Domestic Violence

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In Washington, a person who commits a violent or threatening crime such as rape, assault, stalking, trespass, or burglary against someone in his or her family or household has committed domestic violence.


Under Washington's laws, in contrast to the laws of many other states, crimes like assault (causing, attempting, or threatening physical injury) are not punished more severely if the victim is a member of the defendant's family or household, although the defendant must pay a special fine.


Family and household members include:


  • spouses and former spouses
  • domestic partners and former domestic partners
  • people who have children together
  • adults related by blood or marriage
  • adults who live together or who have lived together
  • people over the age of 16 who live together or who have lived together and who are or were romantically involved
  • people over the age of 16 who are dating
  • parents and children (including stepparents and stepchildren), and
  • grandparents and grandchildren.
(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 10.99.020, 10.99.901.)
Domestic Violence Arrests

In Washington, if a police officer has probable cause to believe (a reasonable belief) that a person has violated a protective order (see below) or has assaulted a family or household member within the past four hours, the officer must make an arrest without a warrant and take the person into custody.

An officer may arrest any person without a warrant if the officer has probable cause to believe the person has committed a misdemeanor involving physical harm or threats of harm to a person or property.

These are exceptions to the usual rule that an officer can make a warrantless arrest only for a felony, or for a misdemeanor that occurs in the officer's presence.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 10.31.100, 26.50.110.)
Protective Orders

A protective order (sometimes called a restraining order) is a court order requiring one person (the respondent) to not contact and stay away from another person (the petitioner).

Under Washington's laws, people can seek protective orders as part of divorce or separation proceedings, and people over the age of 16 who are victims of domestic violence can seek restraining orders on behalf of themselves and their children.

For the purpose of a petition for a protective order, the following acts constitute domestic violence: physical harm or injury, assault, sexual assault, stalking, or fear of injury or assault.

After a petition is filed, the court must usually hold a hearing within 14 days. In the meantime, the defendant must be served (given a copy of the petition).

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 26.09.060, 26.50.010, 26.50.020, 26.50.050.)

After the hearing, the court can issue a protective order:

  • prohibiting the respondent from committing domestic violence
  • excluding the respondent from a shared residence, or from petitioner's residence, workplace, or school, or from a child's school or daycare
  • prohibiting the respondent from coming within a certain distance of a certain location
  • awarding temporary custody and visitation of any children
  • requiring the respondent to participate in domestic violence treatment
  • prohibiting the respondent from contacting, harassing, stalking, or cyberstalking the petitioner or family members
  • requiring the respondent to submit to electronic monitoring
  • requiring the respondent to surrender any weapons the respondent has used or threatened to use
  • awarding possession and use of any personal property, including a vehicle
  • ordering the respondent to pay court fees and attorneys' fees, or
  • ordering any other relief necessary to protect the petitioner and other family or household members.

A protective order that prohibits a respondent from contacting his or her own children can remain in effect for up to one year only. Other protective orders can remain in effect for longer periods of time or even permanently.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 26.50.060.)
Ex parte temporary protective order

If the petitioner claims that irreparable injury could result from domestic violence if a protective order is not issued immediately, the court may issue an "ex parte" order (one made without notice to the defendant and without the defendant appearing in court) pending a hearing.

In the ex parte order, the court can:

  • prohibit anyone from committing domestic violence
  • exclude anyone from a shared residence, or from petitioner's residence, workplace, or school, or from a child's school or daycare
  • prohibit anyone from coming within a certain distance of a certain location
  • prohibit a person from interfering with another person's custody or removing children from the state
  • require anyone who has used or threatened to use weapons to surrender those weapons, and
  • prohibit anyone from contacting, harassing, stalking, or cyberstalking the victim, victim's children, or members of the victim's household.
(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 26.50.070.)
Pre-trial orders

If a person is arrested or charged with a crime involving domestic violence, the court may order the defendant to:

  • not contact the victim
  • stay away from a particular location, and
  • surrender any weapons the defendant has used or threatened to use.
(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 10.99.040.)
Violating a Protective Order

In Washington, a person commits a crime if he or she violates a provision of a protective order or no-contact order that:

  • prohibits acts or threats of violence or stalking
  • prohibits the respondent from contacting another person
  • excludes the respondent from going to or near a particular place, or
  • prohibits the respondent from interfering with a pet.

Violating a protective order is also contempt of court (disobeying a court's order). Contempt is punishable by time in jail and a fine.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 10.99.040, 26.50.110.)
Punishment

A person convicted of any crime involving domestic violence must pay a special $100 fee.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 10.99.080.)

Violating a protective order is a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

Violating a protective order is a class C felony if the defendant:

  • commits third or fourth degree assault
  • engages in conduct that creates a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury, or
  • has two or more prior convictions for violating a protective order.

Class C misdemeanors are punishable by up to five years' imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 26.50.110.)
Obtaining Legal Assistance

If you are charged with a crime involving domestic violence or if someone tries to obtain a restraining order against you, you should contact a Washington criminal defense attorney immediately. An attorney can tell you what to expect and help you navigate the criminal justice system so that you can obtain the best possible result in your case.

Email Attorney John Fuhrman Feel free to get in touch with your questions and we will get back to you as soon as possible.


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