Domestic Violence Laws

The American justice system has not always considered domestic violence a crime. In the 1800s, domestic violence was still widespread, even with the movement for women's rights. Many people considered stories of spousal abuse an ordinary family matter.

Family violence started to become a more recognized issue in the 1960s. The Women's Liberation Movement was a significant influence in this development. Around this time, attitudes toward abuse changed. The United States began to view these patterns of physical harm as a violent criminal act. The criminal justice system that handles these cases also made significant adjustments. Now, all 50 states have state laws to address domestic violence.

What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior between people in an intimate relationship. Federal law considers the following "intimate partners":

  • A spouse
  • A former spouse
  • A person with whom you share a child in common
  • A person who cohabits or has cohabited with the victim

State law definitions of domestic violence vary in name, elements, and the people covered. Many states also recognize that domestic violence occurs in casual dating relationships.

Domestic violence comes in many forms. In most cases, victims may feel confused, helpless, and scared.

Various state and federal laws address this type of violence. This article will discuss the different laws that protect domestic violence victims.

The Violence Against Women Act

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a federal law that protects domestic violence victims. Federal law also protects the victim's identity. VAWA programs provide shelter and protection to victims and their family members.

Help is available to those who are currently suffering from:

  • Child abuse
  • Dating violence
  • Domestic violence
  • Emotional abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse and sexual assault

Both the victim and other household members may experience other forms of violent crime.

Domestic assault can occur in any intimate relationship.

VAWA became law in 1994 after passing Congress. The act created a federal crime of domestic violence. The Act also established the national domestic violence hotline. The hotline helps people report serious bodily injury and protects the victims' privacy.

Before VAWA, domestic abusers would often try to avoid law enforcement officers and court orders by moving to another state. VAWA made it a federal crime to travel interstate or internationally if the purpose of the trip was to commit domestic violence. Commission of domestic violence during such travel is also charged under VAWA.

The law has motivated state and local authorities to act, encouraging them to implement policies intended to protect domestic violence victims.

VAWA also introduced "mandatory arrest." As a result, law enforcement officers who responded to domestic violence calls had to arrest one of the parties involved. However, they must have probable cause to believe the person could be charged with domestic violence.

State Domestic Violence Laws

Domestic violence laws may differ in every state and court system. States may limit domestic violence cases to physical abuse. States may also treat threats of harm as domestic violence.

For instance, in Texas law, simple assault is a Class A misdemeanor. However, if you have a previous criminal case that included a conviction for family violence, the assault becomes a third-degree felony. Then, aggravated assault, where the offender causes serious physical harm or uses a deadly weapon against a family member, is a second-degree felony.

In many states, renters who are victims of domestic violence can terminate a lease early without facing any penalties. However, this may require police reports, restraining orders, and other pieces of evidence.

Learning about your rights and legal options can be a complicated task due to varying state laws. You should seek advice from a family law attorney.

Seek Help and Legal Assistance

If you or your family member is under threat of physical harm or is a victim of domestic violence, seek legal help. A family law attorney can assist you in safety planning. This might include protective orders or restraining orders. Their legal services will also be helpful for you to understand your rights and achieve criminal justice.

It can be hard to admit and recognize that you are in an abusive relationship. However, help is available, and there are domestic violence laws that address this situation. No one deserves to be abused, and criminal justice is possible for those who seek help.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Victims of domestic violence can press charges against their abuser
  • The ability or requirements to press charges varies in each state
  • Contacting a family law attorney or advocacy groups for advice is essential

Some attorneys represent victims of domestic violence. Others defend the rights of those accused of domestic abuse or other related crimes. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

Find a local attorney