When Should I Seek a Domestic Violence Protection Order?
A Domestic Violence Protection Order (sometimes shortened to “DVPO” and sometimes referred to as a “restraining order”) is one of the primary tools offered by the court system to protect a victim (or potential victim) of domestic abuse. A domestic violence protection order can temporarily restrict contact between an abuser and his or her victim. If the order is not followed, serious civil and criminal sanctions may be imposed.
Despite the usefulness and effectiveness of this remedy, many victims or potential victims are unaware of their ability to seek such an order or are unsure of what they might have to prove in court. This article will answer some of the most common questions asked by people considering seeking protection through the use of a DVPO.
Does Physical or 'Actual' Abuse Have to Occur Before I Can Seek a DVPO?
No. Under Washington Revised Code Section 26.50 (RCW 26.50), a potential victim of domestic abuse is not required to wait for abuse to occur before seeking the protection of a court. In order to issue a DVPO, a court need not find that "infliction of physical harm" has already occurred. It is sufficient that the abuser has created "fear of physical harm" in his or her victim.
Does Abuse Constitute “Domestic Violence” If I Am Not in a Relationship With My Abuser?
Maybe. Domestic violence protection under RCW 26.50 is available for someone if their abuser is a family or household member. Family and household member is defined by RCW 26.50.010 to include current or former spouses, a person with whom the person shares a child in common, parents, grandparents, boyfriends, girlfriends, children, and roommates.
What if I Cannot “Prove” the Abuse? Should I Still Seek a DVPO?
Yes. If abuse has actually occurred or you are in fear that abuse may occur, then the lack of “evidence” should not prevent you from seeking a protection order. In Washington State, according to Evidence Rule 1101(c)(4) for the purposes of a domestic violence protection order hearing, the traditional rules of evidence are suspended and, as a result, it may be easier than you think to sufficiently prove that abuse has taken place or will occur.
Will a DVPO Affect My Ability to See My Children?
Probably not. Courts have recognized that children who live in violent homes are traumatized by the violence. Therefore, a DVPO can be used to protect children as well by prohibiting contact between an abusive parent and his or her minor children. Courts have also consistently maintained that such an order does not impermissibly modify a parenting plan. Therefore, concerns over the ability of a parent to protect children should not stand in the way of a victim seeking a DVPO.
What Happens When the Order Is Lifted?
When the order is lifted or expires, the parties will no longer be restrained from contacting one another. It is important to note that the order can be renewed for as long as it is necessary. For the restrained party to have the order lifted, he or she must establish "by a preponderance of the evidence that [s/]he will not commit future acts of domestic violence" and that the protected party no longer has any reasonable fear of imminent harm. Concern that a temporary order will be lifted in an untimely manner should not deter you from seeking protection.
If you have any further questions concerning domestic violence protection orders, please contact a McKinley Irvin family lawyer.