Domestic abuse, or domestic violence, generally refers to violence between adults, especially between spouses. Domestic abuse can be either physical or psychological (i.e., threats, degrading language). In most states, the term domestic abuse refers to any conduct that causes or threatens to cause injury between:

  • Family members
  • Spouses
  • Residents of the same household

Child abuse is sometimes excluded from the term domestic abuse, as this is considered its own category. However, any form of violence against a family member is treated seriously and is punished very strictly under state and federal laws.

What Are the Legal Consequences of Domestic Abuse?

Domestic abuse cases often involve a number of criminal charges, including assault, battery, sexual assault, and rape. If criminal charges are brought against the offender, it can result in criminal penalties such as a jail or prison sentence, as well as monetary fines. 

In addition to criminal penalties, person who is found guilty of domestic abuse may also face other legal consequences, such as:

  • Damages: The defendant may have to pay monetary damages to cover the financial losses of the victim (such as hospital bills or pain and suffering)
  • Restraining orders: A judge can issue a domestic abuse injunction such as a temporary or permanent restraining order. These can require the defendant to stay a certain distance from the victim, and can prohibit communication with the victim
  • Rehabilitation courses: A judge 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 custody and visitation. This is true even if the charges involved spousal abuse, since courts aim to protect children from being exposed to violence
  • 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, and the right to have a driver’s license

How Does Domestic Abuse Affect the Victim?

Domestic abuse can also result in various legal effects on the victim or victims. A single instance of domestic abuse can often have dramatic effects on the lives of those involved in the incident. The assistance of a lawyer may sometimes be required to help the victim deal with the legal issues that may result after a domestic abuse incident.      

One of the main effects is a change in child custody and visitation orders. The defendant may lose their child custody rights, and they may be prohibited from visiting the child. While this is often for the protection of the child, it also means that the child will not be able to contact their parent for some period of time, or even permanently.

Also, domestic abuse often results in the victims being relocated out of state or to a shelter home, again for the protection of the victim. This is common if the domestic abuse involves instances of harassment or stalking, or if the defendant has previously violated a restraining order. In some cases the defendant may be liable for the costs involved in physically relocating the victim.

Lastly, domestic abuse can often result in severe emotional trauma for the victim, as well as witnesses to the violent conduct. A judge may then recommend that the victim and/or witnesses attend counseling or rehabilitation sessions.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Domestic abuse is a very serious matter, and can have various legal effects on both the offender and the victims. Even witnesses may become legally involved in a domestic abuse case. Recurring instances of domestic abuse should be reported to authorities immediately. You may wish to contact an experienced family lawyer in your area if you are involved with or have been exposed to domestic abuse.