Your spouse, partner, a family member, neighbor, a work colleague or even a total stranger has violated your peace either by physical violence, threats, or harassing behavior. What do you do? How do you make it stop? Conversely, you have been served with an order and summons to appear because someone has accused you of the above behavior and those allegations are false or inaccurate. How do you protect yourself from a damaging order curtailing your relationships, limiting your movements or threatening your ability to work? The laws relating to the request for and objections to protection orders in Washington are complex. In most cases there is no right to a court appointed attorney and proceeding without counsel can mean the difference between an order being summarily granted or denied.
What follows is a broad overview of the protection order process. Other pages explore these concepts in more detail. Review the information that is contained to educate yourself as to what can be expected but please call us if you have questions or need representation. We have been prosecuting and defending against these petitions for years. We can help you.
What is a Protection Order?
A protection order is simply a decree by the court that limits or prohibits one person’s ability to contact or communicate with someone else. Upon sufficient facts being established, the court will determine how much protection the moving party (petitioner) should be afforded and the length of time the order should be in place. An order generally will prohibit the responding party from attempting to communicate in any manner with the petitioner, directly or through third parties. It will also place limits on how close the respondent can physically come to the petitioner and his or her home, place of work, school, etc. The order can be for a specific period of time with a natural termination date or it can be permanent.
Process of Obtaining a Protection Order
The process of obtaining most civil orders of protection begins with the moving party filing a petition with the court laying out the facts that support their request for protection. What the petitioner needs to establish in order for the court to enter an order depends on the type of order being sought. If a judge or magistrate agrees that sufficient acts have been alleged, the court will issue a “temporary” order and set a hearing date for both parties to be heard. The respondent then must be served with the temporary order. Once that occurs, the terms of the temporary order are in place and the hearing on the final order can be held. If the respondent is not served, then the terms of the temporary order are not in effect and the court will not hold a final hearing on the matter. If service is not made, the court can either strike the hearing and rescind the temporary order or it can extend the temporary order and set a new hearing date, giving the petitioner another opportunity to serve the respondent.
At the final hearing, the burden is on the petitioner to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that facts satisfy whichever statute they are seeking protection under. The petitioner gets to present his or her evidence to the court (testimony, declarations, sworn reports) and then the respondent gets to do the same. After the presentation of evidence, each party gets to make an argument. If the petitioner prevails, the court drafts an order specifying the conduct to be prohibited and the length of the order. If the respondent wins, no order would be issued and the matter closed.
Types of Protection Orders
There are several different kinds of civil (and criminal) protection orders. Each order applies to a different set of circumstances and the facts that need to be alleged and proven differ with each type of order. Likewise, the court responsible for hearing protection order requests is determined by the type of order sought. Below is a brief synopsis of the different kinds of protection orders. Each is considered in more detail in different sections.
- Domestic Violence Protection Order – Order meant to protect one who is experiencing physical harm, bodily injury, assault, stalking, sexual assault or who fears imminent physical harm or bodily injury by a family or household member. Referred to as a DVPO, it relates to situations involving spouses, romantic partners (past and present), platonic roommates, relatives, parents, siblings and children.
- Anti-Harassment Order – Filed against someone who has engaged in a willful course of conduct that is unlawful or harassing and that “seriously alarms, annoys, or causes emotional distress” as defined by RCW 10.14.080. The conduct alleged must serve no lawful purpose.
- Stalking Order – Meant to protect someone who is experiencing stalking behavior by someone who is NOT a member of their family or household and with whom they have not had a romantic relationship or child in common. This could be a co-worker, a former friend, a neighbor or even a stranger.
- Sexual Assault Protection Order – Commonly called a SAPO, they may be filed by one who is experiencing nonconsensual sexual conduct or nonconsensual sexual penetration by someone who is NOT a family or household member. This could be a dating partner, someone from school or work, a neighbor or a stranger. It only needs to happen one time. A pattern of conduct need not be established.
- Vulnerable Adult Protection Order – To be filed by a vulnerable adult, a guardian of a vulnerable adult, or an interested third party against someone who is accused of abandonment, abuse, financial exploitation or neglect, or against someone who makes threats of those things to a vulnerable adult.
- Extreme Risk Protection Order – Created in 2019, this allows a family or household member or law enforcement officer to file an order against someone that they believe poses a significant danger to themselves or others by having access or the ability to purchase, receive, or possess a firearm.
- Restraining Order – These orders are filed as a part of a family law case like a divorce/dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or parenting plan action. They are sought as part of another civil action as opposed to being filed separately.
- Criminal No Contact Order – Typically entered by a criminal court when a criminal charge has been filed and the court or the government wishes to keep the defendant from having contact or communication with the alleged victim.
Defending Against the Entry of a Protection Order
If served with a temporary protection order of any kind, fast action must be taken. The order is effective from the moment it is served. This can have a dramatic impact on one’s living and/or work situation as well as upon the family or relationship dynamic. In addition, the full hearing on the order is generally set within 7-14 days from the time the temporary order is granted. That means that any delay in service can result in the respondent having very little preparation time prior to the hearing.
Modifying, Terminating or Extending Protection Orders
In most instances, protection orders that are granted have an expiration date. An order can be made permanent but that is rare. Regardless, motions to modify or terminate an existing order can be made prior to expiration but only if the moving party can show a significant change in circumstances. Likewise, an existing order that is set to expire can be extended if the petitioner can show that the grounds that required the order in the first place still exist.
Consequences for Violating an Order
Consequences for violating an order for protection are severe. Most often it involves the filing of criminal charges. In other instances it can mean contempt of court or other civil form of retribution. What the consequences are depend upon the type order that was imposed and the manner in which it was violated.