When you begin a romantic relationship, it’s natural to hope that you and your partner will support one another and enjoy a long and stable partnership. Entering into marriage inherently involves a considerable amount of trust, as you make the decision to commit to loving and supporting each other, no matter what the future may hold. Although many marriages stand the test of time, others may fail or limit a spouse’s ability to live the life they envisioned for themselves. While every marriage encounters its fair share of arguments and conflicts, some disagreements can escalate into acts of disrespect or even instances of domestic violence.
Unfortunately, some people remain in the marriage because they do not think their spouse’s abusive behavior is “serious” enough to meet the legal definition of domestic violence. However, Washington State has taken several steps to establish legal protections for survivors of domestic violence, particularly when it comes to empowering victims to pursue a divorce from an abusive partner. If you are hesitant to leave your marriage because you fear retaliation from your spouse, it’s essential to recognize that you do not have to go through this stressful experience alone. Seeking the guidance of a trusted and empathetic Seattle divorce attorney is the best way to ensure that you enjoy the best and most effective legal protections possible as you work to walk away from a marriage that no longer serves you. Let’s take a look at how Washington State defines domestic violence, the legal protections available to survivors, and how working with a dedicated and compassionate divorce lawyer can help you move forward into a brighter future.
When most people think about the term “domestic violence,” they picture acts of physical violence that cause harm to the victim. However, this term encompasses a broad range of behaviors and actions that extends far beyond physical contact. According to the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV), “Abuse is 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.” Essentially, domestic violence occurs when the survivor experiences a loss of autonomy (i.e., the abuser robs them of their independence and freedom by harming, controlling, or monitoring them). It’s entirely possible for a survivor to experience domestic violence even if their spouse, partner, or ex does not cause them physical harm. If your spouse has not inflicted physical pain, their controlling or manipulative behaviors can still meet the definition of domestic violence.
Washington courts recognize that pursuing a divorce or legal separation can be especially difficult (and potentially dangerous) for survivors of domestic violence. Some research indicates that an abusive partner’s behaviors grew more severe once the survivor expressed their desire to leave the relationship or seek a divorce. In order to encourage more survivors of domestic violence to leave these harmful relationships, Washington provides several legal protections, known as protection orders, to vulnerable individuals seeking to escape an abusive partnership. Below are some of the most common types of protection orders available to those about to go through a contentious divorce or legal separation.
A Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO) shelters victims from ongoing physical violence, threats of harm, emotional abuse, or other types of coercive control at the hands of an intimate partner, spouse, or ex. The DVPO will list the specific behaviors that the abuser (called the respondent) is prohibited from exhibiting, such as coming near to the victim, attempting to contact them in any way (i.e., by phone, email, text, or on social media), stalking them, or harassing them. If the respondent violates the terms of the DVPO, they risk significant penalties, including potential imprisonment, costly fines, and other legal consequences.
If you fear that your spouse will continue to monitor your location or social media posts, you may decide to petition the court to issue a Stalking Protection Order against your abuser. Divorce can be an especially difficult time, as a controlling spouse may increase their stalking behaviors in response to your decision to move away from their controlling patterns.
As you move through the divorce process, your controlling ex may subject you to relentless harassment in an attempt to limit your freedom and make you feel afraid to live independently. You can petition the court to establish an Antiharassment Protection Order that prohibits your ex from such attempts to harass, control, or threaten you, whether in person or online.
Recent changes have streamlined the process for completing and filing a Protection Order petition. In King County, individuals may complete one form that indicates the type of protection order they are seeking rather than navigating various forms to determine which one best addresses their needs. This form also allows you to indicate whether you are seeking immediate protection. If so, you can ask for a Temporary Protection Order that takes immediate effect and lasts up to 14 days as you wait for the court hearing to take place. For example, if your abuser has threatened to subject you to imminent harm, the Temporary Protection Order can force the respondent to surrender any firearms, dangerous weapons, and concealed pistol licenses immediately. Although you may pursue protection orders without an attorney’s assistance, enlisting a knowledgeable lawyer’s guidance is the best way to ensure that you obtain immediate and comprehensive protection during this challenging—and even dangerous—time.
First, it’s essential to recognize that Washington is a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning that you do not have to provide a specific reason to pursue and obtain a divorce. Although domestic violence may not play a direct role in the court’s decision to grant your divorce, it can impact various outcomes and determinations provided in the divorce agreement. Let’s take a look at a few ways in which domestic violence can shape discussions, negotiations, and decisions regarding various aspects of your divorce.
As explained in RCW 26.09.090, “The maintenance order shall be in such amounts and for such periods of time as the court deems just, without regard to misconduct, after considering all relevant factors…” Essentially, a judge cannot consider domestic violence or other allegations of misconduct when granting spousal maintenance, but they can use this information as it relates to the survivor’s financial situation and employability. For instance, if the abusive and controlling spouse prevented the survivor from working outside the home during the marriage, or if their abusive behavior caused the survivor to develop post-traumatic stress disorder or emotional trauma that prevented them from holding a job, this information can impact maintenance awards. Additionally, if the court is aware that domestic violence has occurred in the marriage, it may specify that the abusive party must pay spousal maintenance by wage assignment or direct payment from public retirement to prevent the abuser from manipulating or controlling the recipient by making inconsistent payments or withholding payments as a controlling tactic.
Washington courts strive to establish a child custody agreement that supports the child’s best interests. If one parent has a history of abuse or violence, the judge may use this information when making child custody, visitation, and parenting plan determinations. The judge may restrict or limit the abusive parent’s interactions with the child to keep the child out of harm’s way. The court may also seek an arrangement that minimizes contact between the parents to reduce the number of opportunities for the abusive party to attempt to control, manipulate, or harass the other parent.
There’s no way around it—divorce is a difficult and complex process for everyone involved. Whether you and your spouse are pursuing a divorce on amicable terms or you are seeking to escape from an abusive marriage, this experience can be intensely emotional to navigate. However, it’s essential to understand that you do not have to move through the divorce process on your own. This is especially important for survivors of domestic violence, abuse, or harassment to recognize, as they often feel alone and afraid to leave the relationship. When you enlist the help of a knowledgeable and compassionate Seattle divorce attorney, you can feel secure and supported as you navigate every step ahead of you. Your attorney can empower you to take control of your future and freedom, providing you with the solid foundation you need to enjoy your life’s next chapter.
If you are considering a divorce in the Seattle area, it’s key to work with a trusted and caring attorney who can support and guide you through each step of the process. Call the Hemmat Law Group today at (206) 682-5200 to discuss your needs and goals with an experienced divorce lawyer.
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.