Intimate relationships are naturally complex. Every couple encounters their fair share of ups and downs, and some arguments can turn heated when emotions run high. However, some relationships become unhealthy over time, with one partner exerting control over the other through physical violence, threats, or manipulation. Unfortunately, many victims of domestic violence do not report these issues—they may fear that the abuse they are suffering is not “serious” enough to justify reporting it, or they may worry that their abuser will retaliate against them. By remaining silent, victims often put themselves at greater risk of harm, as the abuse can escalate and lead to severe injuries that cause permanent damage. If you are a survivor of domestic violence, you are far from alone. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, over one in three women (35.6 percent) and one in four men (28.5 percent) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Every year, intimate partner violence affects more than 12 million people. These statistics show just how widespread domestic violence remains, even though victims’ advocacy groups have worked hard to call attention to this serious issue.
Those trapped in an abusive marriage tend to be hesitant to seek a divorce as they worry about how their abusive spouse will react. Sadly, an abuser who fears that their spouse is about to lose them is more likely to escalate their acts of control, coercion, and violence, making the divorce process one of the most challenging and dangerous periods for the victim. However, it’s essential to recognize that Washington State offers several legal protections to survivors of domestic violence who are seeking a divorce or legal separation. The first step is to enlist the guidance of a trusted and empathetic Seattle divorce attorney who can support you during this difficult time and ensure that you leave this chapter behind and move toward a brighter future.
First, it’s helpful to understand what the term “domestic violence” means. The definition encompasses far more than acts of physical violence (i.e., kicking, punching, slapping, etc.). Any behaviors that attempt to control another person or restrict their autonomy may constitute domestic violence. The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) defines domestic abuse as “a pattern of behavior that one person uses to gain power and control over the other. These behaviors can include isolation from friends and family, emotional abuse, monitoring, controlling someone’s finances, and physical or sexual assault.” Under this expansive definition, you may be in an abusive marriage even if your spouse has not inflicted physical harm. Any attempt by your partner to deny you your independence and freedom or to intimidate or manipulate you into staying in the relationship qualifies as domestic abuse. As such, you have the right to seek legal protections to shield you as you take steps to leave your marriage.
Leaving a marriage is rarely straightforward. However, when you are stuck in an abusive relationship, this process can be especially challenging and even intimidating. Fortunately, Washington courts understand the risks associated with attempting to leave an abusive marriage, and lawmakers have put several legal protections in place to support survivors during this vulnerable time. There are several types of protection orders you can choose from depending on your specific circumstances and needs. Let’s take a look at the various protection orders available to survivors of domestic violence as they seek a divorce in King County.
Those looking to shield themselves from ongoing physical violence, threats of harm, emotional manipulation, and other forms of coercive control perpetuated by a spouse, dating partner, or ex may petition the court for a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO). When you file the petition for the DVPO, you can indicate the types of behaviors from which you are seeking to escape. If the court grants your request, the DVPO will provide a detailed list of behaviors that the abuser (known as the respondent) is forbidden from doing. For instance, the DVPO may compel the respondent to refrain from coming within a certain distance of you or your residence, cease all communication with you, or harass you in any way. In some cases, the DVPO may order the respondent to vacate your shared residence. If the respondent is a parent, the DVPO may limit or suspend their child custody and visitation rights. Any violations of the DVPO may result in significant penalties, such as costly fines or potential imprisonment.
Another legal protection that is available for those looking to remove themselves from an abusive marriage is an Antiharassment Protection Order. If the court grants your request for an Antiharassment Protection Order, your abuser (known as the respondent) must not subject you to acts of harassment, intimidation, or coercive control. It’s important to recognize that acts of harassment can occur in person, over the phone, or online. This type of protection order can shield you from all forms of harassment as you take steps to leave the marriage and regain control of your life.
Stalking is any attempt by one person to intimidate, monitor, control, or manipulate another person. If you fear that your spouse will monitor your location or show up at your place of work to harass or intimidate you, you can petition the court to issue a Stalking Protection order against them. This protection order can give you the peace of mind you need to exert your autonomy and leave your unhealthy relationship.
Leaving an abusive marriage takes courage and tenacity. In order to support victims of domestic violence, Washington courts have adopted several changes to the protective order petitioning process. Instead of wading through several separate petitions, you only need to use one form to indicate the type of protection order you are seeking. You may also use this form to notify the court of your need for immediate protection. The court will review your request and determine whether to issue a Temporary Protection Order that goes into immediate effect and lasts up to 14 days. This temporary order protects you from harm at the hands of your abuser as you wait for the court hearing to take place. A Temporary Protection Order requires the respondent to surrender any firearms and dangerous weapons right away. As you start to plan your escape from your abusive marriage, consider enlisting the guidance of a knowledgeable and caring Seattle attorney to help you identify the most strategic path forward.
As you prepare to leave an unhealthy relationship, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and intimidated by the steps you need to take. Your abuser may have isolated you and cut you off from your family members, friends, and loved ones, making you feel alone in your struggle. In addition to exploring and understanding the legal protections available to you during this time of tremendous vulnerability, several other sources of support and encouragement are available.
King County provides a comprehensive list of domestic violence resources, including support groups for survivors of domestic abuse. These groups can help survivors connect with other people who have endured similar struggles and challenges, making them feel less isolated and alone. Even after the divorce is finalized, you may find it helpful to attend these group counseling sessions to ease the transition to your newly independent life. The connections you forge in the support group may develop into solid friendships that sustain you as you move forward.
As you look for an attorney to help you navigate the divorce process, it’s essential to find someone who treats you as more than a case to be solved. Seeking a divorce from an abusive spouse is a highly personal and emotional experience, and you need to trust that your attorney cares about you as an individual. Take some time to interview a few different divorce attorneys to find someone who expresses genuine concern about your well-being and future. The relationship you build with your divorce lawyer can give you the solid foundation you need to rebuild your life according to your vision. An effective attorney will seek to understand your unique goals and needs in order to determine the most appropriate course of action moving forward. Now is the time to take control of your life—reach out to a dedicated and empathetic attorney today to get started.
If you are pursuing a divorce in Washington State and you are concerned about your safety during this process, the dedicated and compassionate legal team at the Hemmat Law Group is here to support you. We believe in empowering our clients to regain control of their lives and futures. Call our Seattle office today at (206) 682-5200 to speak with a trusted and caring divorce and family law attorney.
The Hemmat Law Group (HLG) was founded in 1994 by Steven Amir Hemmat, a former DOJ Trial Attorney. We specialize in family law, supporting victims of the legal system.
Hemmat Law Group help good people in bad situations.
Our lawyers provide expert legal advice connected to protection orders, including in cases of domestic violence, stalking and neighbor disputes. Contact us today.