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Domestic Abuse vs. Domestic Violence: Is There a Difference?

In life, we often use multiple words to mean the same thing. People might say they were “robbed” when they were really “burgled.” Someone might talk about “abuse” when they mean “violence.”

Legally, it’s important to use a word’s specific definition. “Robbery,” for instance, means that someone directly took your property from you by force.

Similarly, “domestic violence” and “domestic abuse” are legally distinct. Each has its own standard, and they can have different outcomes. If you are going through a divorce, and you’ve suffered at the hands of an abusive partner, you should be clear on the differences between the two terms.

Defining Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a crime by itself. It involves a direct, violent act between two people.

Domestic violence can happen between:

  • Close relatives, even if they are estranged
  • Housemates, even if they have no relationship outside the home
  • Romantic partners, even if they just started dating or haven’t seen one another in years

Many crimes in California are called “wobblers.” This means the court can charge them as either misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the circumstances.

If someone is convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence in the state, they can serve up to 1 year in jail and pay fines as high as $2,000.

The crime can be elevated to a felony if:

  • It involves sexual assault
  • The victim is seriously injured
  • The offender has prior convictions

Felony domestic violence can result in up to 5 years in prison with fines up to $10,000.

Defining Domestic Abuse

Legally, the term “domestic abuse” is nebulous.

Certain abusive acts may be illegal, but they don’t neatly fall into a “domestic” category. For example, imagine one partner who won’t allow the other to leave the home. This crime could be charged as “kidnapping” or “unlawful imprisonment.” It wouldn’t necessarily be a criminal example of “domestic abuse.”

Domestic abuse, however, is recognized by a family court. A spouse can bring these matters before the judge. This abuse could include repeated threats, belittlement, being locked in the home, being separated from friends and family, and so on.

Proof of domestic abuse can change the outcome of a divorce, including:

  • Child Custody
    Custody is always based on the best interests of the kids. When the children have been exposed to domestic abuse, even as passive witnesses, this will affect custody. The court may remove the abuser’s custody rights altogether or force them to endure supervised visits. The abusive parent can regain their rights only by completing special programs and proving that they’ve changed.
  • Spousal Support
    Generally, alimony is based on the incomes and needs of both spouses. The court doesn’t want to overburden the payor, and it also wants the receiver to stay financially healthy. Abusive marriages, however, could result in the victim receiving a greater amount of support. In this way, the family court can act like a civil court, compensating an injured party with money.
  • Property Division
    California operates under the “community property” system. This model attempts to give each spouse 50% of the overall marital property. Victims of domestic abuse, however, could receive more property.
  • Restraining Orders
    The court may believe that the abuser is an imminent threat and cut off their access to the home, former spouse, kids, and so on. Restraining orders can be temporary or permanent, and to have one removed, the accused must prove that they are no longer a threat.

If you’ve suffered domestic abuse during your marriage, The Law Office of David A. Martin & Associates is here to help. We can represent you in court and help make sure you are protected after the marriage ends. For a free consultation, call us today at (916) 299-3936 or contact us online.