The New Face of Domestic Violence


For decades, most judges, lawyers, and law enforcement officers defined domestic violence as either actual physical violence or a provable threat of physical violence. Today, that definition is woefully inadequate.

California courts now recognize that domestic violence does not require physical violence or the threat of physical violence. The California Court of Appeal has since expanded the definition of domestic violence.

In 2009, the Court of Appeal ruled that accessing, reading, and publicly disclosing confidential emails was domestic violence. In a later case, this was expanded to include text messages.

The Court of Appeal expanded the definition of domestic violence further in 2014, finding that domestic violence included “disturbing the peace of the other party.”

In 2015, the Court ruled that acts of isolation and control are sufficient to show the destruction of a party’s mental and emotional calm, which is enough for a domestic violence restraining order to be issued. Additionally, the Court of Appeal stated that mental abuse is relevant evidence in a domestic violence proceeding.

Acts control and isolation, including canceling a cell phone, or cutting off a spouse’s access to money for necessities may be considered domestic violence, although there is no published case so far that contains these facts. However, California’s family law courts are less likely to tolerate what was once considered “bad behavior.” Thus, the adage, sticks, and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me, has become obsolete as our courts have an expanded definition of domestic violence.

All of the aforementioned is now considered when a party seeks protection from domestic violence restraining orders. Once granted, domestic violence restraining orders can require additional Court appearances and have long-term implications on other family law matters. Thus, it’s important to meet with an experienced family law attorney to help guide you through the process and understand the impacts and limitations of domestic violence restraining orders.

If you or a loved one need assistance with safety planning or crisis intervention you can receive assistance through the following resources:

The National Domestic Violence Hotline  24 Hour Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

The Child and Family Center’s Domestic Violence Program 24 Hour Crisis Hotline: 1-661-259-4357

Haven Hills Domestic Violence Agency 24 Hour Crisis Hotline:  1-818-887-6589

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