December 2013 Bar Bulletin
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December 2013 Bar Bulletin

Modifying Domestic Violence Protection Orders under Amended RCW 26.50.130

By Kim Schnuelle


Frank, a 29-year-old potential client, comes to you full of hope for the future. When he was 19 years old, he married Rebecca. Their union was an acrimonious one, punctuated by acts of violence by Frank against his wife. He had broken doors, smashed plates, threatened her with great harm and once broke two of her fingers.

Rebecca fled the marriage after six months, filed for divorce and received a 40-year protection order against Frank at trial. Frank never had any contact with Rebecca after final orders were entered, although he heard through mutual friends that that she moved to Rhode Island several years ago.

While he was never in trouble again with the legal system, Frank continued to spiral downward after the divorce. He was seriously depressed, but never contemplated ending his life. Two years after the divorce, he reached bottom and finally acknowledged his serious alcohol problem. He entered inpatient treatment eight years ago and has been clean and sober since that time.

Upon reaching sobriety, he realized the full scope of his abusive past and started attending Batterers Anonymous meetings at his local church and he continues to attend these meetings once a week. He has since remarried and is the father of young, twin girls. With the encouragement of his wife, he went back to college and graduated with high honors, receiving a B.A. in finance.

He was just promoted at work and his new position will require international travel. He is very concerned that his 10-year-old domestic violence protection order could hinder his international travel and thus put his employment at risk. What can you do to assist Frank in continuing to reclaim his life?

Marriage of Freeman

Motions to modify or terminate a protection order are governed by RCW 26.50.130. Until recently, the seminal case governing such actions was Marriage of Freeman.1 In Freeman, the respondent moved to terminate an eight-year-old permanent protection order after his left hand was amputated, forcing a career change.

In his petition, Freeman argued that the permanent protection order barred him from obtaining the necessary security clearance from his new employer and thus hindered his employment possibilities. He had left Washington for Missouri approximately a year after the entry of the protection order, had made no contact with the petitioner since its entry, and had no criminal record.

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