How to Deal with Domestic Violence Charges

How Does California Define Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is defined as abuse (or threats of abuse) in situations where the abuser and the person being abused are related by blood or marriage, or are in an intimate relationship (or have been in an intimate relationship in the past). For example, domestic violence can occur between married couples, domestic partners, parents and children, siblings, grandparents, dating partners, or two people who share a child but are no longer together.

According to the California courts, abuse can be defined as:

  • The physical hurting of someone, either intentionally or recklessly
  • Trying to hurt someone physically
  • Intimidation and/or making someone "reasonably afraid" that they will be hurt (such as threats)
  • Harassment
  • Stalking
  • Destroying personal property
  • Harming family pets
  • Sexual assault

Domestic violence can also include verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse, and it is not uncommon for domestic violence cases to involve several different types of abuse.

Penalties of a Domestic Violence Conviction

Under the California Penal Code, two statutes deal with domestic violence: § 243(e)(1) domestic battery and § 273.5 corporal injury. Under § 243(e)(1), domestic battery is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and/or imprisonment in a county jail for up to a year. Meanwhile, under § 273.5, domestic violence is charged as a felony and is punishable by a fine of up to $6,000 and imprisonment in state prison for up to four years.

Subsequent Charges

According to § 273.5, if someone is convicted of domestic violence within seven years of a previous conviction, they may face imprisonment in state prison for up to five years and/or a fine up to $10,000. Other penalties can include a period of probation, restitution and reimbursement to the victim, and/or payments made to a battered women's shelter. The circumstances of your case will determine what specific penalties you face.

What Should You Do If You Are Charged with Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence charges should always be taken seriously, and you should always seek legal representation right away. The courts take a very hard line regarding domestic violence cases, and prosecutors are notoriously aggressive when pursuing convictions. Even in cases of false allegations and when you believe your innocence is self-evident, there is too much at stake to risk foregoing legal counsel.

Domestic Violence Convictions Can Impact Divorce & Custody Cases

It is important to remember that domestic violence charges and convictions can have a far-reaching impact on your life. Not only do the immediate penalties threaten your financial stability and your freedom, but a conviction can negatively impact important family law matters, including custody and divorce outcomes.

When going through a divorce, the courts will consider the conduct of both spouses when making important decisions, such as those involving spousal support and property division. Domestic violence accusations and convictions may cause the courts to make alimony and property division orders that are unfavorable to you.

When it comes to custody cases, the courts make the safety and well-being of the child their first priority. While they do seek to preserve parent-child relationships, if a parent is found to have committed domestic violence, they will likely presume that granting custody to that parent is antithetical to the child's best interests.

Overcoming this presumption (called rebuttable presumption) can be very difficult and requires a preponderance of evidence that granting custody will benefit the child. It's also important to note that family court doesn't require a conviction on record to find that someone has been guilty of domestic violence or abuse.

If you have been accused or charged with domestic violence, reach out to Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich for help. Our team of experienced attorneys is prepared to help you with your case today.


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