Legal Information: Washington

Restraining Orders

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Updated: 
December 15, 2023

What is the legal definition of harassment in Washington?

The law defines “unlawful harassment” as:

  1. a series of intentional acts by the abuser over a period of time that seriously alarms, annoys, harasses, or harms you without “serving a legitimate or lawful purpose,” and these acts must reasonably cause you to suffer substantial emotional distress; or
  2. a single act of violence or a threat of violence directed at you that seriously alarms, annoys, harasses, or harms you without serving a legitimate or lawful purpose, and this single act must reasonably cause you to suffer substantial emotional distress.1

For a “single act” to qualify as harassment, it must include a malicious and intentional threat or the presence of a firearm or other weapon.2

As explained above, for the acts to be unlawful harassment, they cannot be considered to “serve a legitimate or lawful purpose.” To decide if the actions are for a legitimate or lawful 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 or liberty, to enforce a law, or to meet a legal obligation;
  • the abuser’s acts unreasonably interfere with your privacy or create an intimidating, unfriendly (hostile), or offensive living environment for you; and
  • there was a court order in the past that limited the abuser’s contact with you or your family.3

1 R.C.W. §§ 7.105.010(6)(a); 7.105.010(36)
2 R.C.W. § 7.105.010(36)
3 R.C.W. § 7.105.010(6)(b)

What kinds of anti-harassment orders are there? How long do they last?

There are two types of civil anti-harassment orders in Washington:

Temporary protection order
A temporary protection order is meant to protect you until the court hearing for a full protection order. The first order can be “ex parte,” which means it is issued without the abuser being notified. Temporary protection orders can also be issued between court dates before the completion of the hearing to decide about the full protection order.1

In addition to requesting an ex parte temporary protection order, you can ask for an order to surrender and prohibit weapons until the full hearing can be held. If you request this, the judge will include your children in the ex parte temporary order unless there is a good reason not to.2 A judge will grant an ex parte temporary order only if s/he believes that you are in danger of serious immediate harm or permanent (irreparable) injury.3

Ex parte temporary orders last for a fixed period of up to 14 days.2 If the hearing date is extended and a temporary protection order is re-issued, the new date must not be more than 14 days later. Any temporary order to surrender and prohibit weapons that the judge gave you will be re-issued as well.6 If the court permits service of the abuser by publication or mail, the order will last for a fixed period up to 30 days.5 Your ex parte temporary order should clearly state the expiration date.7Note: If you have received two ex parte temporary anti-harassment protection orders in the past against the same abuser, but you failed to get a full civil anti-harassment protection order, you cannot get a third ex parte temporary anti-harassment protection order unless you can prove that there was a good reason why you didn’t get the full order the first two times.8 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 protection order against an abuser, we strongly suggest you speak with a lawyer.

Full civil anti-harassment protection order
A full protection order can be issued only after the abuser is notified and there is a court hearing in which you and the abuser both have a chance to tell your sides of the story, present evidence, witnesses, etc. , or it can be entered by agreement of the parties without the need for a hearing.9 The hearing can be held in person or remotely.10

Generally, the full anti-harassment protection order can be for a fixed period of time or permanent.11 If it only lasts for a fixed period, you can ask to have it renewed.12

Note: If the judge included in the order that the abuser cannot contact his/her minor children, then that part of the protection order can only last up to one year (but you can apply to renew that part of the order at the end of the one-year period).13 To get more information about renewing your order, please see How can I modify (change) or extend my civil anti-harassment order?

 For information on other types of orders available in Washington, see What other types of orders may help me?

1 R.C.W. § 7.105.010(35)
2 R.C.W. § 7.105.100(8)
3 R.C.W. § 7.105.305(1)
4 R.C.W. § 7.105.105(12)
5 R.C.W. § 7.105.200(3)
6 R.C.W. § 7.105.400(2)
7 R.C.W. § 7.105.305(2)
8 R.C.W. § 7.105.305(6)
9 R.C.W. § 7.105.010(17)
10 R.C.W. §§ 7.105.205(1)
11 R.C.W. § 7.105.315(1)
12 R.C.W. § 7.105.405(1)
13 R.C.W. § 7.105.315(2)(a)

What protections can I get in a civil anti-harassment order?

The judge in a protection order case has broad powers to issues order that are appropriate to your situation, including:

  • ordering the abuser not to do the following against you or anyone else protected by the order: 
  • ordering the abuser not to contact you or your children or your family members or members of your household;
  • ordering the abuser to stay away from your home, even if you share it with the abuser), as well as your work, school, or from the school or day care of your child;
  • prohibiting the abuser from coming within a certain distance from a specific location;
  • making a temporary order about the living arrangement of your children, which can suspend visitation under a parenting plan if appropriate;
  • ordering the abuser to participate in a domestic violence perpetrator treatment program or a sex offender treatment program;
  • ordering the abuser to get a mental health or chemical dependency evaluation;
  • ordering the abuser not to attend the same school as you or your child, if the order is to protects your child;
  • requiring the abuser to pay the court costs and fees for your petition, including reasonable attorneys’ fees;
  • ordering the abuser not to harass you, follow you, keep you under physical or electronic surveillance, cyberharass you, or use telephonic, audiovisual, or other electronic means to monitor the actions, location, or communication of you, your children, or members of your household;
  • ordering the abuser to submit to electronic monitoring, unless the abuser is a minor;
  • requiring the abuser to surrender his/her firearms and prohibiting the abuser from having access to any other firearms, if certain conditions are met (Note: You can read about the conditions that must be met for the judge to order the firearm removed on our WA Statutes page in section (1) of RCW 9.41.800);
  • making an order regarding possession of your essential personal property, including a pet owned by you, your child, or the abuser;
  • making an order regarding the use of a vehicle;
  • restricting the abuser from engaging in abusive litigation, making harassing or libelous communications to third parties, or making false reports to investigative agencies;
  • prohibiting the transfer of any assets you jointly own with the abuser and ordering other financial relief; or
  • prohibiting the abuser from having or distributing intimate images of you, including requiring the abuser to take down and delete any such images.1

The judge can only order the following protections in a full anti-harassment protection order, not in a temporary one:

  • ordering the abuser to stay away from the home that you share with the abuser;
  • making a temporary order about the living arrangements of your children, which can suspend visitation under a parenting plan if appropriate; and
  • prohibiting the transfer of any assets you jointly own with the abuser and ordering other financial relief.2 

Whether or not a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.

Note: The judge cannot require that you, as the petitioner, get any services, including drug testing, victim support services, mental health assessments, or a psychological evaluation.3

1 R.C.W. § 7.105.310(1)
2 R.C.W. § 7.105.310(2)
3 R.C.W. § 7.105.310(4)(a)

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