Every relationship faces challenges once in a while. Most couples are able to work through their disagreements in a productive and respectful manner, either through active listening, therapy sessions, or committing to moving forward together. Although some disputes between long-term partners can turn heated or even involve threats, the parties may be able to resolve their issues without resorting to physical violence or other safety threats. However, acts of domestic violence are an unfortunate reality for many individuals. While victims’ rights groups have worked hard in recent years to increase public awareness of the dangers and prevalence of domestic violence, many survivors still feel ashamed or stigmatized for remaining in an abusive marriage or partnership. Moreover, many people are surprised to realize that domestic violence encompasses so much more than physical violence—verbal threats, emotional manipulation, and other forms of coercive control all fall under the large umbrella of domestic violence. 

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), approximately 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. Over the course of one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. Additionally, 95 percent of men who physically abuse their intimate partners also psychologically abuse them. If you are trapped in an abusive marriage or long-term relationship, it’s essential to recognize that you are not alone in your struggle. Help is available, and taking steps to leave the relationship will enable you to regain control of your life. Enlisting the guidance and support of a Seattle domestic violence lawyer is the best way to ensure that you and your children remain protected from the abuser as you move forward with the divorce or legal separation process in Washington State. This post will explore how domestic violence is defined and identify the legal protections available to survivors of domestic abuse in King County and Pierce County. 

Acts That Constitute Domestic Violence in Washington State

When most people hear the term “domestic violence,” they picture a scenario in which an aggressor (typically a male) is inflicting physical harm on a victim (usually assumed to be female). Although this dynamic certainly qualifies as domestic violence, the definition is far broader and more complex than the infliction of physical harm. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH), “Domestic violence (also referred to as intimate partner violence (IPV), dating abuse, or relationship abuse) is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.” Inflicting physical harm is just one way an abuser may attempt to exert power and control over their partner. A survivor of domestic violence may also suffer emotional abuse, verbal threats, sexual abuse, financial abuse, cyberstalking, harassment, or stalking at the hands of a controlling partner.

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In a legal context, domestic violence refers to the behaviors listed above. The state of Washington defines domestic violence as “Physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of physical harm, bodily injury, or assault; nonconsensual sexual conduct of nonconsensual sexual penetration; coercive control; unlawful harassment; or stalking of one intimate partner by another intimate partner.”   Below are a few examples of behaviors that may constitute forms of domestic violence.

Emotional and Verbal Abuse

Emotional abuse may include non-physical attempts to control a partner or manipulate them into remaining in an abusive relationship. An abuser may make verbal threats or insult the victim, eroding their self-esteem and making them question their autonomy. Abusers may also use constant monitoring to “check in” with their partners, subjecting them to total surveillance at all times. In some cases, an abuser may ridicule, humiliate, or intimidate a partner to damage their sense of self-worth. Essentially, any attempt to weaponize your emotions or bully you into staying in a relationship is a form of emotional or verbal abuse.

Sexual Abuse

Many abusers coerce or pressure their partners into engaging in sexual activities. It’s essential for survivors to recognize that just because they are in a romantic relationship does not mean they give up their ability to say “no” to a sex act. Abusers may subject their victims to unwanted kissing, touching, or sexual activity against their will. Matters of sexual intimacy can be highly personal and even shameful, but survivors should know that there are several resources, advocacy groups, and legal protections available to help them leave an abusive relationship.

Financial Abuse

A controlling partner may restrict their spouse’s access to financial resources, such as changing the passwords of bank accounts and forcing them to rely on the abuser for money. In some cases, an abuser may prevent their partner from working outside the home, making them rely entirely on the controlling spouse for economic stability. Limiting someone’s access to money also makes it harder (or seemingly impossible) to leave the relationship.

Cyberbullying and Online Abuse

In today’s increasingly digital world, abusers can subject victims to many forms of abuse using various technologies. Stalking someone online, posting threats and intimidations on social media, monitoring someone’s email account, or harassing someone via text all constitute forms of cyberbullying and digital abuse. If you feel unsafe online, you have the right to work with a cyberbullying lawyer who can help you seek a civil protection order that prevents your abuser from contacting you in any way, including in the digital realm.


Stalking occurs when someone watches, follows, or harasses you repeatedly, causing you to feel frightened or unsafe. A stalker may show up at your residence or place of work, making you feel surveilled and monitored. If your spouse or partner is subjecting you to this intimidating behavior, reach out to a Seattle stalking lawyer to explore your options for putting an end to this abuse. 

Legal Protections Seattle Domestic Violence Survivors Can Seek

If you are trapped in an abusive relationship, it can feel as if your situation will never change. Leaving an abusive partner takes considerable planning, which can be difficult to accomplish when your abuser is constantly monitoring your behavior and location. However, the most strategic step you can take is to contact a trusted and compassionate domestic violence lawyer who can assess the details of your situation and identify the most appropriate path forward. Washington State provides several legal protections for survivors of domestic violence; these civil protection orders prevent an abuser from subjecting you to certain behaviors, allowing you to move through the divorce or legal separation process without fearing for your physical safety. Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of civil protective orders that can shield you from your abuser and empower you to regain control of your future. 

Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO)

If your abuser is your current or former spouse, the parent of your child, your current or former dating partner, a relative by blood or marriage, or a current or former roommate, you may petition the court to put a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO) in place that prevents the respondent from contacting you in any way. You can work with a skilled and trusted Seattle restraining order lawyer to file the DVPO petition, indicating the behaviors you want the respondent prohibited from engaging in. For instance, you can request that the abuser vacate a shared residence, stop showing up at your workplace, cease all contact with you (including online or via text), or order them into mandatory treatment or counseling. If you believe that obtaining a restraining order for threats is necessary to ensure your safety, contact an experienced Washington domestic violence lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your needs and goals. 

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Antiharassment Protection Order (AHPO)

If your spouse or domestic partner is subjecting you to repeated harassment, you can petition the court to put an Antiharassment Protection Order (AHPO) in place that compels them to immediately stop engaging in harassing behaviors. Once an AHPO is in place, the respondent is legally prohibited from contacting you in any way and may not come within a set distance at any time (i.e., not coming within 500 or more feet of you). The terms of an AHPO may also order the immediate surrender of any firearms, dangerous weapons, and concealed pistol licenses. Contact a highly qualified King County domestic violence lawyer today to learn more. 

Stalking Protection Order (SPO)

Everyone has the right to feel safe. Unfortunately, those who are monitored by an abusive partner can fear for their physical safety if their abuser constantly shows up at their residence, place of work, or any other location that they may frequent. Reach out to a knowledgeable Seattle stalking lawyer to discuss how you can petition the court to put a Stalking Protection Order (SPO) in place to ensure your safety. Once enacted, an SPO prohibits contact of any kind, including cyberbullying, and mandates that the respondent cannot knowingly come within a specific distance of the petitioner’s workplace, school, or residence. If you have been subjected to repeated stalking or monitoring by an abusive partner, reach out to an experienced stalking attorney to start taking control of your freedom and future. 

If you need help leaving an abusive marriage or relationship, obtaining a civil order of protection can keep you safe during this vulnerable time. Discuss your options with a dedicated and caring Seattle family law attorney today by calling the Hemmat Law Group at (206) 682-5200.