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 HG.org Related to Domestic Violence
- Pennsylvania Divorce Proceedings with Visitation RightsWhen one spouse divorces the other in Pennsylvania, it is important to know what visitation rights are available to the parent without primary or full custody of affected children. Often the father is the one seeking visitation to see his kids and knowing what his rights in these matters and may provide him with the means to engage in parental activities.
- DYFS Investigation Dismissed - Can It Be Expunged?When the departments attached to family services launch an investigation, the family is put into a file with all necessary and included details pertaining to the case. If a Department of Family and Youth Services for child and family protection retains this information even if the investigation is no longer valid or dismissed in most cases.
- Minnesota's Order for Protection (OFP)Understanding the Order for Protection (OFP) and your rights can be critical to your future.
- Texas Child Support Modification and Enforcement: Answers to FAQsIn Texas, there are strict limits on when parents can petition for a modification of child support. There are also strict penalties for violating child support orders. Learn what you need to know if you cannot meet your child support obligations or if your former spouse is refusing to pay.
- What Does the OPM Have to Do with My Divorce?Retirement from government work may lead to complications with the division of assets when a federal employee divorces his or her spouse. It is vital for the worker to know how his or her retirement benefits and accounts could face such deductions from a former spouse after reaching and progressing through retirement.
- What Is an Income Cap Trust?Income caps affect the elderly and other individuals seeking Medicaid for long-term assistance, and when the older person needs an income cap trust, this could affect the situation with children or other guardians. Those seeking to help an elderly individual in need of long-term care may need to satisfy the state conditions to do so for him or her.
- Will My Ex Have Rights to My Government Benefits?When a military veteran enters retirement, his or her retirement accounts and benefits may face divisions for any ex-spouses attached to the situation. It is important to understand how this affects the former military service member and how much he or she will need to give to the other person as marital property.
- USFSPA: Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection ActThe intention of Congress in 1982 in creating the USFSPA was to ensure that former spouses of military members receive financial protection after the marriage is over. This Act could protect the former spouse through divisions in military retirement pay in becoming marital property when the couple dissolve the relationship.
- Disabled Military Retirees May Pay Less to Ex-Spouses - U.S. Supreme Court RulesChanges in regulations for various types of pay and compensation reduce or increase often based on the rulings that occur through district and supreme courts. In the newest ruling, the amounts that military retired service members pay to spouses that divorced prior to or during retirement may decrease to support the veteran more and the ex-spouse less.
- Problems Involved with Hiding Assets during a Pennsylvania DivorceDuring divorce, spouses may try to protect their assets from division by hiding them from the other spouse. This may be easier if the spouse has handled the couple’s finances for most of the marriage and the other spouse is unaware of the true extent of the marital estate. However, hiding assets during the divorce process can lead to significant consequences to all parties involved.
- 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.
Domestic Violence - International
Organizations Related to Domestic Violence
- National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women
- Battered Women's Justice Project
- Child Welfare Information Gateway - Domestic Violence Services
- Domestic Violence Institute (DVI)
- Futures Without Violence
- National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence (NCDSV)
- National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life - NCALL
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
- National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- National Network to End Domestic Violence
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence