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What’s the Difference Between a Protection Order and a Restraining Order?

Washington law provides certain legal mechanisms to individuals concerned that they may become the target of violent, intimidating, or controlling behavior by someone else, often a family member or a significant other.

If you’ve been threatened with a protection or restraining order against you, it’s important to understand how these orders work, how they may affect your own rights and behavior, and what you can do to fight them in court.

Protection Order Basics

First, some people get confused about the terms “protection order” and “restraining order.” “Restraining order” is the general term. It is any temporary court order to a person or organization not to do something. Often the person filing suit will seek a temporary restraining order to freeze the status quo until the court has time to conduct a trial and make a full ruling on the merits of the lawsuit. For example, in a divorce case, a spouse may ask the court immediately to order that money not be taken out of joint accounts, or a child not be taken out of state, until the court has time to rule on property division and child custody.

In Washington law, a common form of restraining order is a “protection order.” These orders come in several varieties. Probably the most common is the domestic violence protection order (DVPO). Another kind that we see quite often at the Marshall Defense Firm is the sexual assault protection order (SAPO).

A DVPO can order you to:

  • not threaten or hurt the person who sought the order (known in court as “the petitioner”)
  • not enter the petitioner’s residence (even if it is also your normal residence)
  • give up custody of your children in favor of their other parent temporarily
  • obey a court-set schedule for visitation with your minor children
  • order you to leave a shared residence
  • grant the petitioner possession of essential personal effects
  • grant the petitioner use of a vehicle
  • order you to attend counseling

A protection order cannot:

  • order child support
  • order maintenance (alimony)
  • assign most property to either party
  • establish permanent child custody or use of the shared residence

When both a divorce and a protection order are sought at the same time, things get complicated fast. It’s especially important to consult an attorney in that situation.

Restraining Order Basics

Unlike protection orders, restraining orders can deal with:

  • property issues
  • child support
  • spousal support

In what circumstances might someone be able to get a domestic violence protection order?

To get a DVPO from a court, the petitioner must allege domestic violence has occurred and provide an affidavit stating the specific facts and circumstances of the situation. The judge then decides whether the affidavit does make a plausible showing of domestic violence. If it does, the judge will likely issue a temporary DVPO, good for two weeks.

How can the court keep me from seeing my family?

Unfortunately, sometimes protection orders have the effect of splitting up families for a time. This is because the court thinks that is necessary for the children’s safety.

It is important not to violate a protection order of any kind. Violating a protection order is a crime. A person reported to have violated one can be taken to jail immediately.

That’s why it is often a good idea to fight a petition for a protection order even if you have no desire to do the things you might be ordered not to do. If the court issues the order and the petitioner later reports you violated it, the police may not realize the report is false, or that any violation you committed was unintentional. You could go to jail before things get straightened out.

Don’t just concede a petition for a protection order against you—at least, not without consulting with an attorney about the particulars of your situation. At The Marshall Defense Firm, we have a long history of representing parents and other persons accused of child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault.  Please contact us now at 206.826.1400 or

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