I've worked with domestic violence cases for 20 years. The first thing anyone who deals with these cases has to say to anyone involved is, trust your gut. If you feel unsafe, leave. There are resources. You will be okay. No one else understands your situation as well as you do. Do whatever you need to do to stay safe.
Because I've worked as a lawyer for 12 years and volunteered with domestic violence cases for about 20 years, I also have to say that domestic violence is, quite bluntly, a hugely expensive and stressful type of divorce. You might not want to continue in litigation if you or your ex have a domestic violence protection order around the time of your divorce. A domestic violence protection order will not change your child support - support is mostly separate from time in Washington State. But a DVPO will require you and your ex to pay hourly fees that add up quickly. Many divorces involving a DVPO reach six figures in fees, or more.
The fees add up quickly because a protection order requires additional safeguards and more formal communication. In a non-domestic violence case, to arrange visits, you and your ex decide on a date, you exchange texts or messages, and that's it. If one of you have a domestic violence protection order, you can't communicate with each other. You will usually be required to go through your lawyers. So you're each paying a professional several hundred dollars an hour to set up something you could normally do yourself.
A protection order also requires more process. If one or both parents has a DVPO against the other parent (a situation involving known child abuse is different), then likely "section 191" restrictions will apply to visits, which may be supervised by an agency (that you pay). Parent communication might be overseen by a coordinator (that you pay). Parents may have to attend programs or classes. And, most expensive, a GAL or child custody evaluator, or parent coordinator will be required to write a report. These reports cost at least five figures and have been known to cost more than $100,000, depending on how many people need to be interviewed. If you try to tell your lawyer that you can't afford this, your lawyer is going to tell you to borrow from parents, put it on a credit card, or cash out a retirement fund. Lawyers know that parents will find a way to pay the fees. If not, the lawyer will withdraw and the parent will be at a disadvantage.
After all that, the judge will take the GAL or evaluator's report and essentially cut and paste the recommendation from the report into all future paperwork for the parents to follow. A parent can complain about the report if they disagree. But it's rare to have a complaint honored. The standard for a valid complaint requires the GAL or evaluator to be unfit or unqualified, which is a high burden. Disagreeing over the opinions expressed in the report rarely leads to censure for the evaluator, and can cause the parent who complains to lose credibility with the judge.
In Washington state, because of the way the laws work, most parents with a DVPO will still end up with roughly the same time with their children and child support payments that they would have without the DVPO. A DVPO will not convince your ex partner to follow the CDC recommendations, respect your children's bedtimes, or control their angry outbursts. The court really doesn't have much sway. You still have to do that for yourself, on your own.
Because a DVPO likely will not change your child support or your parenting plan schedule for time with your children, some parents find it easier to skip the high court costs and get professional help before they file for divorce. Washington court paperwork can be adjusted so that each parent will follow the recommendation of a therapist or other professional whenever there is a dispute. The parents can negotiate together, without conflict and without the stress of litigation. Many domestic violence cases are unsuitable for traditional mediation - it's hard to have a respectful conversation if one person believes that threats of violence are acceptable means of persuading the other person. Some domestic violence cases, however, can be settled out of court, with the help of professionals.
Only you know what your relationship really needs. Some people appreciate the insight from the lengthy report prepared by a GAL. Some people should never talk to the other parent (although it is incredibly rare for a child to be prevented from seeing their parent in Washington). If you think your situation might be best handled outside of court, feel free to give us a call. We can arrange a private process under the supervision of professionals - call 206-747-3029