Step 1: Get and fill out the necessary forms
To start your case, you will need to fill out the necessary forms for a domestic violence order for protection.
You can find the forms from the civil clerk at the courthouse, but you may want to find them before you go and fill them out at home or with an advocate from a shelter. Write about the incidents of violence, using specific language (slapping, hitting, grabbing, threatening, etc.) that fits your situation. Include details and dates, if possible. Clerks can show you which blanks to fill in, but they cannot help you decide what to write. Note: Remember to bring photo ID and do not sign the forms until you are in front of a notary or a clerk. The clerk may be able to notarize the forms for you.
You will need to provide a safe mailing address. If you are staying at a shelter, you may want to give a P.O. Box, not the street address. If you do not have a safe address, do not fill it out - ask the clerk first how you can keep your address confidential.
You will find links to forms online on our WA Download Court Forms page. Most shelters and other domestic violence prevention organizations can provide support for you while you fill out these papers and go to court. Go to WA Advocates and Shelters to find an organization in your area and to find contact information for the courthouse in your area, click on WA Courthouse Locations.
Step 2: Ex parte hearing
If you are in immediate danger and requested a temporary order, the judge or commissioner will hold an ex parte hearing in person or by telephone.1 The abuser does not have to be with you or be told you are asking the judge for a temporary order for protection.
After the ex parte hearing, if you were granted a temporary order, the clerk will file the signed temporary order and make copies. Remember that you may need additional copies for schools, daycare, and your place of employment.
If you received a temporary order, keep a copy of it with you at all times.
Whether the judge grants you a temporary order or not, you may be given a court date for a court hearing on your petition for a final domestic violence restraining order within 14 days (assuming your petition is not dismissed).2 This hearing will be in front of a judge at a time shown on the notice of hearing. The notice of hearing is the document that tells the respondent where and when to appear for the court hearing. At this hearing, the abuser and you will both have a chance to explain your sides to the judge, present evidence and witnesses, etc.
1 R.C.W. § 26.50.070(3)
2 R.C.W. § 26.50.050
Step 3: Service of process
The respondent must be “served” or given notice of the hearing five business days prior to the hearing. If the respondent has not been served in time, the hearing will be rescheduled. In that situation, the judge should reissue the temporary order and allow you to attempt to have the respondent served again. If you are unable to have the respondent served after two attempts, the judge may allow you to serve the respondent by mail or by publication unless you request another chance to serve the respondent.1 If the respondent was served but does not show up at the hearing, the hearing can proceed without the respondent.
The clerk will send the law enforcement office a copy of the petition for the order for protection and a copy of the temporary order (if you were granted one) to serve the respondent. A return of service form and a Law Enforcement Information Sheet will also be included for law enforcement’s use. Any adult 18 or over, other than you, can serve the papers. However, people usually want a law enforcement officer to serve the papers, since there could be a dangerous situation. The court may order the law enforcement agency where the respondent resides to serve the papers. Do not attempt to serve the papers to the abuser yourself.
1 R.C.W. § 26.50.050
You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question called What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?
Step 4: Sorting out the paperwork
The clerk will send a copy of the temporary order and the Law Enforcement Information sheet to the police station where you live so it can be entered into the statewide law enforcement computer system. This is to assure your order can be enforced by the police or sheriff. The Law Enforcement Information Sheet will not be given to or shown to the respondent.1
The order for protection or a reissued temporary order must be filed with the clerk. The clerk will make copies for you to take. When you leave the court, you should have the following papers:
- copy of the petition for an order for protection;
- the original completed Law Enforcement Information Sheet; and
- at least one certified copy of the temporary order. (You may want to carry one copy with you at all times. You also may want extra copies to keep in a safe place so there will be a copy available to show police in case of a violation.)
Step 5: Full court hearing
If you want to get a final order, you must go to the hearing. If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary order will expire and you will have to start the process over. If you absolutely cannot go to the hearing at the scheduled time, you may call the courthouse and ask how to request a continuance over the phone, if that is possible.
You may wish to hire a lawyer to help with your case, especially if the abuser has a lawyer. You can also represent yourself if you choose to or if you cannot find a lawyer. For tips on representing yourself, go to our Preparing your Case page. If the abuser shows up with a lawyer, you can ask the judge for a “continuance” (a later court date) so that you have time to find a lawyer. Go to WA Finding a Lawyer to find help in your area.