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California Spousal Abuse Charges

California generally treats spousal abuse, a specific type of domestic violence, more seriously than other types of abuse. It's important to note that spousal abuse is not limited to abuse committed by a spouse (or former spouse). It also includes acts committed by:

  • Someone who lives or lived with the victim;
  • A fiancée or former fiancée;
  • A person the victim is dating or had previously dated; or
  • A parent of the victim's child.

Spousal abuse also covers more actions and behaviors than just physical abuse such as harassment, stalking, or destroying property. It can also take more subtle forms such as verbal, emotional, or psychological abuse. In addition, if the victim is elderly, it can also implicate California laws prohibiting elder abuse.

What Are the Criminal Charges for Domestic Violence?

The following are the two most common spousal abuse charges in California:

  1. Corporal Injury On A Spouse. This is a "wobbler offense," which means it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. This could mean the difference between serving a few years or 25 years based on California's "Three Strikes" Law. To be convicted, a prosecutor must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that not only did the defendant intend to inflict a physical injury, but this act ultimately resulted in a "traumatic condition" (major or minor bodily injury) to the victim.
  2. Spousal Battery. Unlike corporal injury on a spouse, the crime of spousal battery does not require that the victim be physically injured. Here, it is enough that there was some physical contact that was forceful and/or unwanted.Therefore, the major difference between corporal injury on a spouse and spousal battery is that a charge of corporal injury requires that the victim sustain an actual and concrete injury.


Spousal abuse cases can also involve charges related to violations of restraining orders, which are intended to help protect victims of abuse from their abusers and which are enforceable in any state. With a the restraining order, the court has the authority to order the restrained person to, among other things, avoid contact, maintain distance or even relinquish possession of any weapons.

California Spousal Abuse Charges At A Glance

For more information on specific California spousal abuse laws, see the chart below.


California Penal Code Section 243 (spousal battery)

California Penal Code Section 273.5 (corporal injury on a spouse)

California Penal Code Section 273.6 (violations of restraining orders)

Possible Penalties

Spousal Battery: Violations of Penal Code Section 243 are misdemeanors punishable by up to 1 year in county jail and fines of up to $2,000.

Corporal Injury on a Spouse: Violations of Penal Code Section 273.5 can be felonies punishable by 2, 3, or 4 years in jail and a fine of up to $6,000.

Violation of Protective Order: This is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

  • Self-defense or defense of others
  • Mistake of fact/lack of intent
  • Involuntary intoxication

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.

Related Resources For California Spousal Abuse Charges

Charged With Spousal Abuse? An Attorney Can Help

If you're facing charges of spousal abuse, chances are you're facing a breakdown of several relationships in your life. Even if it feels that your world is falling apart, it's important to remember that you still have rights under the law, which include the opportunity to defend yourself in court. Get started today and speak with a skilled criminal defense attorney near you.

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