Find the right lawyer now

Spousal Abuse Laws

Find a Local Family Lawyer near You

What is Spousal Abuse?

Spousal abuse is generally defined as any abusive conduct between intimate partners who are married, dating, or residing in the same residence.  It can refer to single instances of abuse, although it usually refers to a pattern of repeated or cyclical abuse over time.  Patterns of spousal abuse are particularly damaging, since they can cause much physical and emotional harm over time.   

The term “spousal abuse” is often used interchangeably with other related terms such as domestic violence, domestic abuse, family violence, or intimate partner violence (IPV).  However, the term “domestic violence” is broader and may include abuse between other family members such, as parental abuse of children. 

On the other hand, spousal abuse refers specifically to violence between two adults who interact in an intimate way- many laws also cover couples who aren’t married.  Thus, spousal abuse can refer to abuse that occurs between married persons, person who are dating, or persons who are involved in same-sex relationships. 

What Type of Conduct is Considered to be Spousal Abuse?

A wide range of behaviors may be classified under spousal abuse according to both criminal and family law definitions.  The majority of spousal abuse cases involve some form of physical violence committed by one spouse against the other spouse such as rape.  However, spousal abuse can also involve the following types of conduct:

  • Emotional or mental abuse
  • Verbal abuse (such as threats of physical harm, intimidating language, or degrading language)
  • “Economic abuse”- this may include acts such as withholding basic living expenses, or failing to provide necessities such as food, clothing or shelter

Many spousal abuse cases can involve one or more of these types of conduct, especially if the abuse is an ongoing problem. 

Also, one major concern with spousal abuse is that it often goes unreported.  This is because many victims may be hesitant to have their spouse or partner involved with legal authorities.  Or, an abusive spouse may often threaten their partner with further harm if they file a report with the police.  Legal intervention may become necessary in serious cases. 

What are the Legal Consequences for Spousal Abuse?

The most immediate remedy for spousal abuse is a domestic abuse injunction.  This is a court order instructing the offender to stay a certain distance away from the victim, and may either be temporary or permanent. 

A person who is found guilty of spousal abuse can also face a number of serious legal consequences, which can include the following:

Criminal Charges

Many spousal abuse cases involve other criminal violations, such as assault and battery.  Some jurisidictions consider violence committed by a man against a woman as a felony (i.e., “aggravated assault and battery”).  Criminal charges can result in fines, and/or incarceration

Civil Lawsuit:

A victim of spousal abuse may often file a civil lawsuit against their partner for damages.  The offender may be required to pay costs such as hospital/counseling fees, pain and suffering damages, and attorney’s fees

Other Consequences: 

Spousal abuse charges can also have many other negative consequences, such as a loss of child custody/visitation privileges, and other rights such as the right to drive a motor vehicle.  Spousal abuse can also lead to instances of divorce

The legal consequences of spousal abuse may vary according to the specific laws of each state.  Also, a judge may order penalties as they deem necessary.  In general, spousal abuse cases are treated very seriously and can result in strict penalties, in order to protect the victim from abuses in the future. 

How Can a Lawyer Help with Spousal Abuse Cases?

If you have been a victim of spousal abuse, you may wish to contact a lawyer for legal advice.  An experienced family lawyer can help determine if legal action is necessary, and they can help represent you in court.  In fact, in some spousal abuse cases, a lawyer may actually be necessary, especially if criminal charges are involved. 

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 02-20-2018 09:28 PM PST

Law Library Disclaimer
  • No fee to present your case
  • Choose from lawyers in your area
  • A 100% confidential service
What is LegalMatch?

We've helped more than 4 million clients find the right lawyer – for free. Present your case online in minutes. LegalMatch matches you to pre-screened lawyers in your city or county based on the specifics of your case. Within 24 hours experienced local lawyers review it and evaluate if you have a solid case. If so, attorneys respond with an offer to represent you that includes a full attorney profile with details on their fee structure, background, and ratings by other LegalMatch users so you can decide if they're the right lawyer for you.