If a person engages in violent or abusive behavior designed to control a person they have a close relationship with, such as a family member or a romantic partner, it may be considered domestic violence. Domestic violence is a very serious crime. Approximately one-third of all female murder victims are killed by an intimate partner (or former partner).1
If you are hurt or feel you are in danger, call 911 immediately for assistance. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline anytime at their 24-hour hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Those convicted of domestic violence crime(s) can face very severe consequences, including jail time, anger management counseling, a presumption against custody, criminal record, civil lawsuit and more. For help and advice with domestic violence legal issues, contact a family lawyer or divorce lawyer.
What Is Domestic Violence?
The American Bar Association defines domestic violence as "a pattern of behavior in which one intimate partner uses physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation or emotional, sexual or economic abuse to control the other partner in the relationship."
Unfortunately, domestic violence is rarely an isolated incident and the abuse often escalates over time. Examples of domestic violence include:
- Destroying property
- Isolating the victim from friends and family
- Physical violence (hitting, punching, etc.)
- Creating work disturbances
- Making harassing telephone calls
- Stalking (including cyberstalking)
- Withholding access to money
- Threatening to take the victim's children away
- Marital rape
- Making demeaning comments
Though domestic violence has traditionally referred to abuse between husband and wife, it is not limited to spouses, or even live-in partners and dating relationships. Familial, elder and child abuse may all be present in domestic violence cases.
In order to issue a protective order, the court will usually require proof of abuse. In some cases, a sworn statement may be enough to get a protective order. Evidence including police reports, medical/hospital records, and photographs (of injuries and damages) should be obtained whenever possible.
Protective orders vary depending on the situation but generally require the accused to comply with one or more of the following:
- Stop the abuse (including hurting or threatening the victim)
- "Stay away" (from the victim and the victim's home, workplace, school, etc.)
- Cease all contact (e.g., no phone, notes, texts, mail, email or delivery of flowers or gifts)
- Attend counseling
- Surrender firearms
- Any other needs specific to the situation (e.g., move out of home, changes to custody, support and visitation provisions)
If the order is violated, the police can help with enforcement of issues requiring immediate attention (e.g., showing up at the victim's home). In court, the judge may order jail time, fines and other punishments for violating a protective order. The violation can also be grounds to extend the order for a longer period of time. If you need a protective order, or if you have been served with an order, it is best to contact a family lawyer right away.
Domestic Violence in the Courts
Protective orders are usually the first legal action taken in a domestic violence case. Depending on the facts and circumstances, criminal, civil and family law courts all may play a role in a domestic violence case.
Criminal Charges. Depending on the state and the specifics of the case, a person accused of domestic abuse may be charged with violating domestic violence laws and/or other crimes if he or she engages in one or more of the following:
- Assault (including sexual assault and rape)
- Threats (or menacing)
- Child endangerment
- Criminal coercion
- Contempt (e.g., violating a protective order)
- Child abuse
- Unlawful imprisonment
- Stalking (see sidebar)
Additionally, under certain circumstances (e.g., when there are guns involved or when crimes were committed across state lines) the defendant may be charged under federal domestic violence statutes.
Civil Lawsuits. A person who is a victim of domestic violence may be able to bring a personal injury lawsuit against the abuser. The exact laws vary by state, but most include compensation for the following types of damages:
- Physical injuries (e.g., medical expenses)
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Lost (past and future) tuition and/or wages
- Punitive damages (punishment)
- Wrongful death (for survivors)
Time limits restrict the amount of time you have to file a personal injury lawsuit, so it is important to speak to an attorney as soon as possible.
Family Court. All too often, domestic violence is uncovered during divorce and child custody proceedings. Studies have suggested as many as half of all custody cases involve domestic violence. Domestic violence against a partner, child or other household member often means the offender will lose custody (but may be allowed supervised visitation) unless and until the abuser successfully completes a treatment program and/or other court mandates. To learn more about domestic violence in the family court, speak to an attorney.
Domestic Violence Lawyer
Whether you have been accused of domestic violence or are a victim of domestic violence it is a potentially dangerous and serious matter. If you or someone you know is in a situation that may involve domestic violence, seek assistance from the authorities and experienced legal counsel immediately.
1 Bureau of Justice Statistics
2 Bureau of Justice Statistics: Stalking Victimization in the United States
3 J. Macfarlane et al. "Stalking and Intimate Partner Femicide," Homicide Studies: 3:4 (1999)
If a child's parents both have a history of domestic violence, a court may award custody of that child to a third party.