What is a protection order?
Is a protection order the same thing as a restraining order? Hey, what about a no contact order?
How do I know if I can get a protection order and which one?
What do I do if someone serves me with a protection order?
Protection orders are the source of many questions and confusion. There are a number of different kinds of orders. Knowing which one to get, how to do it, or what to do if you find yourself being served with one require some knowledge and information to make the best decision possible.
Protection Orders include: Domestic Violence Protection Orders, Sexual Assault Protection Orders, Stalking Protection Orders, Vulnerable Adult Protection orders, and the lesser known Extreme Risk Protection Orders.
A Domestic Violence Protection Order (“DVPO“) can be filed by anyone who has experienced physical harm, bodily injury, assault, stalking, sexual assault or who fears imminent physical harm or bodily injury at the hands of a family or household member. This is the protection order that is appropriate if a family member, former dating partner, or roommate/former roommate has engaged in any of these behaviors. It's very critical to note that in Washington, “domestic violence” includes eminent threat of physical harm or bodily injury. That means the other party does not even have to have physically put their hands on you for you to seek an order. There needs to be a reasonable basis for the fear, but nonetheless, having imminent fear of physical harm alone can get you a protection order – or have you find yourself on the receiving end of one. RCW 26.50
Sexual Assault Protection Orders (“SAPO”) are appropriate if you have experienced non-consensual sexual contact or penetration by someone who is not a household or family member. In other words, you could be sexually assaulted or touched by someone on one occasion by someone you do not know or never lived with and were not related to and seek what is known as a SAPO. If it is a family or household member or dating partner perpetrating sexual contact or assault, you would seek this relief under a DVPO. RCW 7.90
Anti-Harassment Orders (“AHO”) are another kind of protection order that can be filed against someone who has engaged in a willful/deliberate course of conduct that is unlawful or harassing and that seriously alarms, noise, or causes emotional distress and that serves in a lawful purpose. That's a long explanation in one sentence, but basically means that if someone is doing something and engaging in a course of conduct that is harassing, annoying, intentional, and they don't have a reason to be doing it, and anti-harassment order could be a remedy to stop this behavior. And anti-harassment order is different from a DVPO , because it's not about physical harm or fear of physical harm, it's about, being harassed. RCW 10.14
Vulnerable Adult Protection Orders (“VAPO”) are less common and can be sought by a vulnerable adult, a guardian for such a person, or an interested third-party. These orders can be sought against someone who is accused of abandoning, abusing, financially exploiting, or neglecting someone who is a vulnerable adult, or someone who threatens any of that conduct. These orders are unique because you can seek them on behalf of someone else. RCW 74.34
Finally, an Extreme Risk Protection Order can be filed only by a family or household member, or law-enforcement, against someone they believe poses a significant risk to themselves or others by having access to or the ability to purchase or possess a firearm. These orders are less common but can be very important in protecting a loved one. They can be in place on a temporary basis or for one year. They simply relate to the surrender and prohibition on possessing or purchasing firearms, but they don't provide any other protections. RCW 7.94
All of these protection orders are all different than what is referred to as a “Restraining Order.“ restraining orders are filed as part of family law cases like divorce, legal separation, parenting plan cases, etc. If you do not have a family law case or are not starting one, you likely need to go with a protection order. Restraining orders can be temporary or permanent. When to get one in a family law case is something you would need to discuss with your family law attorney in evaluating the facts of your situation. Not every family law case needs a restraining order in place! RCW 26.09, RCW 26.26
A No Contact Order (“NCO”) is different than a protection order or restraining order. No contact orders are issued only to protect a victim or alleged victim in a criminal case. For example, if assault case is filed, even though no decision on guilt has been made, the court will typically put a temporary no contact order in place between the defendant and alleged victim during the pendency of the case. If a defendant is found guilty or sometimes enters certain plea deal resulting in a lesser charge or eventual dismissal, the court may put into place a no contact order between the parties for a fixed period of time. If you are not a defendant in a criminal case or the victim of a crime, a no contact order is not something that you will encounter. It is common for a no contact order to be in place as part of a criminal case and a protection order arising from the same allegations to also be sought and put into place. An example of this would be again in an assault case where a no contact order may be in place under the criminal case and the victim of that assault may also seek a domestic violence protection order that may afford them additional protections and that can be renewed after a no contact order expires.
If you need a protection order, restraining order, or have questions about no contact orders, the best thing that you can do is get the most information possible and take action to protect yourself. Often protection orders and restraining orders become part of family law cases. And attorney can recommend what order is best for you and discuss these options with you.
If you are served with a protection order, time is of the essence! Having a protection order put in place naming you as the person restrained from contact can have far-reaching implications beyond just limiting your contact with the petitioner. A protection order can be a basis for restrictions in a parenting plan and can impact your time with your child and decision making. A protection order or restraining order can't have impact on whether you can own or possess firearms. There are a multitude of other implications as well that can impact crossing the border to Canada becoming more difficult, or other less significant issues.
Unfortunately, the reality is that protection orders are often used as what those of us in practice called a “sword“ in custody proceedings or other proceedings. What this means is that there are times when one party will seek a protection order or restraining order against the other party simply to get an advantage when the allegations are meritless. This is obviously not always the case. Protection orders and restraining orders should be and are often properly used as what we call “shields,” shielding the protected party and sometimes their children from danger and abuse. Other times, they are used as swords, and can't destroy the life of the person falsely accused. Either way, taking action immediately in seeking an order or defending against an order is imperative.
There is no situation that does not have a solution. Sometimes the solution is not the one that you want or that is ideal, but there is always a way through even the most difficult times to finding better and safer times ahead. If you find yourself in need of a protection order, you are likely in a very scary situation and need support and safety to be able to live your daily life. If you are on the receiving end of a protection order, it can be an equally scary time, whether or not there is any merit to the allegations, and your life is likely being turned upside down.
This is only a very brief overview meant to educate on the various types of orders. Reaching out to someone with answers is an important next step in getting the help you need to deal with a protection order or restraining order. We are here to educate and help. I firmly believe that is not only part of our practice as attorneys, but part of our obligation as members of the community. I volunteer in a domestic violence legal client because I believe in the importance of understanding domestic violence and protection orders. I know real DV and I know when someone needs that shield. That means I also know when someone is throwing a sword. My team and I regularly handle protection orders as stand-alone matters, and in family law cases. If you have questions, we have answers.