What constitutes Domestic Violence in California Family Courts?


In California, Family Code section 6203 and section 6320 join together to define what conduct constitute "abuse" that can be prohibited and protected against by the issuance of domestic violence orders. Contrary to what many believe, many of these behaviors may be quite subtle. For instance, conduct that a reasonable person would find "intrusive or disturbing", even in the absence of physical hitting or destruction of property, can be enjoined if it "disturbs the peace".


This becomes challenging in California Family Courts where the burden of proof for obtaining DV orders is by a preponderance of the evidence, because a finding that Domestic Violence has occurred can be damning to a custody case due to Family Code section 3044.


DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DEFINITION OF "ABUSE"


Family Code Section 6203


For purposes of this act, "abuse" means any of the following:

(a) Intentionally or recklessly to cause or attempt to cause bodily injury.

(b) Sexual assault.

(c) To place a person in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily injury to that person or to another.

(d) To engage in any behavior that has been or could be enjoined pursuant to Section 6320.


Family Code Section 6320


(a) The court may issue an ex parte order enjoining a party from molesting, attacking, striking, stalking, threatening, sexually assaulting, battering, credibly impersonating as described in Section 528.5 of the Penal Code, falsely personating as described in Section 529 of the Penal Code, harassing, telephoning, including, but not limited to, making annoying telephone calls as described in Section 653m of the Penal Code, destroying personal property, contacting, either directly or indirectly, by mail or otherwise, coming within a specified distance of, or disturbing the peace of the other party, and, in the discretion of the court, on a showing of good cause, of other named family or household members.


(b) On a showing of good cause, the court may include in a protective order a grant to the petitioner of the exclusive care, possession, or control of any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by either the petitioner or the respondent or a minor child residing in the residence or household of either the petitioner or the respondent. The court may order the respondent to stay away from the animal and forbid the respondent from taking, transferring, encumbering, concealing, molesting, attacking, striking, threatening, harming, or otherwise disposing of the animal.


(c) As used in this subdivision (a), “disturbing the peace of the other party” refers to conduct that, based on the totality of the circumstances, destroys the mental or emotional calm of the other party. This conduct may be committed directly or indirectly, including through the use of a third party, and by any method or through any means including, but not limited to, telephone, online accounts, text messages, internet-connected devices, or other electronic technologies. This conduct includes, but is not limited to, coercive control, which is a pattern of behavior that in purpose or effect unreasonably interferes with a person’s free will and personal liberty. Examples of coercive control include, but are not limited to, unreasonably engaging in any of the following:

(1) Isolating the other party from friends, relatives, or other sources of support.

(2) Depriving the other party of basic necessities.

(3) Controlling, regulating, or monitoring the other party’s movements, communications, daily behavior, finances, economic resources, or access to services.

(4) Compelling the other party by force, threat of force, or intimidation, including threats based on actual or suspected immigration status, to engage in conduct from which the other party has a right to abstain or to abstain from conduct in which the other party has a right to engage.

(d) This section does not limit any remedies available under this act or any other provision of law.