Washington state offers a very broad interpretation of the term domestic violence. Washington law defines it as any physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or inflicting the fear of physical harm, bodily injury, or assault, between members of the same household or family. It also includes sexual assault by a family member, as well as stalking.

Here is some important information about domestic violence in Washington, including details about domestic violence charges, how victims can seek legal protection through the court system, and how to get help from an attorney. Defining domestic violence

Domestic Violence Charges in Washington

Since the legal definition of domestic violence is so broad, there are a number of acts or crimes that can potentially count as domestic violence when committed by one family or household member against another. This can include acts such as:

  • Assault
  • False imprisonment
  • Kidnapping
  • Rape
  • Burglary
  • Coercion
  • Criminal trespassing
  • Property damage
  • Violation of protective orders

While these are all crimes when committed against anyone, when it happens at home between family or household members, it’s typically considered domestic violence. This is legally important because the state of Washington has mandatory arrest laws in certain domestic violence situations.

If a police officer responds to a 9-1-1 report of domestic violence and finds reason to believe (probable cause) that a domestic violence offense occurred within the past four hours, the officer is legally obligated to arrest who they believe to be the primary aggressor. This is sometimes known as the “four-hour rule,” and very little evidence is required to make an arrest, even if charges are later dropped.

Legal Protection From Domestic Violence in Washington

The state of Washington has several legal mechanisms that can help protect victims of domestic violence. One of the most common ways to protect yourself is with a domestic violence order for protection. The forms for this type of order can be obtained from the Court Clerk. Once the paperwork has been filled out, you will be put in contact with a judge to talk about it. If it’s an emergency, a 14-day temporary order may be put into effect immediately while a more formal hearing with a judge is arranged within two weeks. This hearing will determine whether the order should be extended to a year, or possibly longer, depending on the severity of the situation.

A domestic violence order of protection does several things to help victims, including ordering the respondent (the person accused of domestic violence) to leave a shared residence or to stay away from your residence. It can also temporarily grant sole custody of children to one parent, and it can establish temporary visitation rights for a parent. An order of protection can also let you retrieve essential personal items from a residence and allow you the use of a family vehicle, if needed.

An order of protection does not offer a permanent solution to child custody, however. It also does not deal with the permanent division of assets, child support payments, or spousal maintenance payments.

Orders of protection are often confused with restraining orders, but restraining orders are actually a different type of court order. Restraining orders are usually a part of a divorce or other family law situation, and they have broader powers than an order of protection that include child support, spousal maintenance, and asset division.

Lastly, a no-contact order may be issued by the court when criminal charges for domestic violence are pending. You do not need to apply for this type of order, as the court will make the decision as a part of a bail hearing, arraignment, or sentencing for the accused. It does not offer solutions for child custody or support, spousal support, or asset division.

Getting Help for Domestic Violence in Washington

Nobody should have to suffer domestic violence in silence, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. You are not alone, and help is available. There are many resources available for domestic violence survivors in Washington and the Seattle/King County area, including emergency shelters and housing alternatives. An experienced Washington family law attorney with domestic violence experience can also help connect victims with the support they need.

The attorneys at Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny will be there when you need legal help with domestic violence or other family law issues. To arrange a private consultation in our Bellevue office, please call us today at (425) 460-0550, or use our contact form to send an email.


Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington