or daycare.
It can ban Respondent from any contact with any children or pets you have together, or set a visitation schedule.
It can order Respondent to go to counseling or have a drug or alcohol evaluation.
It can award you important personal belongings or a vehicle.
Carry a certified copy of your order with you at all times. You must call the police to report a violation.
Yes. They enter your Order for Protection in a statewide computer system. It is enforceable statewide and in other states.
No. Starting July 28, 2019, Law enforcement here can enforce your Canadian order. You should register it with a Washington court.
It lasts either for a fixed period or permanently. If it protects children, it can only last, at the longest, one year. You can ask the court to renew the order before it expires. The court must renew your order unless Respondent 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 Respondent.
You can ask for this if you have filed a family law action such as
non-parent custody petition
petition for a parenting plan
petition to change a parenting plan
Courts enter Restraining Orders at first on a temporary basis. They may become permanent at the end of the case.
Order Respondent to stay away from you and the children
Exclude Respondent (order Respondent to stay away) from your home, workplace, daycare, or school
Order Respondent not to take the children out of the court’s jurisdiction
Order other restraints as appropriate
The police must enforce a Restraining Order the same as a Protection Order. If you report that Respondent violates the order, the police must arrest Respondent.
when Respondent has seriously alarmed, annoyed, or harassed you
generally when you were not married or living together, and have no children together
Yes, if you can prove both of these:
Respondent’s conduct would cause any reasonable person to suffer serious emotional distress
Respondent’s conduct was intentional or willful and served no legitimate or legal purpose
This is different from domestic violence. It may not have the same penalties.
*You usually file for an Anti-Harassment Order in district court. Use Antiharassment Forms and Instructions.
State law defines “stalking” a few ways. Stalking as a crime happens when all these are true:
Someone intentionally is harassing or following you.
You fear that they want to hurt you or someone else, or someone’s property. Your fear must be reasonable under the circumstances.
The stalker either
1. Means to frighten, intimidate, or harass you OR
2. Knows or should know you feel that way even if they did not mean for you to feel that way.
RCW 9A.46.110. If this describes your situation, call the police.
Stalking can also mean cyberstalking (stalking you online). RCW 9.61.260.
State law creating stalking protection orders says stalking is repeated
tries to contact
keeping under observation
-and causing you to feel intimidated, scared or threatened. RCW 7.92.020 If this describes your situation, you should file for a stalking protection order. Stalking Protection Order has forms and instructions.
You can file a motion asking for an Order that the person surrender their weapons OR banning them from owning weapons. Both of these must be true:
You are a Petitioner or Respondent in a family law, anti-harassment, stalking, or protection order case.
The person has used, displayed, or threatened to use a weapon on you OR in a felony.
- Starting July 28, 2019, if you get an Order requiring the person to surrender weapons, the police or the sheriff will serve the person with that Order.
Getting a Court Order for the Surrender of Weapons: Family Law Cases has forms and instructions.
Call the police if
Someone has hit or hurt you
Someone has physically or sexually assaulted you
Someone has damaged or destroyed you property
Someone has threatened you with a weapon
Someone is stalking you
You are the victim of a crime
Someone who does not live with you forces their way into your home
The police must:
make a report
tell you in writing what your rights are as a domestic violence victim
make sure you are not still in danger
The person who hurt you is “the perpetrator.” The police must arrest the perpetrator if both of these are true:
It is your spouse, former spouse, someone you live with or used to live with, someone related you to by blood or marriage, or someone with whom you have a child.
They believe the perpetrator has assaulted and hurt you within the last four hours.
The police can arrest the perpetrator even if the assault happened more than four hours ago, if there is evidence of an assault.
*The police must arrest the perpetrator even if you do not have an Order for Protection or restraining order against them.
The perpetrator may be out of jail a few hours after any arrest. Have someone stay with you or take your family to a friend’s home or domestic violence shelter.
If you did not call the police at the time of the incident, you can later. Ask them to take a report and have charges filed. Generally, police reports go to your City or Prosecuting Attorney. They decide whether to file criminal charges. If they do not, you are entitled to written notice and info on how to ask that they file charges.
If the City or Prosecuting Attorney files charges, you probably have to go to court to testify. The Prosecuting or City Attorney does not represent you. They represent the State. Your part in the criminal case is as a witness for the State.
The Prosecuting or City Attorney should talk to you about your testimony before trial. Call them if you have any questions.
Many offices will give you an advocate to help you through the process. Ask for an advocate if you must testify. It might take months for a case to come to trial.
Yes. If you are afraid the perpetrator might hurt you again, tell the advocate or prosecuting or city attorney you want one.
A no-contact order bans the perpetrator from any contact with you before trial. If you report a violation of the order, the police must immediately arrest the perpetrator.
*You should not contact the perpetrator at all when you have a no-contact order.
A no-contact order is different from other orders described here. Read the description in the attached table.
Here are some things the court can do if it finds the perpetrator guilty of a crime of domestic violence:
Extend the No-Contact Order
Order counseling or drug treatment
Order the perpetrator to pay you back for your medical expenses and property destruction
Place the perpetrator on probation
Order jail time, if the assault was severe or the perpetrator has a criminal record
You may be entitled to money from the Crime Victims’ Compensation program if one of these is true:
You needed medical care for your injuries from the abuse.
Your injuries kept you from working.
You must report the crime to law enforcement within one year to get compensation. You have two years from reporting to law enforcement to apply to the Crime Victims Compensation program.
*The State does not have to file charges or convict the perpetrator for you to get victim compensation.
Law enforcement officials must tell you about this law, or you can ask them about it. You can get benefits even if you are still living with the perpetrator.
This publication provides general education, not legal advice. If you think you might need a lawyer and your local legal services office cannot help you, your local bar association there may operate a referral program.
If you have a low income and live in Washington State outside of King County, get legal advice by calling CLEAR at 1-888-201-1014, weekdays 9:15 AM - 12:15 PM.
The info here is current as of the date of its printing. Laws sometimes change. Talk to a lawyer to be sure the info here is correct.
*Domestic Violence Hotline is 1.800.799.7233.
This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice. This information is current as of July 2019.
© 2019 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014.
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)