Domestic violence laws specify behaviors against a spouse or intimate partner that are considered crimes. These behaviors include physical, psychological, and sexual abuse; harassment; stalking; and destroying property, among others. Domestic violence laws vary from state to state; this guide focuses on Washington State laws.

How domestic violence laws can help

Both the criminal and civil legal system offer some protection against domestic violence.

A protection order is a civil order that restricts someone accused of domestic violence from harming, harassing, or contacting the victim. In Washington State, you do not need a lawyer to get a protection order. The court issues a temporary order once you document the facts that support your charge. The sheriff delivers a copy of the order to the person the order is filed against. A hearing for a final order occurs two weeks later.

If a person was physically attacked, sexually assaulted, threatened with a weapon, or had property damaged or stolen by an intimate partner, he or she may file criminal charges with the police. Criminal charges may be filed whether or not a protection order has been approved.

If you file charges in Washington State, you may have to go to court to testify. The court may provide an advocate to help you through your case. Because a hearing can take several months to come to trial, the court can grant a no-contact order if you fear the perpetrator may hurt you again. This order prohibits the perpetrator from having any contact with you before the trial.

According to a federal mandate, protection orders must be enforced in every state. This prevents perpetrators from going across state lines to abuse, threaten, stalk, or commit other acts of domestic violence.

Domestic violence laws in Washington State

Washington State defines domestic violence as criminal acts committed by one family or household member against a spouse, former spouse, present or former cohabitant, or a person with whom the perpetrator has had a child. Criminal acts committed by individuals 16 years of age or older against a person they are dating or have dated can also be considered domestic violence.

Crimes of domestic violence in Washington can include the following acts when willfully committed by one family or household member against another:

  • Assault

  • Manslaughter or murder

  • Reckless endangerment

  • Drive-by shooting

  • Coercion

  • Burglary

  • Criminal trespass

  • Property damage

  • Kidnapping

  • Interfering with the reporting of domestic violence

  • Rape

  • Violation of protection order

  • Stalking or cyber stalking

  • False imprisonment

Additional resources:

American Bar Association: Family Legal Guide

Washington Courts: Domestic Violence-The What, Why, and Who, as relevant to Criminal and Civil Court Domestic Violence Cases

Related Legal Guides:

The Basics of Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence Charges

Domestic Violence Restraining Order

Domestic Violence against Men