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Defining Domestic Violence

Imagine two strangers get into a bar fight. After the dust settles, they face legal consequences. Their actions are illegal, and they will be charged accordingly. Most likely, they will face assault charges, battery charges, or some combination of the two. This criminal behavior is violent, but it is not domestic. Even if one of the two parties tracks down the other for revenge, the familiarity between the two does not make the charge “domestic.”

Domestic violence resides within its own legal category. As a crime, it carries specific charges and penalties. It also carries unique consequences in family law. Domestic violence takes place between people who share a close relationship. The law views the closeness of the abuser and victim as adding a layer of trauma to the event, and it treats the crime accordingly.

Family Members

Domestic violence takes place between relatives. This can be siblings, spouses, parents, children, and so on. Any person in this relationship chain can be responsible for domestic violence. Teenagers, for example, can be guilty of abusing their parents.

Distance and residence are not factors in domestic violence between relatives. You do not need to live with your relative to be guilty of this offense. You could, theoretically, get into a fight with your brother while visiting another state for family vacation, and you could be charged with domestic violence.

Romantic Partners

People in involved, romantic relationships can be guilty of domestic violence. It takes place between boyfriends/girlfriends, spouses, same-sex couples, fiancés, etc. The relationship could be over, and if violence occurs, the law can classify it as domestic. Ex-boyfriends, former wives, and more can commit domestic violence if the abuse is directed toward the former partner. Technically, if violence occurred between people engaged in an extramarital affair, it could be classified as domestic. You could have been living apart from the other person for years with little to no contact, but if violence breaks out, authorities can classify it as domestic.


Relationships are a large part of domestic violence accusations, and so is residence. Anyone who lives with another person could be guilty of domestic violence. Roommates can have little to no contact outside the home. They may not even consider themselves friends, but if one of them harms the other, it could be viewed as an act of domestic violence.

Domestic Violence vs. Domestic Abuse

Legally speaking, violence involves direct, physical harm. Scratching, kicking, punching, bludgeoning, and so forth is violence, legally named “battery”. Sometimes illegal, violent acts do not involve direct harm. The law usually considers these actions “assault.” Spitting at someone, charging at them, yelling in their face, threatening them, etc., are forms of assault. Assault is often charged and penalized the same as battery. Violent acts are always illegal, but when relationships and residences are involved, they are categorized as “domestic.”

Abuse, as a legal term, is fuzzier. Criminally, few behaviors are classified as “abuse.” Abusive acts normally stand alone as separate crimes. Stalking, for example, is charged as its own crime. If you were stalked by someone who also harassed you online, that harassment charge would be separated as its own allegation. This means your abuser would be charged with two separate crimes, each with its own class and penalties. These crimes would not be legally grouped together as “abuse.”

Abusive behaviors can, however, be grouped together in family law. Abuse can include imprisoning someone in the home, cutting off contact with their friends, controlling their finances, and worse. Some of these behaviors may not technically be illegal. In the context of a marriage, however, proof of such behaviors can alter the outcome of a divorce.

Consequences for Domestic Violence and Abuse

Arrests and Convictions

As detailed above, there can be criminal penalties for someone who commits domestic violence. They could face jail or prison time, and they can be fined large sums of money. If you have been physically harmed by a romantic partner or housemate, call the police, and allow the criminal justice system to handle the matter.

Restraining Orders

Restraining orders are designed to keep an abuser away from you for fear of immediate legal consequences. These orders prohibit behaviors that are already illegal, such as threatening someone. Restraining orders apply an extra layer of protection to abuse victims. Instead of accusing someone of assault, you can alert the authorities that this person violated the restraining order. This gives police the option to take action more swiftly, charging the abuser with violation of the order rather than going through the process of charging them with assault.

Some restraining orders are designed specifically for victims of domestic violence and abuse. They can remove your abuser from the family home and keep them away from your work, school, and so on. If you are under immediate threat, you can get an emergency protective order. This fast-tracked order immediately keeps your abuser away temporarily, giving you time to collect evidence to file a more permanent order. If necessary, you can be granted a permanent restraining order that keeps your abuser away for years and can be renewed as necessary.

Divorce Decisions

If you can prove to the courts that you were abused in your marriage, they can penalize your spouse by compensating you. You may be entitled to a greater portion of property division. Courts could order that you receive a higher percentage of spousal support as well.

Abuse and violence can affect access to children. If the kids were victims of or witnesses to abuse, they may be entitled to a greater degree of child support. Depending on the threat your spouse poses to the children, they could have their access to the children greatly reduced. Visitation can be limited or even supervised. In extreme scenarios, they could be blocked from seeing the children altogether or even have their parental rights removed.

If you are experiencing any form of domestic abuse or violence, we want to help. Please contact us today for a free consultation. We may be able to help you secure a restraining order, and we can help you begin the divorce process. You can reach us by calling (916) 299-3936 or filling out an online contact form.