Washington Domestic Violence Laws

Washington state law defines domestic violence as almost any criminal act committed by a "family or household member" against another. Domestic violence includes five primary categories of abusive behaviors: physical violence, emotional abuse, sexual assault, economic control and neglect. Examples of crimes associated with domestic violence include:

  • Assault
  • Manslaughter or murder
  • Reckless endangerment
  • 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

**Note: If you are in an emergency situation call 911. **

Mandatory Arrest

The law requires a police officer responding to an incident of domestic violence to make an arrest if the officer has probable cause to believe that a domestic violence assault or other serious domestic violence offense was committed within the previous four hours.

If the officer determines that family or household members have assaulted each other, the officer will arrest only the person he or she believes to be the primary aggressor. State law also requires mandatory arrest for violations of No Contact Orders and Civil Protection Orders.

I Changed My Mind. Can I Drop the Charges?

No, you cannot. If charges are filed, only the prosecutor has the authority to drop them. A judge must approve the prosecutor's request to dismiss a case. The victim is a witness for the state and has no authority to drop charges. In many cases, the State will prosecute a case even if the victim refuses to testify.

That said, a prosecutor may choose not to file charges in the first place. In that event, the victim will be notified of that decision.

What Protections Are Available in Addition to Criminal Prosecution?

There are several remedies and legal protections available for victims of domestic violence in Washington. These may include:

  • Address Confidentiality Program (ACP): Victims can get a legal substitute address (usually a post office box) to use in place of their physical address; this address can be used whenever an address is required by public agencies. First class mail sent to the substitute address is forwarded to the victim's actual address.
  • Protective Orders: Victims of domestic violence can apply for a protection from abuse such as domestic violence protection orders, no-contact orders, and civil anti-harassment protection orders.
  • Civil lawsuit : The victim may file a civil lawsuit to recover losses and expenses such as medical bills or pain and suffering damages
  • Custody/child or spousal support orders : These may be modified to prevent any further incidence of violence between spouses, children, or other persons

The following table highlights the main provisions of Washington's domestic violence laws. See How to Stop Domestic Violence and Filing a Domestic Violence Lawsuit for more information.

Code Sections RCW 10.99.020 et seq. RCW 26.50.010
What Protections are Available?

Civil and criminal

Definition of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence means a) physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault, between family or household members; (b) sexual assault of one family or household member by another; or (c) stalking of one family or household member by another family or household member

Family/Household Member Definition
  • Spouses and former spouses
  • Parents of a child
  • Adults related by blood or marriage
  • Adults who are presently residing together or who have resided together in the past
  • Persons 16 years of age or older who are presently residing together or who have resided together in the past and who have or have had a dating relationship
  • Persons 16 years of age or older who have or have had a dating relationship
  • Persons with a biological or legal parent-child relationship, such as stepparents or grandparents.
Penalties

Domestic violence offenses are either misdemeanors, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, or gross misdemeanors, punishable by up to 365 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. Felony domestic violence offenses are punishable by more than one year in jail.

Firearms Restrictions

A person who has been convicted of a domestic violence assault cannot possess a firearm or get a concealed weapons permit in the State of Washington. Violation of this provision is a felony.

Resources

Because domestic laws can sometimes get complicated, it may also be a good idea to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney if you have questions about your specific situation.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.