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California Domestic Violence Law

Overview of California Domestic Violence Law

California's domestic violence laws seek to prevent violence in familial or intimate relationships. The state identifies domestic violence when an individual commits a criminal act within one of the types of relationships specified by the California Penal Code: spouse or former spouse; cohabitant or former cohabitant in a home; a parent with whom the individual has a child; or a partner in a dating relationship. Domestic violence often occurs in tandem with child abuse.

When a prosecutor charges a defendant with a crime based on domestic violence, several sections of the Penal Code may apply. A prosecutor can choose which criminal charges to pursue based on the severity of the conduct and harm to the victim, along with other circumstances of the case.

In Section 242, the Penal Code defines battery as a "willful and unlawful use of force or violence against the person of another." Section 243(e)(1) of the Penal Code criminalizes battery within one of the specified familial or intimate relationships. Alternatively, a prosecutor can choose to charge the defendant with battery under Section 243(d) if the defendant "inflicted serious bodily injury" on the victim. Battery under Section 243(d) reflects a greater degree of harm suffered by the victim of domestic violence.

The Penal Code also criminalizes domestic violence under Section 273.5 when an individual's willful conduct leads to a "corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition" suffered by a person with whom the individual has one of the familial or intimate relationships specified by the domestic violence laws of California.

Restraining Orders

California state laws allow victims of domestic violence to apply for emergency protective orders and restraining orders in both civil and criminal court. Issuance of a protective order or restraining order does not necessarily depend on physical harm suffered by the victim -- someone who fears imminent harm or who has suffered emotional abuse may still qualify for protection through the California legal system.

California Domestic Violence Laws in Brief

Below you will find key provisions of California’s domestic violence laws.


California Penal Code Sections 240-248 et. seq. (Domestic Violence)

California Penal Code Sections 270-273.75 et. seq. (Domestic Violence)


  • A conviction for battery under Section 243(e)(1) can lead to a fine of up to $2,000, imprisonment in county jail for a term of up to one year, or both; alternatively, the state can also agree to a sentence of probation and participation in batterer's counseling services.
  • A conviction under Section 243(d) can result in a sentence of imprisonment lasting up to one year in county jail or two to four years in state prison and a restraining order.
  • A felony conviction under Section 273.5 may result in a sentence of imprisonment lasting for up to one year in county jail or two to four years in state prison, a fine of up to $6,000, or both imprisonment and a fine.

Note: The prosecutor can pursue increased, additional penalties if the state previously convicted the defendant of domestic violence under the same code section.

Possible Defenses

Self-defense via a mutual combat situation with your intimate partner

Related Charges

California Penal Code Section 422 (Criminal Threats)

California Penal Code Section 591 (Damaging a Telephone Line)

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

California Codes and Legal Research Options

Additional Resources

If you have additional questions about California’s domestic violence laws, click on the following links:

Charged Under California Domestic Violence Law? Talk to an Attorney

Accusations of domestic violence against you or someone you love are very serious. You’ll want to understand exactly what you're being charged with and if there are any possible defenses available or mitigating circumstances such as a situation involving mutual combat. The best way to do this is to speak with a skilled criminal defense lawyer in California to learn about how the laws apply to your particular situation.

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