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Know the Laws: Washington

UPDATED August 10, 2017

Civil Anti-Harassment Orders

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A civil anti-harrassment order provides protection against someone who is harassing you regardless of your relationship to that person.

Basic information

back to topWhat is the legal definition of harassment?

The law defines "harassment" as a series of willful acts over a period of time that:

  • seriously alarms, annoys, harasses, or harms you without “serving a legitimate purpose”; and
    • reasonably causes you to suffer substantial emotional distress (harm); or
    • reasonably causes you to fear for the well-being of your child.
Note: This "course of conduct" does not include constitutionally protected activity or constitutionally protected speech.*

As explained above, for the acts to be harassment, they cannot be considered to “serve a legitimate purpose.”  To decide if the actions are for a legitimate (valid) purpose, the court will consider whether:
  • the abuser started the current contact between you two or whether you both contacted each other;
  • the abuser has been given clear notice that all future contact with you is unwanted;
  • the acts appear designed to alarm, annoy, or harass you;
  • the abuser is acting to try to protect a legal interest in his/her property, to enforce a law, or to meet a legal obligation;
  • the abuser’s acts unreasonably interfere with the your privacy or create an intimidating, hostile (unfriendly), or offensive living environment for you;
  • there was a court order in the past that limited the abuser’s contact with you or your family.**
* R.C.W. § 10.14.020
** R.C.W. § 10.14.030

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back to topWhat is a civil anti-harassment order? Who is eligible?

A civil anti-harassment order is a court order that tells the abuser to stop harassing you.  For more information on how an order may help you, see How can a civil anti-harassment order help me?

You do not have to have any specific type of relationship with the abuser (for example, the abuser may or may not be related or married to you; s/he could be a significant other, neighbor, co-worker, or relative).*  Therefore, if you do not meet the requirements to get a domestic violence order for protection due to your relationship to the abuser or due to the fact that the harassment does not meet the legal definition of "domestic violence," you may be able to file for an anti-harassment order instead.

However, if you do qualify for a domestic violence order for protection or sexual assault protection order based on the harassment, or if you have a no-contact order from a criminal court based on the harassment, then you are most likely not eligible for an anti-harassment order.**  You would have to apply for the domestic violence order for protection or sexual assault protection order instead.

Note: If you are going to apply for an anti-harassment order, remember to be specific about how the abuser has harassed you and about the effect it had on you.  According to the law, harassment must involve a series of acts.  A single incident, no matter how much it may bother you, does not constitute legal harassment.

* See R.C.W. § 10.14.080
** R.C.W. § 10.14.130

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back to topWhat kinds of anti-harassment orders are there? How long do they last?

There are two types of civil anti-harassment orders in Washington, an ex parte temporary order and a final order.

Ex parte temporary anti-harassment order
An ex parte anti-harassment order is a temporary order that you can get when you file your petition in court, without the abuser present.  It is designed to protect you until the court hearing for the final civil anti-harassment order.  When you file your application for an ex parte anti-harassment order, the judge will read your petition and may hold a hearing where you will tell the judge why you need the order.  (The abuser will not be present at this hearing, which is what is meant by the term “ex parte”).  A judge will grant the temporary order only if your petition shows reasonable proof of unlawful harassment and if s/he believes that severe or permanent harm will happen to you if you don’t get the order immediately.*

Temporary orders last for a fixed (specific) period of up to 14 days.  If the court permits service of the abuser by publication (in a newspaper if the court believes the abuser is purposefully avoiding being served), the order will last for a fixed period up to 24 days.  Ex parte orders may be reissued (renewed) until the court holds the hearing for the final order.*1

Note: If you have filed for and received two ex parte orders in the past against the same abuser, but you failed to get a final civil anti-harassment order, you cannot get a third ex parte temporary anti-harassment order unless you can prove that there was a good reason why you didn’t get the final order the first two times.*2  Therefore, this is something to consider if you currently have an ex parte order and are thinking of dropping it.  If you are currently seeking a third ex parte anti-harassment order against an abuser, we strongly suggest you speak with a lawyer.

Final civil anti-harassment order
A final anti-harassment order can be issued only after you and the abuser both have a chance to tell your sides of the story, present evidence, witnesses, etc.  A hearing for the final order will be scheduled no more than 14 days from the date you got your temporary order or no more than 24 days if the abuser was notified by publication.*1  If the abuser is being served in person (as is normally done), s/he must be served at least five court days before the hearing takes place.*3

Generally, the order for protection will last for one year unless the court finds that the abuser is likely to continue the harassment when the order expires.  In that case, the judge can make the order for a fixed (specific) amount of time or can make it permanent (last forever).  However, if the judge included in the order that the abuser cannot contact his/her minor children, then the anti-harassment order can only last up to a year.  For any order that is for one year or for a fixed amount of time, you can apply to renew it when the order expires.*4  If you are not sure whether you have a permanent order or not, look to see if there is an expiration date written on the order.*5  To get more information about renewing your order, please see How can I modify (change) or extend my civil anti-harassment order?

Note: Even if the abuser does not appear at the hearing or respond to the petition but s/he was properly served (in person or by publication), the judge can still give you a civil anti-harassment order for a minimum of one year from the date of the hearing.*6 

Also note: When a judge is giving an ex-parte temporary anti-harassment order or a final civil anti-harassment order, the judge cannot do the following things:

  • Prohibit the person against whom the order would be issued (the respondent) from exercising constitutionally protected free speech.  You may be able to use other civil and criminal alternatives to limit acts or communications that are not constitutionally protected.*7
  • Prohibit the person against whom the order would be issued (the respondent) from using or enjoying real property that s/he has a right to use, unless the order is issued under dissolution proceedings or legal separation or under a separate action to determine title or possession of the real property.*8
  • Limit the respondent’s right to care, control, or custody of his or her minor children, unless the order is issued under the family reconciliation act, dissolution proceedings or legal separation, nonparental actions for child custody, or the Uniform Parentage Act.*9

* R.C.W. § 10.14.080(1)
*1 R.C.W. § 10.14.080(2)
*2 R.C.W. § 10.14.080(10)
*3 R.C.W. § 10.14.070
*4 R.C.W. § 10.14.080(4)
*5 R.C.W. § 10.14.080(11)
*6 R.C.W. §§ 10.14.080(2),10.14.105
*7 R.C.W. § 10.14.080(7) 
*8 R.C.W. § 10.14.080(8)
*9 R.C.W. § 10.14.080(9)

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back to topHow can a civil anti-harassment order help me?

It will be up to the judge to decide what is appropriate to stop the harassment by the abuser.  The judge can do such things as:

  • order the abuser not to contact you (or attempt to contact you);
  • order the abuser not to make any attempts to keep you under surveillance (i.e., following you, watching you);
  • require the abuser to stay a certain distance away from your home and workplace;*
Note: If both you and the abuser are minors (under 18) and attend the same school, the court can order the abuser to attend a different school (but only if the abuser is being investigated or has gone to court for committing a criminal offense against you).**

If it is shown that an abuser has used, displayed (shown), or threatened to use a firearm/weapon in a felony, previously committed any offense that makes him/her ineligible to possess a firearm, or if the judge believes that the abuser’s possession of a firearm or other dangerous weapon presents a serious and immediate threat to you or someone else, the judge may also:
  • require the abuser to surrender any firearm or other dangerous weapon or any concealed pistol license; and
  • prohibit the abuser from obtaining or possessing a firearm or other dangerous weapon or a concealed pistol license.***
Note: The surrender of any firearm/weapon or prohibition on getting or having a firearm/weapon may be for a period of time less than the length of the anti-harassment order.***

* R.C.W. § 10.14.080(6)
** R.C.W. § 10.14.040(7)
*** R.C.W. §§ 10.14.080(6)(d),9.41.800

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Who is eligible

back to topAgainst whom can I file? What if the abuser doesn’t live in Washington?

You do not have to have any specific type of relationship with the abuser to file for a civil anti-harassment order* as long as the person has committed the type of harassment described in What is the legal definition of harassment?  For example, the abuser may or may not be related or married to you; s/he could be a significant other, neighbor, co-worker, or relative.

If the abuser does not live in Washington, you may file for a civil anti-harassment order and the court can have jurisdiction (power) over that person if one of the following things are true:

  1. The abuser is personally served with the petition in Washington state;
  2. The abuser agrees to the Washington court having jurisdiction (power) over him/her;
  3. The acts of harassment took place in Washington (this includes when oral or written statements are made by an abuser outside Washington to a person in Washington, like sending mail or email);
  4. The harassment did not take place in Washington but it is part of an ongoing pattern of harassment that has a harmful effect on you or a member of your family or household and you live in Washington;
  5. Due to the harassment, you or a member of your family or household has fled to Washington to find safety or protection and currently lives in Washington; or
  6. Some other legal basis exists that gives a judge in Washington power over the case.**  For example, if the respondent runs a business in Washington or has significant connections to Washington, the judge may have power to issue an order.***  If you have questions about where to file in your specific situation, you may want to speak to a lawyer in Washington.

Note: If your situation falls under number 4 or 5 above, the abuser must have communicated with you or a member of your family either directly or indirectly, or threatened your safety or the safety of a member of your family while you or your family member lived in Washington.  The communication could be through the mail, the telephone, a posting online, or electronically such as through email.****

* See R.C.W. § 10.14.080
** R.C.W. § 10.14.155
*** See R.C.W. § 4.28.185
**** R.C.W. § 10.14.155(2)

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back to topCan I file for a civil anti-harassment order if I am a minor?

No - your parent or guardian must file for you.  A petition can be filed against an adult (over 18) or in some cases, a minor (under 18).*  For more information about filing against a minor abuser, see Can I file for a civil anti-harassment order for my minor child against an abuser who is a minor?

* R.C.W. § 10.14.040(6),(7)

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back to topCan I file for a civil anti-harassment order for my minor child against an abuser who is a minor?

Maybe.  A parent or guardian of a minor child (under 18) may file a petition for a civil anti-harassment order against a minor abuser (under 18) in superior court only in cases where the abuser has been to court for a crime against the victim or is/was under investigation for a crime.

When determining whether to issue a civil anti-harassment order against a minor, the judge will consider:

  • the facts of the case;
  • how serious the alleged offense is;
  • any continuing physical danger or emotional distress (harm) to the victim; and
  • the expense, difficulty, and educational disruption that would be caused by a transfer of the abuser to another school.
The court may order that the abuser not attend the public or approved private school attended by the victim.  If the court does order a transfer of the abuser, the parents or legal guardians of the abuser are responsible for the costs, including transportation, associated with the change in school.  The court will notify both the school the abuser will attend and the school the victim attends about this part of the order.*

* R.C.W. § 10.14.040(7)

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Getting the order

back to topHow much will it cost to file for a civil anti-harassment order?

There could be a filing fee and a service fee when filing a petition for a civil anti-harassment order, depending on who you are filing against.*  If you are seeking an order against an abuser who has stalked you, committed a sex offense against you, or who is a family or household member and committed domestic violence against you, you should file for a domestic violence order of protection or a sexual assault protection order and cannot be charged a fee for filing or serving the order on the abuser.**  If you are filing against anyone else, you can be charged the fee.

If you cannot afford the filing and service fees, you may file an application to proceed “in forma pauperis” which allows you to ask the judge to waive the fee.  If the judge decides you cannot pay, you will be allowed to proceed “in forma pauperis” and you will not have to pay the filing fee or other related court costs.***

You may still have to pay the cost of having the abuser served with the court papers for a civil anti-harassment order.

Note: The judge may require the abuser to pay the filing fee and court costs, including service fees, and to reimburse you for your costs in the case, including reasonable attorney’s fees.****

* R.C.W. § 36.18.020(2)(d)
** R.C.W. § 10.14.055
*** R.C.W. § 10.14.060
**** R.C.W. § 10.14.090(2)

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back to topDo I need a lawyer to file for a civil anti-harassment order?

No, you do not need a lawyer to file for a civil anti-harassment order.*  However, you may wish to have a lawyer, especially if the abuser has a lawyer and/or if your case is going to go to trial.  If you can, contact a lawyer to make sure that your legal rights are protected.  If you cannot afford a lawyer but want one to help you with your case, you may be able to find information on legal assistance on the WA Finding a Lawyer page.

Note: The judge may order the abuser to reimburse you for the costs of filing the civil anti-harassment order, including reasonable attorney’s fees.**

* R.C.W. § 10.14.090(1)
** R.C.W. § 10.14.090(2)

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back to topWhat are the steps involved with getting a civil anti-harassment order?

The steps for getting an anti-harassment order are similar to the steps involved with obtaining an order for protection.  You can file for an anti-harassment order with the clerk at the district courthouse or in some towns, the municipal court.  (Note: If the abuser is a minor, the case would be transferred to superior court.)*  The instructions may be similar to the order for protection petition, but you will fill out a different set of forms.

You may file in the district court in the judicial district of the county or in the municipality where:

  • The unlawful harassment occurred; or
  • Where the abuser resides at the time you file the petition.**
* R.C.W. § 10.14.150
** R.C.W. § 10.14.160

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back to topHow can I modify (change) or renew my civil anti-harassment order?

To modify (change) your civil anti-harassment order, you will need to apply for a modification in court, and the abuser will have to be notified and have a chance to state his/her position to either object or consent to the modification.  The court will have a hearing and may modify the terms of an existing order.*

To renew your civil anti-harassment order, you will need to file a petition for renewal within the three months before the expiration of the order.  The petition should state the reasons why you wish to renew the anti-harassment order.  The court will order a hearing no more than 14 days from the date it received the petition for renewal.  The abuser must be notified at least five days before the hearing.  The judge will grant the petition for renewal unless the abuser can prove that s/he will not start to harass you again when the order expires.  The judge may renew the civil anti-harassment order for another fixed time period or may enter a permanent order.**

* R.C.W. § 10.14.180
** R.C.W. § 10.14.080(5)

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