Domestic Violence Law

What is Domestic Violence Law?

Domestic violence law provides the criminal rules for punishing those who cause emotional or physical harm to others with whom they share a family or other close relationship. It also deals with the civil protections available to victims of this type of harm. Federal legislation has been enacted making domestic violence a crime, most notably the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). However, the vast majority of domestic violence offenses are prosecuted under state law.

Convictions for domestic violence in all states require that the defendant’s conduct and relationship to the victim meet certain standards. The statutory provisions describing these aspects of the crime differ from state to state, but generally, both the conduct and the relationship are defined broadly.

For example, a typical state statute will prohibit any conduct that causes harm to the victim, or poses a threat of harm that puts the victim in immediate, realistic fear for his or her physical safety. Whether the conduct forms the basis for a misdemeanor or felony will depend on the severity of the harm done. As far as the necessary relationship between the defendant and the victim, any past or present family, household, or dating relationship will usually qualify.

Responding to Allegations of Domestic Violence

The first step after being accused of domestic violence is to obey the orders of the court. Regardless of the veracity of the allegations, the mere fact that they have been made creates a serious situation for the individual who faces criminal charges or a civil restraining order. In either case, the court will almost surely have imposed a condition preventing contact with the accuser. Violating this condition will result in jail time and it will make defending the merits of the case more difficult.

Obeying an initial no-contact order involves more than refraining from visiting the accuser in person. Indirect contact must also be avoided, and depending on the language of the order, this will likely include telephone calls, text messaging, email and social media, and contact through a mutual acquaintance or other third party. The safest course of action is to ignore the accuser completely, and contact an attorney for help.

Legal Options Following an Arrest

After speaking with an attorney and discussing the facts of the case, a defendant charged with domestic violence will begin to more fully understand the nature of the court proceeding and the options available. A criminal case can be resolved in two ways. The defendant can decide to fight the allegations by going to trial, or the defendant can enter a guilty or no contest plea in exchange for more lenient penalties than would otherwise be imposed.

Deciding which avenue to pursue will not be easy. On one hand, obtaining an acquittal at trial means the defendant walks out of the courtroom a free individual, vindicated in the eyes of the law. On the other hand, plea bargaining gets rid of the uncertainty of trial, and allows the defendant to avoid the harsh consequences of an unmitigated sentence. While an attorney can provide insight into the matter, ultimately the decision to plead or go to trial rests squarely with the defendant.

Of course, the strength of the evidence against the defendant plays a crucial role in the decision. Domestic violence cases often involve “he said, she said” evidence, making the accuser’s credibility highly relevant. Recorded statements by the accuser are also central to the case, since the prosecution can go forward even if the accuser recants or decides not to press charges. Medical examinations, video surveillance, and the testimony of law enforcement can also suggest what the outcome of a trial will be.

Civil Remedies against a Perpetrator

From the standpoint of a victim of domestic violence, personal safety is most important. In addition to contacting the police immediately and cooperating in the criminal prosecution of the offender, victims can pursue civil remedies designed to keep the victim and other family members safe. The most common form of protection is known as a restraining order. Restraining orders are available for victims of abuse in every state. They can be obtained without cost, and assistance with the court forms is available.

Restraining orders prohibit the abuser from coming within a specified distance of the victim. They can require the abuser to cease all contact, move out of the family home, and pay child or spousal support. Depending on the nature of the order, the judge can include provisions requiring the abuser to surrender firearms, undergo substance abuse counseling, and more. Restraining orders can be obtained on an emergency or long-term basis.

A Domestic Violence Attorney can Help

The consequences of domestic violence can have a significant and lasting impact on the lives of everyone involved. If you have suffered or been accused of committing this type of harm, you need an experienced advocate on your side. Contact a domestic violence attorney to learn more.


Know Your Rights!

Articles on Related to Domestic Violence

  • Modifications to an Ohio Divorce Decree
    The only constant in life is change, and changes in life circumstances and the lives of your children may warrant a post-decree modification of divorce orders.
  • Division of Business Ownership or Professional Practices in an Ohio Divorce
    How is the marital interest in a spouse’s closely-held business or professional practice established and divided during the course of a divorce or dissolution in Ohio? How do you protect the ongoing operations of the business or the professional practice while ensuring that a spouse receives appropriate compensation for their marital interest in the company or practice?
  • The Difference Between a Dissolution and a Contested Divorce in Ohio
    The two primary legal vehicles to bring a marriage to an end in Ohio are a “dissolution” and a “contested divorce.” The key difference between the two options lies in the resolution of all issues contained within the “Settlement Agreement.”
  • Can I Challenge Final Decision Making Authority?
    In Georgia, a judge can designate or parents can decide on which parent will have final decision making authority. This authority extends to certain important aspects of the child’s life.
  • Child Custody After Common Law Marriages
    Common law marriage used to be much more widely accepted than it is today. Today, only a handful of states recognize common law marriage. But, in those states that do, what is the process for child custody when the spouses separate?
  • In a Breakup, Who Gets Custody of the Dog?
    For many couples, a dog is just like a child. So, when a breakup or divorce happens, it can signal the beginning of a battle over custody of the dog. What does the law say? Who gets custody of the dog? Will a court even hear such a case?
  • Pet Custody: The Battle For Fido Rages On
    One of the more amorphous concepts in the family law arena is the treatment of a pet subsequent to divorce.
  • The Importance of a Prenuptial Agreement
    We live in a culture where marriages are not always “till death do us part.” Although most engaged couples imagine that their marriage will be a lifetime of shared bliss and cooperation with finances, the truth is that approximately 20 percent of marriages end within five years and more than 30 percent end within 10 years. This is why it is important to consider all possibilities for the future before you get married
  • Fighting for Your Rights in a Divorce When Your Spouse Has all of the Assets and You Have no Money
    Divorce is almost always a difficult time. Aside from the emotional toll of splitting with someone and the possible harm the fight could cause to your children, financial considerations can become enormous stressors. This is particularly true when one spouse has greater financial resources than the other. If this happens to you, what can you do to protect your rights despite the disparity in financial means?
  • Can I Get a Common Law Marriage License?
    When people get divorced, they may wonder about getting a common law marriage. They may be confused about the differences between traditional marriages and common marriages, especially concerning licenses.
  • All Family Law Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Family Law including: adoption, alimony, child support and custody, child visitation, collaborative law, divorce, domestic violence, elder law, juvenile crime, juvenile law, juvenile probation, paternity, pre-nuptial agreement, separation.

Domestic Violence - US

  • ABA - Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence

    The ABA Commission addresses the need to increase the number of well-trained and supported attorneys providing representation to victims by providing creative training opportunities for lawyers.

  • AEquitas - The Prosecutors' Resource on Violence Against Women

    AEquitas' mission is to improve the quality of justice in sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking cases by developing, evaluating, and refining prosecution practices that increase victim safety and offender accountability.

  • Domestic Violence - Overview

    Domestic Violence isn't just hitting, or fighting, or an occasional mean argument. It's a chronic abuse of power. The abuser tortures and controls the victim by calculated threats, intimidation, and physical violence. Actual physical violence is often the end result of months or years of intimidation and control.

  • Federal Domestic Violence Laws and the Enforcement of These Laws

    This legislation, called the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), recognized that "violence against women is a crime with far-reaching, harmful consequences for families, children and society" (Domestic and Sexual Violence Data Collection, A Report to Congress under the Violence Against Women Act, 1 [NIJ Research Report 1996]).

  • USDOJ - Office on Violence Against Women (OVW)

    The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), a component of the U.S. Department of Justice, provides national leadership in developing the nation's capacity to reduce violence against women through the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

  • Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 (VAWA)

    The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) is a United States federal law. It was passed as Title IV, sec. 40001-40703 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 HR 3355 and signed as Public Law 103-322 by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994.

Organizations Related to Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence - International

Find a Local Lawyer