Domestic abuse, which may also be referred to as domestic violence, refers, in general, to violence between adults, especially between two spouses. Domestic abuse may be psychological, such as threats or degrading language, or physical.

In the majority of states, domestic abuse refers to any conduct which causes or threatens to cause injury between certain individuals, including:

  • Family members;
  • Spouses; and
  • Residents of the same household.

Child abuse is often excluded from the definition of domestic abuse. This is because it is considered its own category.

Any type of violence against a family member, however, is treated seriously and will be punished very strictly under federal laws and state laws.

Who May be a Victim of Domestic Abuse?

In the traditional sense, domestic abuse was thought of as well as defined as a crime which was committed by one spouse against the other spouse. Currently, the law recognizes that an act of abuse can be perpetrated by one individual against a variety of other individuals but still requires that the individuals are part of the same household.

Pursuant to the laws, victims of abuse may include individuals such as:

  • Spouses;
  • Ex-spouses;
  • Partners;
  • Individuals who cohabit, or live together without being married;
  • Family members; and
  • children.

An individual cannot be a victim of domestic violence if they were abused or attacked by their neighbors, as they do not reside in the same home.

What Are the Legal Consequences of Domestic Abuse?

A domestic abuse case often involves numerous criminal charges, including:

  • Assault;
  • Battery;
  • Sexual assault; and
  • Rape.

If criminal charges are brought against an offender, it may result in criminal penalties, including jail time or a prison sentence, as well as monetary criminal fines.

In addition to these criminal penalties, a defendant who is found guilty of domestic abuse may face additional legal consequences, including:

  • Damages: The defendant may have to pay monetary damages to cover the financial losses of the victim, including hospital bills or pain and suffering;
  • Restraining orders: A court can issue a domestic abuse injunction such as a temporary or permanent restraining order. This will require the defendant to stay a certain distance from the victim and may prohibit them from communicating with the victim;
  • Rehabilitation courses: A court can also require the defendant to attend mandatory rehabilitation courses, such as anger management classes;
  • Custodial rights: The defendant may lose their rights to child visitation or custody. This is true even if the charges involved spousal abuse, since courts aim to protect children from being exposed to violence; and
  • Loss of various rights: Serious instances of domestic abuse can even result in the loss of various rights, such as the right to own a firearm as well as the right to have a driver’s license.

When is Domestic Violence Considered a Felony?

Domestic violence may refer to a single act or repeated acts of abuse which occur within a home setting, as noted above. Domestic violence is an issue which may be raised in criminal or civil cases.

For example, domestic violence issues may arise during family law proceedings, including:

  • Divorce;
  • Legal separation; or
  • Child custody.

These matters are typically decided in a civil court in a case brought by private parties. Domestic violence may also lead to criminal charges.

The government or the state will be the party that raises the issue and files the action against the defendant. Domestic violence may become a criminal matter if the defendant’s violent acts result in instances of assault and battery, both of which are criminal offenses.

The more times a defendant is charged or convicted with these types of offense, the more likely it is that their actions will lead to a felony charge.

In addition, felony charges may be filed if one or more of the following factors is present during the incident:

  • Use of a weapon;
  • Severe bodily harm or death;
  • Ongoing patterns of abuse;
  • If alcohol or drugs were involved;
  • If the defendant violated a restraining order;
  • If a child or minor witnessed the abusive conduct; or
  • The defendant is a repeat offender.

How Does Domestic Abuse Affect the Victim?

Domestic abuse may also result in various legal consequences for the victim or victims. One single instance of domestic abuse can often have dramatic effects on the lives of the individuals who were involved in the incident.

In some cases, the assistance of an attorney may be required to help the victim deal with the legal issues which may result following a domestic abuse incident. One of the main consequences of a domestic abuse incident may be a change in child custody and visitation orders.

A defendant may lose their child custody rights, as the defendant may be prohibited from visiting the child. Although this is often done for the protection of the child, it also means that the child will not be permitted to contact their parent for a period of time, or even permanently.

Domestic abuse also often results in severe emotional trauma for a victim in addition to any witnesses to the violent incident. A court may recommend that a victim or a witness seek counseling or rehabilitation for any issues that arise as a result of the incident.

What is an Injunction?

An injunction is a court order which specifically orders an individual to cease a specific practice that they are engaging in. an injunction is used in a variety of was in order to prevent:

  • The construction of buildings;
  • The printing of newspaper articles;
  • Instances of domestic violence cases; and
  • Other actions.

An injunction may be used to prevent an injustice that may occur if the specific act is continued.

What Can Occur when an Individual does not Follow an Injunction?

A court order has the full force of the law and should always be obeyed. Therefore, when a court issues an injunction to halt a specific practice, it should immediately be complied with.

A failure to follow an injunction order will lead to an individual being held in contempt of court. There are numerous possible legal consequences of being held in contempt of court, including:

  • Jail time;
  • Community service; and
  • Large fines.

How Can I Obtain an Injunction?

An individual who wishes to obtain an injunction may go to a courthouse and request that a particular action be stopped immediately. The court will hear the arguments of both sides of the issue and make a determination.

In the majority of cases, the individual seeking to obtain an injunction will be required to provide a bond.

What if I Do not Agree with an Injunction?

If a party does not agree with a court’s decision to impose an injunction may file a cause of action in court. An injunction may be appealed to a higher court.

However, in most cases, injunctions are binding unless they are specifically overruled by a higher court. Typically, a temporary injunction will be enforced until a trial can be held which will determine whether an injunction should become permanent.

Should I Contact an Attorney?

If you are considering obtaining a domestic abuse injunction, it may be helpful to consult with a family lawyer. If you are a victim of domestic abuse, your lawyer can assist you through the process and provide support.

Your lawyer can also help ensure that the injunction is permanent, if needed. If you are a defendant who an injunction has been filed against, an attorney can assist you with bringing a lawsuit to terminate the injunction.