Everyone’s heard of a restraining order. It seems as though you can’t make it through an episode of Law & Order without reference to one. But restraining orders are a very specific type of order that can only be obtained if there is already a pending court case. Oftentimes what people actually need is some kind of civil protection order. There are four types of civil protection orders: domestic violence, anti-harassment, adult vulnerable, and sexual assault.
So how do I know which one is right for me?
Each of the different protection orders has different qualifications and standards. Here’s a breakdown of DVPOs and Anti-Harassment orders, which are the two most common. (For more information on adult vulnerable orders, visit RCW 74.34, or for sexual assault protection orders, here: RCW 7.90.)
Domestic Violence Protection Order – RCW 26.50
If you are a victim of domestic violence by a “family or household member,” then a DVPO is the right protection order for you. RCW 26.50 governs DVPOs, which prohibit any contact between the victim and his/her abuser. Domestic violence is defined by the law as:
(a) Physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault, between family or household members; (b) sexual assault of one family or household member by another; or (c) stalking as defined in RCW 9A.46.110 of one family or household member by another family or household member
In order to obtain a DVPO, the petitioner fills out paperwork and goes to Ex Parte court – which means emergency court. A Commissioner will either grant or deny a temporary protection order which lasts for 14 days. If it is granted, there will be a return hearing set for 14 days later, and within that 14 days you need to personally serve the petition and temporary order on the other party and notify them of the return hearing.
There is no cost to filing for a DVPO and there are DV advocates at both the Kent and Seattle courthouses who can help you with filing the paperwork. The advocates will also attend court with you, although they are not lawyers and they cannot give legal advice.
In two weeks, you will return for your hearing. If the respondent (the other party) does not show up, then as long as you can prove that you have had him/her personally served, then the order will automatically be granted. If the respondent does show up, the Commissioner will hear from both sides and make a final determination on whether the protection order should be entered and for how long. Typically DVPOs are entered for one year.
If you have a DVPO, make sure you always keep it with you. Ask for multiple certified copies and keep one in your handbag, in your car, in your home. If you have children, make sure your child’s school is aware of the order.
Anti-Harassment Protection Order – RCW 10.14
If you are not in a familial or household relationship with another person, but that person is acting in ways meant to harass or annoy, then an Anti-Harassment Protection Order may be what you need.
Anti-Harassment petitions are filed in municipal court, and you must be able to show three things:
course of conduct – this means not just once, but many times; a pattern. It can include many types of communication, including electronic communication such as texts or emails
unlawful harassment – this means conduct that the other person KNOWS is harmful, annoying, or harassing and which has no legitimate or lawful purpose
substantial emotional duress – the repeated conduct that has occurred must be so alarming or harassing that it would cause a reasonable person to actually have emotional distress
The process to obtain one is similar to a DVPO, but you go to district court, not superior court. You can obtain a temporary order in Ex Parte court, then you must personally serve the other party and a return hearing is held approximately* 14 days later at which point the court will determine if the order should be granted, and if so, for how long.
Being a victim of violence or harassment can be a very scary and stressful. There are many resources out there available for you if you have experienced violence or harassment. We’ll tackle that topic next time.
*I say approximately here because in District Court, they do not hear anti-harassment petitions every day, and thus your hearing will be set for the next available day closest to 14 days when the court is hearing anti-harassment cases.