Attorney at Law

What is Domestic Violence?

According to federal law, domestic violence is a felony or misdemeanor crime of violence committed by a current or former spouse or intimate partner of the victim. Domestic violence can also be committed by a person with whom the victim shares a child, someone who lives with the victim or has lived with the victim in the past, or in other instances where a victim is protected by the specific state’s domestic violence laws. The law applies to instances of abuse in any kind of relationship - living together or living apart, married or unmarried, straight or gay.

Federal laws prohibit physical violence in an intimate relationship, but some states consider other types of abuse as domestic violence, such as substantial threats of physical injury. Many other forms of abuse fall under the definition of domestic violence, including sexual abuse, economic abuse, and emotional abuse.

From a legal standpoint, domestic violence is considered both a civil and criminal issue that often serves as grounds for court-issued restraining orders. It can also affect matters relating to child custody.

Key Takeaways

  • Domestic violence is defined as crimes of violence committed by a partner or ex-partner. 
  • It can also occur between cohabitants or ex-cohabitants and between a couple that shares a child together.
  • Although state laws can vary, physical violence, sexual violence, economic abuse and emotional abuse are considered additional forms of domestic violence.
  • Victims of domestic violence can seek relief in civil and criminal courts.

Types of Domestic Violence and Abuse

  1. Sexual abuse - any form of forced sexual activity without the victim’s consent. This usually shows up in cases of marital rape and other sexually demeaning actions.
  2. Physical abuse - violent behavior including hitting, beating and punching. Denying medical treatment and forcing drugs or alcohol on someone is also considered domestic violence.
  3. Stalking - following, spying, harassing or watching the victim at their home or place of work. Cyberstalking, which occurs online via email or instant messaging, is also included. 
  4. Emotional abuse - invalidation of the victim’s self-worth or self-esteem. It often takes the form of name-calling, constant criticism, and emotional manipulation. 
  5. Economic abuse - any act that renders the victim financially dependent such as withholding money for basic needs, forcing the victim to work or to stop working, or cutting off access to bank accounts. 
  6. Isolation - this abuse is intended to isolate and alienate the victim from his or her family or friends. The abuser in this case aims to maintain full control over the victim’s actions.


Bottom Line

Domestic violence encompasses many different forms of abuse and aggressive behavior. This destructive crime may carry long-term consequences for all parties involved including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), child custody issues, restraining orders and more. 

If you or a loved once have been exposed to any form of domestic violence, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. Domestic violence is a complex realm of law that involves emotionally-charged events, but a skilled family law attorney can ensure that the issue is handled appropriately to lead to a long-lasting solution. Alternatively, if you are facing domestic violence charges it is crucial to have experienced legal representation that will look out for your rights.

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