Close relationships inherently involve intense emotions. When we form intimate bonds with other people, we become vulnerable and trust that they will treat us with empathy and respect. Naturally, every relationship witnesses its ups and downs, as disagreements will crop up from time to time. Although most couples are able to move through arguments through conversations or even by seeking therapy, some individuals resort to verbal or physical violence when they feel threatened or upset. Over the last few decades, state legislators across the country have taken steps to increase awareness of domestic violence and allocate resources to advocacy groups that support domestic violence survivors.
Even though public awareness of domestic violence may be growing, many victims still feel ashamed to find themselves in these situations. Unfortunately, the persistent stigma of admitting that you have suffered domestic abuse prevents many survivors from seeking the assistance and legal protections they need. They often fear that their abuser will retaliate against them if they come forward or attempt to escape the relationship or that law enforcement or other agencies will not believe their claims of abuse. In recent years, Washington State has implemented several changes that make it easier for survivors to seek and obtain civil protection orders, such as a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO) that prevents abusers from contacting or harassing them in any way. If you are looking for a safe way out of an abusive marriage, partnership, or living situation, reach out to a knowledgeable and caring Seattle family law attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney will guide you through every step of the legal process, empowering you to regain control of your life and feel safe once more. Let’s take a look at how DVPOs work and how you can use technology as evidence to ensure that your abuser cannot subject you to further harm.
Most people assume that domestic violence occurs when a (male) abuser physically harms a victim (who is almost always female). While this scenario does qualify as an abusive relationship, it is only one form of domestic violence. Washington State’s Behavioral Definition of Domestic Violence defines the term as “A pattern of assaultive and coercive behaviors, including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks, as well as reproductive and economic coercion, that adults or adolescents use against their intimate partners.” Domestic violence takes many forms, from inflicting physical harm on someone to economic coercion (i.e., withholding funds from a dating partner or limiting their access to financial resources). Ultimately, domestic violence is about control—an abuser may use several different tactics to strip the survivor of their independence and autonomy. It’s important to recognize that Washington laws apply to survivors of all types, not just those being abused by a spouse or dating partner. If your abuser is a relative (either through blood or by marriage), roommate, or former intimate partner, you have the right to seek a DVPO that prevents your abuser from contacting you.
Those looking to get out of an abusive marriage, dating relationship, or living situation have the right to petition the court to issue a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO) against the perpetrator. Spouses, domestic partners, current or former dating partners, blood relatives, co-parents, family members, and roommates may file for a DVPO. Once the court issues the DVPO, the respondent (i.e., the abuser) is legally prohibited from contacting, harassing, or stalking you in any way (in person, by phone, via email, or on social media). The DVPO will specify the specific behaviors that the respondent is prohibited from taking. The document may also require the abuser to be removed from a shared residence, provide temporary custody of children to you, order the abuser into mandatory counseling or treatment programs, and/or order that the abuser surrender the possession of any firearms, dangerous weapons, and concealed pistol licenses. If the respondent violates the terms of the DVPO, they face mandatory arrest and potential criminal or contempt charges. Additionally, if the respondent gains access to or possesses firearms while an Order to Surrender and Prohibit Weapons is in effect, they will likely face criminal or civil penalties.
To initiate the DVPO process, you will need to locate and complete the petition (available online or in person at King County Superior Court or the District Court clerk’s offices. You can then file the completed forms online or in person. The court will review your petition and determine whether your situation warrants a Temporary Order, which is designed to protect individuals who are in immediate danger of imminent harm and typically lasts for 14 days.
Essentially, a Temporary Order protects you during the time that passes between the date you file the petition and the date on which the full hearing takes place. If you did not file for a Temporary Protection Order, the judge will review your DVPO petition and determine whether your petition is eligible for a full hearing. If so, the court will schedule the hearing within 14 days. The court will also notify the respondent of the full hearing, giving them time to prepare for this event.
The thought of appearing in court to discuss the DVPO petition may sound intimidating and even frightening, mainly because your abuser will likely be there to present their side of the story. However, it’s essential to attend the hearing; if you do not show up, the Court may dismiss the case and deny your request for a DVPO. It’s important to recognize that you do not have to go through this challenging process alone. Consider enlisting the guidance and support of a caring and trusted attorney who can give you the clarity and reassurance you need to move forward. During the hearing, the judge will allow you and the respondent to speak and answer any questions. If the judge grants your request for a DVPO, both you and the other party will receive copies of the order detailing the behaviors and actions the respondent cannot do. The DVPO will also state how long the order will last. As the expiration date nears, you may petition the court to renew the order (but you must file this petition on time). Your attorney can help you keep track of these important dates to ensure that you enjoy the legal protections you need to start getting your life back on track.
When you file a petition for a civil protection order in Washington state, you may include supporting documents as evidence that you have suffered abuse at the hands of the respondent. Both criminal and civil courts have their own rules about using and presenting evidence during a hearing, so it’s best to discuss your situation with your attorney to ensure that you are obeying all of the relevant rules and procedures.
Even if your abuser has not subjected you to physical harm, they may have exerted a pattern of coercive control to isolate you or rob you of your independence and autonomy. In our increasingly digital world, many domestic violence cases involve technology in some way. Let’s take a look at some examples of how technology may be used to strengthen your petition for a DVPO in King County.
You can work with your attorney to compile threatening text messages sent to your phone by your abuser. These messages can show the judge how your abuser subjected you to intimidation or threats of violence that caused you to fear for your safety. You can also point out that the frequency of text messages illustrates the other party’s obsessive need to contact and control you. Talk to your attorney about the most strategic way you can locate, document, and present text messages as evidence in your DVPO hearing.
Your abuser may have monitored your social media activity or posted threatening messages in response to your posts. Your attorney can help you take screenshots of this cyber-harassment or any online threats they sent you via social media sites. Again, you can use their threatening messages and repetitive attempts to unnerve or intimidate you as indications of their abusive behavior.
Some perpetrators of domestic violence exhibit coercive control by monitoring a partner’s every move. For instance, they may use technology to track someone’s location without their knowledge, using this information to show up to harass or stalk their victim in person. Your attorney can help you determine how to compile evidence to show that your abuser tracked your location without your consent.
If you have been living in fear of an abuser, it may seem like there is no way out of this situation. However, there are people who can help you advocate for yourself and put legal protections in place that keep your safety intact and empower you to rebuild your life. The caring and reliable attorneys at the Hemmat Law Group are here to support you during this vulnerable time, giving you the tools and resources you need to grow and thrive.
If you are struggling with a contentious divorce or legal separation and you think you may need a domestic violence protection order to keep you safe during this turbulent time, the experienced and compassionate legal team at the Hemmat Law Group is here to help. Call our Seattle office today at (206) 682-5200 to discuss the details of your situation with a caring and empathetic 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.
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Our lawyers provide expert legal advice connected to protection orders, including in cases of domestic violence, stalking and neighbor disputes. Contact us today.