How the Legal System Defines Domestic Violence

What is domestic violence, specifically? Put broadly, it is a violent act against someone with whom you have an intimate relationship, such as a current or former spouse/partner, or someone with whom you share a child. But it can be more complicated than that. How the law defines domestic violence, and what penalties such a charge may carry, can vary in the details from state to state.

The particulars of South Carolina law regarding domestic violence are very detailed, but provide an explanation and definition of the types of infractions and penalties one may face when charged with domestic violence. If you are charged with domestic violence, it is important to make a good faith effort to understand these laws in order to understand exactly what constitutes domestic violence and what penalties you may face, as domestic violence charges can be a misdemeanor or a felony.


“Domestic” refers to the living situation. In South Carolina, domestic violence to a “household member” includes harm to a spouse, former spouse, persons who have a child/children in common, or a couple who are currently cohabiting or formerly have cohabited. That last bit is important, because even if you no longer live together, if you used to live with the victim, you can be charged with domestic violence.


A very important detail of domestic violence laws is that it not only includes causing harm to a current or former domestic partner, but it also includes an offer or attempt to commit harm: for example, threatening to kill someone, or a similar act that creates “fear of imminent peril.” This is a perfect example of the detail of the law that is best handled by an experienced domestic violence lawyer. What constitutes a real or perceived threat can vary from person to person and situation to situation.


There are a number of degrees and circumstances at play that determine what someone may be charged with. A first degree felony for example, includes harm, threat, or attempt to cause harm resulting in “great bodily injury” to a domestic partner, with a list of accompanying potential circumstances that may act to enhance an otherwise lesser degree of domestic violence: for example, if you violate a protection order and in the process of violating, commit a domestic violence in the second degree, if you have two or more prior convictions for domestic violence within the last 10 years, or if a firearm is used in the commission of a domestic violence crime. This felony charge can carry a penalty of 10 years.

Domestic violence in the second degree, a lesser, misdemeanor offense, includes harm or attempt to harm with an additional set of complicating circumstances, and resulting in “moderate” bodily injury. This is a misdemeanor and can result in fines ($2,500-5,000) and/or a prison sentence of up to three years.

Domestic violence in the third degree means yet another set of specific circumstances, and is a misdemeanor that includes fines ($1,000-$2,500) and/or up to 90 days in prison, along with mandatory counseling.

The most serious domestic violence charge in South Carolina is Domestic Violence of a High and Aggravated Nature (DHVAN), which includes an “extreme indifference” to the life of the victim, with a number of potentially complicating circumstances. For example, these charges include assault with a deadly weapon, choking or suffocation, and other circumstances previously mentioned in other charges, such as assault in the presence of a minor.

Then there are assault and battery charges, which also exist in varying degrees. It is possible, for example, that you could be charged with domestic violence in the second degree; but if the person is not actually a “domestic” partner, you may instead be convicted of assault and battery in the second degree, which is a lesser offense. Put simply, it is more serious to assault or attempt to harm someone you live with, or used to live with.

Domestic violence charges can mean a lifetime of repercussions and limitations on your rights. For example, ANY conviction of any degree of domestic violence charges means you can no longer possess a firearm.


Domestic violence victims have the right to fair treatment under the South Carolina Constitution, including freedom from harassment and the right to obtain information about the defendant’s case, including when the aggressor has been arrested or released from custody. They may also be eligible for reimbursement of medical costs incurred as a result of the DV actions against them.

Here are some resources for South Carolina domestic violence victims:

• The SCCADVASA (South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault) is a state-wide group comprised of different organizations which provides services to victims of domestic and sexual violence through advocacy, collaboration, education and prevention.

• National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1.800.799.SAFE (7233).

• National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1.800.656.HOPE (4673).

• National Center for Victims of Crime: 1-855-4-VICTIM (1-855-484-2846).

Talk with an experienced lawyer to learn about your rights and options under the law.

Firm's Profile & Articles By The Leventis Law Firm, LLC, South Carolina
Law Firm Website:
Joe aggressively seeks justice for his clients and is a tireless student of the law, leaving no stone unturned in his research and understanding of relevant case law that he can bring to bear in defending criminal clients and achieving a successful outcome for those with civil claims. He takes pride in finding solutions to complex problems and is passionate in his quest for justice for every client.

Copyright The Leventis Law Firm, LLC

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

Find a Lawyer