Victims of domestic violence do not have to accept abuse. The State of Washington created the Domestic Violence Protection Act to give victims easy access to the courts so that they can safely escape abuse. Unfortunately, it’s still not easy enough. While a victim does have the ability to seek the protections of a domestic violence protection order (DVPO) for themselves and their minor children, the process can be cumbersome and confusing. Review the information below and if you have any questions, please contact us for assistance.
Who May File for a Domestic Violence Protection Order
Any person who alleges that they or their minor child have been the victim of domestic violence can petition the court for a domestic violence protection order. Domestic violence is very broadly defined under Washington law and can entail any “physical harm, bodily injury, assault, stalking or the fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault.” Further, for the actions to be considered “domestic violence” they must occur between those in a domestic relationship. That means that anyone who has suffered domestic violence at the hands of a spouse or former spouse, a person with whom they share children in common, relatives by blood or marriage, a past or present dating partner, or a current roommate, can seek a domestic violence protection order. Additionally, a person can seek a protection order on behalf of a minor family member.
Jurisdiction and Venue – Where to File
A person seeking a domestic violence protection order should file it in a court located in the county where the abuse occurred. An exception exists for circumstances where the victim has left the home to escape abuse. In this case the petition can be filed either in the county where the abuse occurred or the new county where the victim resides. A DVPO petition can be filed in a district, municipal or superior court and each of these courts have the ability to issue temporary orders and conduct full hearings UNLESS there are issues surrounding child custody, exclusion from a shared residence, or there is a currently pending matter in superior court. In these cases, only superior court will be able to convene a formal hearing, though a district or municipal court can help you to start the process.
DV Protection Order Process
The process of obtaining a DV protection order begins with filing a petition into the proper court. The petition must state the specific facts constituting the domestic violence. Once the petition is accepted, the court will set a formal hearing no more than fourteen days in the future. If a judge believes that there is a threat of imminent harm a temporary protection order will be issued, effective from the time it is served on the respondent until the formal hearing. Law enforcement or an individual over the age of 18 who is not associated with the case will attempt to serve the respondent with the petition, notice of court date, and, if provided, any temporary protection order. For the court to proceed with a formal hearing there must be proof that the respondent was served. If there is no proof of service and the respondent does not appear, the court will likely reset the hearing, extend the temporary order, and allow another opportunity to serve the respondent. If the respondent still cannot be served in a timely manner, the court may grant authorization to provide service by mail.
Ultimately, the court will make a final ruling on the petition. If the respondent doesn’t appear and proper service can be proven the order will likely be granted. If the petitioner doesn’t appear it will be denied. If both parties appear each will be heard and given the chance to present their case and an argument. The burden falls on the petitioner to show by a preponderance of the evidence presented that the order should be granted.
What is in a Domestic Violence Protection Order?
A DVPO can offer a victim of domestic violence a wide range of protections. A DVPO effectively creates new laws that are specific to one person. The DVPO can prohibit the respondent from committing future acts of domestic violence against or harassing or surveilling the victim. It can exclude them from a victim’s residence, workplace or school, from coming within a proscribed distance from the victim, or even from attempting to communicate with the victim in any way. It can prohibit contact with the minor children in common with the victim or set up a residential visitation schedule. It can order use and possession of certain property, including vehicles. It can even require the respondent to enter and complete domestic violence treatment. Violations of the DVPO are new criminal law violations and the respondent can be arrested for failing to follow the terms of the court order.
But there are things that a DVPO cannot do. It cannot order any child support or maintenance payments, divide property, or establish a permanent parenting plan. That being said, a DVPO is just a piece of paper that authorizes law enforcement to act on those terms. A victim of domestic violence must have a safety plan and must always be vigilant and aware so that they are able to summon law enforcement to uphold the order and to protect themselves and any involved children.
Finally, a DVPO can exist for a fixed period of time or it can be made permanent. The exception is in cases where the order prohibits contact with biological minor children, the order cannot be in excess of one year. Judges are generally hesitant to extend any order for more than one year, but when there is a pattern of violence and the respondent has demonstrated an unwillingness to follow the terms of the order, a judge may deem a longer order appropriate.
Obtaining a domestic violence protection order can be highly stressful. There are several hoops the court will make the victim jump through and the stakes can be very high. While the process is set up to try and assist the victim, navigating the court system is still not easy. If you or someone you know is in a situation where a domestic violence protection order is necessary, do not hesitate to contact our office. We will attempt to give you as much advice as we can to begin the process or, if you prefer, handle the matter for you entirely.