Civil Protection Orders: What are they? Why Use Them? And How They Work

A Civil Lawyer’s | Attorney’s Perspective based on Experience.

This page answers three questions:

  1. How do Civil Protection Orders work?
  2. Why Seek or Use a Civil Protection Order?
  3. What kinds of Protection Orders are there?  Which one should I use?

In relationships, most conflict is kept “civil” and in perspective. There are, however, situations that cross the line and for whatever reason, do not meet the requirements of arrest followed by criminal prosecution. When these situations become a pattern or do not de-escalate, they become a real problem that requires involving a lawyer. If this behavior involves harassment, dysfunctional relationship behavior, threats, inappropriate sexual contact or abuse of a vulnerable adult, the Washington Civil Court System has a ready made, relatively efficient solution for these problems Called Civil Protection Orders, or Orders of Protection. Our lawyers are well versed in the organization, formalities and the courtroom issues surrounding bringing and defending these kind of actions throughout the Puget Sound region.

How do Civil Protection Orders work?

After a lengthy consultation, our lawyers review, arrange and position the facts of your case with the goal of submitting the facts (commonly by using affidavits and declarations of parties and witnesses to explain photos, documents, etc.) using court-approved forms.  Our office spends a lot of time collecting, arranging and positioning facts as this increases the chances of winning cases. The submitted information goes before the standing/judge or commissioner, generally the day it is submitted. If the facts are compelling enough and the problem carries enough immediate danger, a judge may immediately approve a Temporary Protection Order that limits the other party’s behavior while setting a hearing to hear both sides of the story within 14 days. This “Temporary Order of Protection” with Notice of the hearing in 14 days is then served on the offending party and it becomes effective upon service. It is a crime to violate this Temporary Order of Protection even though the other party has not had their day in court to argue about it. We use police officers or a professional legal service agency to serve the opposing party so there are no issues regarding service. At the hearing, 14 days later, the court | judge will hear arguments from the lawyers | attorneys, may hear brief testimony and will either grant a more permanent Order of Protection (generally one year or longer) or deny it, depending on how the hearing goes.

If the facts you submit are compelling but do not require an immediate “temporary order” because there is no immediate danger or risk, the court will simply set a hearing within 14 days to hear the whole story before making a decision.  Notice of this Hearing will be served on the other party.

Our lawyers have filed and defended every type of Order of Protection available in Washington and we have a great deal of wisdom about when to file, how to file and how to arrange your situation to increase the likelihood of winning.  As lawyers and counsel to a wide variety of clients over the years, we have grown to believe it is best to file for a Protection Order once and win; if you do not, things can degrade into protracted battles that can waste money and resources.  We counsel our clients accordingly.

Why Seek or Use an Order of Protection?

United States is a country of law that frowns upon people taking matters into their own hands. There are real risks to doing so.  Some of the common reasons individuals end up seeking Protection Orders include:

Not every situation rises to the level of a criminal charge but they may still present a problem.  Remember that a criminal case must be filed by a prosecuting attorney and then must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In courtrooms, proving your case must be done with facts that the Washington Courts Rules of Evidence allow into the courtroom. This means juries do not always hear all the facts, only the facts that the “Court Rules” allow.  So, if your evidence that the Rules of Evidence let in does not prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt, your case will not win.  Civil Protection Orders need only be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, lawyers often call this proof just beyond 50 percent; and, in general, with only a few exceptions, the Rules of Evidence do not apply, ER 1102(c)(4).  So, though a case may not qualify for criminal charges, that same case may win in a Protection Order setting as a Civil Protection Order allows in more evidence than a criminal hearing and the Civil Protection Order has a lower burden of proof.

 Conduct may have gone unreported. For whatever reason, bad behavior may have not been reported to the police right away.  As a result, the conduct may have “aged” too much for police to give it attention, or this old conduct may have suddenly become relevant because of new behavior.  Because the rules of evidence are for the most part more loosely applied and the burden of proof is lower than that required for criminal convictions, conduct that would otherwise not get the undivided attention of the police can get the undivided attention of the judge or commissioner who is running the protection order calendar.

Civil protection orders give a clear warning. Filing a civil protection order is a formal process that results in a formal court hearing. As lawyers who have watched and participated in hundreds of these hearings, it is clear that the formal and serious nature of these hearing has an effect on most people. If a protection order is granted, any allegation that it is violated will be taken seriously by a police officer and is at minimum a gross misdemeanor and potentially a felony. Even if the order is not granted, it draws a clear boundary with the other party to leave it alone. In some ways, telling the whole story to a court assures that the behavior will no longer go unnoticed or unaddressed.  This alone is sometimes enough to stop the behavior even if an order is not granted.

Civil Protection Orders get Police Attention.  Behavior that might not have gotten police attention will get police attention if a Civil Protection Order is in place.

What kinds of Protection Orders are there?  Which one should I use?

King County has a nice flow chart  that gives an idea of what kind of Protection Order should be sought in each particular situation.  This chart and the law that is relied on to produce it are universal in the State of Washington and can be used by you and your lawyer to determine what type of protection order should be filed in any county. If you file the wrong order, or file it in the wrong court, you will be required to re-file it properly and will “tip your hand” early.  There are 4 situations that civil protection orders cover, all of which our attorneys | lawyers have filed or defended:

Harassment.  Behavior that shows a deliberate intent and pattern to harass.  This is called an Anti-Harassment Protection Order.

Dysfunctional Relationship Behavior.  Any time a person in a domestic violence begins to stalk, harass, assault, threaten, frighten or intimidate another person by whatever means, the situation becomes ripe for an Order.  This is called a Domestic Violence Protection Order.

Inappropriate Sexual Contact.  Any time a person intentionally and inappropriately touches the private areas, the offended party (including juveniles) can file for a Sexual Assault Protection Order.  This type of order is highly definition driven and can be quite litigious.  If you are considering filing one on behalf of you or your child, we recommend discussing this in detail with our office before making any decisions.

Elder | Vulnerable Adult Abusive Behavior.  Any time an elder or vulnerable adult is not able to protect his or her own interests due to incapacity, undue influence, or duress, the court allows interested parties or that adult to file for an Order of Protection.  This is called a Vulnerable Adult Order of Protection.

As lawyers | attorneys, we have seen an enormous variety of situations: neighborly disputes, boyfriend | girlfriend | ex-spouses | ex-partners | father | mother disputes, sexual harassment at work, roommate disputes, soured friendships, controlling and violent relationships with a history of unreported assaults, accusations of rape or violence, accusations of inappropriate sexual contact between high school students | college students | work mates and stalking behavior. We have seen a surprising number of Protection Orders filed simply to harass the other party or as part of a larger plan to get unfettered access to the kids and house in a divorce proceeding. In our experience, without some sort of boundary being fought for and drawn, things only escalate. Whatever the reason, stopping a problem requires action to prevent another party from getting the upper hand.  The lawyers in our office know this and are experienced at anticipating behaviors and getting results.

Over the course of our lengthy legal careers, our lawyers | attorneys have handled a wide variety of complicated cases in the criminal, civil and administrative legal arenas. Our office is a unique blend of courtroom experience, knowledge, skills and temperament. Our lawyers know cases are rarely as simple as police reports or accusations claim. Our clients hire us because they want trained listeners who are staunch, uncompromising and effective.  They want counsel who takes the time to listen and fight vigorously for the right result. Whether acting in a role of counsel, advocate, negotiator or litigator, we have years of experience manipulating, working and fighting to resolve cases with our clients’ best interests in mind.

Robert Rhodes

With a successful background in law, courtrooms, wrestling, rugby and jujitsu, Robert Rhodes’s nature is well-suited for argument and litigation. Mr. Rhodes knows how to talk clearly and directly to his clients, adversaries and to the Court. His common sense, straight talk and experience put his clients immediately at ease. Mr. Rhodes does not do anything half way and you will sense this when you meet him. Read more >>