In Washington state, how difficult is it for a victim of Domestic Violence to get a Protection Order?

Victims of domestic violence can seek a domestic violence protection order (DVPO), a court order similar to a restraining order as a means of legal protection from the offender.

We here at LegalAtoms did a survey on earlier this week to see how difficult it for victims to secure a protection order in the Washington state with a focus on how useful are the official websites which can help the victims 24/7 in getting precise information in a secure and friendly way.

The importance of online access has increased as more Washingtonians due to the following reasons

  • Access to internet is universal particularly with smartphones
  • Court telephone systems are cumbersome
  • Getting to courts during office hours remains a challenge
  • Undocumented immigrants don’t contact any government department

Before we answer the main question let us first explain the process as there isn’t a single office that grants protection orders.

Who grants DVPOs?

DVPOs are provided by the county Superior courts. There are 39 counties in Washington so depending on where the victim lives how easy or difficult it is depends on the Superior Court of that county.

County Map | WDVA
Map of counties in the Washington state counties

Population Distribution

As the population is concentrated in a few counties, we are focusing on the ten most populous counties where a total of 80% of the Washingtonians live. (The remaining 29 counties have 20% of the total Washingtonians)

Process Outline

Across all counties, the following are the main steps for a victim

  1. Get the Court forms
  2. Fill the Court forms detailing the situation and bio data
  3. Submit the Court forms

Based on anecdotal evidence we learnt that victims have the following initial challenges

  • Clarity around eligibility: Many victims don’t know whether they are experiencing domestic violence
  • Which forms and what to write: Its unclear what forms are needed for different situations (e.g. with children) and how to complete the forms as many questions have legal terms
  • Visiting courts during office hours: Court hours at 8:30-4:30 in most cases conflict with working hours. Then courts shut down for lunch hour. Transportation can be difficult due to parking or commute involved
  • Visiting courts during COVID-19: There’s social distancing concerns, and then there’s additional barrier as there’s lack of privacy from family or intimate partners with everyone being at home. Buses, uber, Lyft are not operating as usual

Our Scoring Criteria

Victims are responsible for a formal application (petition) for the Domestic Violence Protection Order. So we evaluated the populous counties for how easy or difficult it is for an average person to go from no background knowledge to submitting the DVPO application.

Forms online:  This means that the forms are available in some form online so users can access them 24×7 from any location. Victims have Many counties require victims to contact them either in person or over the phone during the short office hours (with different lunch hours) and annoying phone answering systems. Some phone answering systems involved listing to ~12 options and not hearing the key words “domestic violence” as it was buried under “civil cases”

Help in filling forms: Courts keep staff members to assist victims. These are called “Advocates” in King, facilitators in Snohomish and have similar titles in other counties.

File online: This means that victims can file remotely either over email or through some website

King County

King county is the most populous county that contains major cities like Seattle, Bellevue, Kent, Tacoma and Redmond. King county offers victims to access paperwork for protection orders online and file them via e-mail. King County also has an elaborate Protection Order Advocacy Program (POAP) which provides direct assistance to victims.

Pierce County

Pierce county in general does not have court forms online, and does not offer online filing of protection orders. However, during Covid-19, the county is offering fully service of gathering information and filing for protection orders over a phone call.

The phone hours are Monday – Friday for 7 hours per day.

Pierce county refers individuals to the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center for assistance. 

Snohomish and Spokane

Snohomish and Spokane county have identical status. Neither county offers the court forms online or generally allow them to be filed electronically or via e-mail. Both counties have allowed e-mail filing during Covid19. However the website of both counties contain no reference to e-mail filing and the only way someone can discover the email filing capability is by calling in during office hours. Calling in is inconvenient as the writer of this article hit the voicemail even 30 minutes after the lunch hour!

Clark, Kitsap, and Benton

These counties have very limited online information. These neither offer court forms online, nor do they have online filing, even during Covid-19

Kitsap

Kitsap county has a phone number on their website which is disconnect. (Website accessed on April 23rd 2020). Here’s a screenshot.


Whatcom

In Whatcom County: DVPO applications are only available in person during reduced court hours 9-11am.

County Score Card

CountyForms onlineFile onlineFacilitators?
KingYYY
PierceNNN
SnohomishNY*N
SpokaneNY*N
ClarkNNN
ThurstonNY*N
KitsapNNN
BentonNNN
SkagitYYN
* Yes but the victim has to call in during office hours and get to the right person to discover that

Conclusions

Protection Order are woefully behind in using friendly websites across Washington state with 1-2 exceptions. While many aspects of life such as paying a bill or filing taxes have simplified using websites, filing for a domestic violence protection order is remains unimproved. If the clock is dialed back 25 years , to say 1995, when the Windows 95 was just being launched and the internet revolution was just beginning, the online resources and hence the overall experience for protection orders in most of Washington would not be much different than what it is today.

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