Spousal Abuse Laws

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 What is Spousal Abuse?

Spousal abuse includes any type of abusive conduct which occurs between intimate partners who are:

  • Married;
  • Dating; or
  • Residing the same residence.

Spousal abuse may include one single instance of abuse. However, it typically refers to a pattern of repeated or cyclical abuse which occurs over time. The pattern of spousal abuse is particularly damaging because it can cause significant emotional and physical harm over time.

The term spousal abuse is often used interchangeably with other terms including:

  • Domestic violence;
  • Domestic abuse;
  • Family violence; or
  • Intimate partner violence (IPV).

The term domestic violence, however, is more broad and can also include violence or abuse between other family members, including the parental abuse of children. The term spousal abuse, on the other hand, refers to violence between two adults involved in an intimate relationship, such as couples who are not married. Therefore, spousal abuse may refer to abuse which occurs between:

  • Married couples;
  • Individuals who are dating; or
  • Individual in same-sex relationships.

What Type of Conduct is Considered to be Spousal Abuse?

Pursuant to spousal abuse laws, there are a wide range of behaviors which may be classified as spousal abuse according to both family law definitions and criminal law definitions. Most spousal abuse cases involve a form of physical violence which is committed by one spouse against the other spouse, including rape

Spousal abuse, however, may also include the following types of conduct:

  • Emotional or mental abuse;
  • Verbal abuse, which  may include: 
    • threats of physical harm; 
    • intimidating language, or 
    • degrading language;
  • Economic abuse, which may include actions such as not providing for basic living expenses or failing to provide necessities, such as:
    • food; 
    • clothing; or 
    • shelter; and
  • Spousal harassment.

Spousal harassment may include broad actions by one spouse to another, including verbal abuse. In general, harassment occurs when one individual intentionally causes emotional harm to another individual. Harassment may also include:

  • Posting derogatory comments about an individual online;
  • Spreading rumors about an individual; and
  • Stalking the individual. 

Many cases involving spousal abuse may include one or more of these types of conduct, especially if the abuse is an ongoing issue in the relationship. Another major concern with spousal abuse is that, in many cases, it goes unreported. 

This is due to the fact that a victim may be hesitant to have their partner or spouse involved with legal authorities. In some cases, an abusive partner or spouse may threaten the victim with additional harm if they file a report with law enforcement. In serious cases, legal intervention may become necessary.

What are the Legal Consequences for Spousal Abuse?

There are numerous different possible consequences for spousal abuse. A domestic abuse injunction is the most immediate remedy which is available for spousal abuse.

A domestic abuse injunction is an order from the court that instructs an offender to stay a specific distance away from a victim. This order may either be temporary or permanent. 

An individual who is convicted of spousal abuse may face a variety of serious legal consequences, including:

  • Criminal charges;
  • A civil lawsuit; and 
  • Other consequences.

Many domestic violence cases result in a number of criminal charges, which may include:

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

If criminal charges are brought against a defendant, they may result in criminal penalties including a jail or prison sentence and monetary criminal fines. In addition to criminal penalties, a defendant who is convicted of domestic violence may face other legal consequences, such as:

  • Damages. A defendant may be required to pay monetary damages to cover the financial losses of the victim, which may include hospital bills or pain and suffering;
  • Restraining orders. A court can issue a domestic abuse injunction, such as a temporary or permanent restraining order. These orders require a defendant to stay a certain distance from the victim, and can prohibit communication with the victim, as noted above;
  • Rehabilitation courses. A court may require a defendant to attend mandatory rehabilitation courses, such as anger management classes;
  • Custodial rights. A defendant may lose their rights to child custody and visitation. This may apply even if the charges involved spousal abuse, since courts aim to protect children from being exposed to violence; and
  • The loss of various rights. In serious cases of domestic abuse, a defendant may lose  various rights, such as the right to own a firearm, and the right to have a driver’s license.

An perpetrator of spousal abuse may also face a civil lawsuit. A victim may sue an abusive partner or spouse in civil court for damages. The abuser may be required to pay costs, including:

  • Hospital fees;
  • Counseling fees;
  • Pain and suffering damages; and
  • Attorney’s fees.

A perpetrator of domestic violence may also face other consequences. This may include the loss of various rights discussed above. In addition, spousal abuse often leads to divorce.

The legal consequences for spousal abuse may vary according to the laws of the jurisdiction where the abuse occurred. In addition, courts may order different penalties in different cases. It is important to seek the advice of a lawyer for domestic abuse because they can help navigate the legal system as well as help protect the individual from future abuse. 

What Defenses are Often Raised in a Spousal Abuse Case?

There are several defenses which an individual may raise to spousal abuse claims. These may include:

  • The defendant did not commit the crime;
  • The victim is not being truthful;
  • It was accidental;
  • The defendant was acting in self-defense or in the defense of their children;
  • The instance of abuse cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt;
  • The defendant committed the act, but it was a result of their partner’s behavior; and
  • The defendant committed the act, but law enforcement cannot charge them. This may occur in cases where:
    • Law enforcement failed to Mirandize the defendant;
    • The defendant was denied their request for an attorney;
    • The defendant was questioned after invoking their right to remain silent;
    • Law enforcement lacked probable cause to conduct the investigation or search; and
    • Law enforcement failed to properly conduct their investigation, such as failing to interview witnesses present at the scene.

How Can a Lawyer Help with Spousal Abuse Cases?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of a family lawyer if you have any spousal abuse issues. If you have been a victim of spousal abuse, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as you can. 

Many attorneys who handle these types of cases are able to provide confidential phone lines and safe house locations for victims of abuse. Any information that you provide to your attorney will be confidential.

Your lawyer can advise you regarding the possible steps forward, determine if legal action is necessary, and represent you in court. It is especially important to have the help of an attorney in cases involving criminal charges to ensure the abuser receives the punishment they deserve.  

If you are a defendant who is accused of perpetrating spousal abuse, it is absolutely necessary that you obtain an attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney will investigate the charges, determine if there are any defenses available to you, and represent you during court appearances. Having an attorney on your side may mean the difference between your freedom and spending time incarcerated as well as the loss of many privileges which you currently enjoy.


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