Is That Domestic Violence?

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When one thinks of domestic violence, one often think of the “battered wife,” the woman who never knows what is going to happen when her husband or partner comes home, the one who lives in fear and yet cannot find a way to get out. And while there are, unfortunately, thousands of these kinds of victims of domestic violence each year, the law holds that even those who are not actually being physically abused can be victims of domestic violence.

Domestic violence under California law is not limited to actual physical abuse. The California Family Code states that “abuse is not limited to the actual infliction of physical injury or assault.” In situations where people have been intimate partners, have a child together, or have been married, the law provides that it can take other forms. Making threatening statements, making annoying or harassing phone calls, and making unwanted contact directly or indirectly may all qualify as domestic violence. Conduct that disturbs the peace of the other party, or places them in a situation of feeling apprehensive, can result in a court restraining order.

In family law disputes, people are often not on their best behavior. Emotions are charged and often one party feels they are being wronged by the other. Oftentimes, people send emails or leave telephonic messages that the other party finds disturbing. The party placing the call or making the contact feels as though they need to “get through” to the other person and get them to “become reasonable” or see their point of view. When that doesn’t work, people sometimes resort to contacting a friend or acquaintance of the other party and asking them to convey a message. These types of contacts are defined as domestic violence in family court. While they might not have been “violent” in the way we normally think of the word, they can give rise to a restraining order. Once that occurs, there are all sorts of often unintended consequences. These include the order being registered with law enforcement, parties being stopped and questioned when returning to an airport from abroad, and, most significantly, restrictions on custody arrangements that may be ordered by the court, even when the conduct was not directed toward, nor did it involve, the children of the parties in question.

People need to be educated that domestic violence is far broader than physical violence. People involved in contentious family law proceedings need to proceed cautiously and keep their emotions in check. Those that do not think before acting can find themselves saddled with significant long-term consequences as a result of restraining orders which can last for five years and are subject to renewal at the request of the protected party.

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Faith Nouri is licensed to practice law in both the U.S. and Canadian Federal Courts. Ms. Nouri is an attorney at law in California, and a Barrister & Solicitor in British Columbia, Canada.