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 human relationships, most conflict is kept “civil” and people don’t need a court’s intervention or assistance in getting someone to stop. There are, however, situations where that line is crossed and for whatever reason, the police will not get involved or will not make an arrest followed by criminal prosecution.  When these situations do not de-escalate, begin to interfere with other people’s lives and freedom, repeat themselves, or start becoming a basis for further civil lawsuits, these kinds of “civil” conflicts become the kind of problem that lawyers sometimes need to get involved in. If a behavior, that must be directed at a person for the court’s to get involved, involves harassment, domestic violence, stalking, dysfunctional relationship behaviors, threats, inappropriate sexual contact, or abuse of a vulnerable adult, the Washington Civil Court System has a solution for these social 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 Washington.  Here is a short video we put together in 2015 explaining things a bit that should help people understand whether they want to file a protection order or not.

How do Civil Protection Orders work?

Collect your information and file.  Whether an individual or lawyer does it, the facts must be reviewed, arranged and positioned with the goal of submitting them to the court in an organized manner. The court forms require at minimum a sworn declaration … but as lawyers, we also commonly file by using a formal Petition (or formal Response if we are defending against one) with supporting documents, Declarations from relevant witnesses and supporting photos, documents, screen prints et cetera. Given people generally hire us to deal with the more complicated situations our numbers are a bit skewed, but you should expect to put some real effort and time into doing this right. We estimate we average 8-10 hours preparing to file or defend one of these actions because as lawyers, we submit our argument in writing backed by an organized brief that contains a clear explanation of the facts and law. The submitted information goes before the standing judge or commissioner of the court, generally the day it is submitted, to rule on whether an immediate court order is necessary to stop behaviors or actions … called a temporary protection order.

If a petitioner has requested an ex parte temporary protection order, because these are often emergent situations, the court shall prioritize review, either entering an order without a hearing or scheduling and holding an ex parte hearing in person, by telephone, by video, or by other electronic means on the day the petition is filed if possible. Otherwise, it must be heard no later than the following judicial day.”

The Court Makes an Initial Ruling.  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.

Where it appears from the petition and any additional evidence that the respondent has engaged in conduct against the petitioner that serves as a basis for a protection order under this chapter, and the petitioner alleges that serious immediate harm or irreparable injury could result if an order is not issued immediately without prior notice to the respondent, the court may grant an ex parte temporary protection order, pending a full hearing.”

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. 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 must be served on the other party.

The Court Makes a Final Ruling.  At the final hearing, 14 days later, the court | judge will hear arguments from the parties or their lawyers | attorneys, and may hear brief testimony and will either grant a  Order of Protection (generally one year or longer) or deny it, depending on how the hearing goes.  The court makes it decision based on a Preponderance of the Evidence standard which means the court must be persuaded, considering all the evidence in the case, that a one point of view is more probably true than not true.

Our lawyers have filed and defended every type of Order of Protection available in Washington and we have a great deal of wisdom about prosecuting or defending one of these actions.  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?

There are 6 situations that civil protection orders cover, all of which our attorneys | lawyers have filed or defended:

Unlawful Harassment.  Behavior that shows unlawful harassment committed.  This is called an Antiharassment Protection Order and you can file this against any person.  Unlawful harassment means:

(a) A knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, harasses, or is detrimental to such person, and that serves no legitimate or lawful purpose. The course of conduct must be such as would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and must actually cause substantial emotional distress to the petitioner; or
(b) A single act of violence or threat of violence directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, harasses, or is detrimental to such person, and that serves no legitimate or lawful purpose, which would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and must actually cause substantial emotional distress to the petitioner. A single threat of violence must include: (i) A malicious and intentional threat as described in RCW 9A.36.080(1)(c); or (ii) the presence of a firearm or other weapon.
Stalking. Behavior that shows unlawful harassment committed.  This is called a Stalking Protection Order and you can file it against any person.  Stalking means:
Domestic Violence.  Behavior that shows Domestic Violence is being committed by an intimate partner, family member or household member.  Domestic Violence means:
Order to Remove Access to Guns. A petition for an extreme risk protection order can be filed if someone poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to self or others by having the right to possess or buy a firearm.  These orders can operate independent of any allegation of Domestic Violence … meaning you do not need to wait for something to actually happen.  These are called Extreme Risk Protection Orders and they must allege:
Abusive Behavior towards a Vulnerable Adult.  A petition for Vulnerable Adult Protection Order can be filed someone has facts to believe a vulnerable adult has been abandoned, abused, financially exploited, or neglected, or is threatened with abandonment, abuse, financial exploitation, or neglect.   Abuse within Vulnerable Adult Protection Orders means:
Sexual Abuse.  Any time a person intentionally engages in nonconsensual sexual conduct or nonconsensual sexual penetration of another, one can seek a Sexual Assault Protection Order against them.   Within the law on this, “Nnconsensual” means a lack of freely given consent.

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 >>