Domestic Violence in California: a Complex Matter Requiring Nuanced Legal Counsel
A series of statutes define domestic violence in California. Outside of the legal community, defining domestic violence often boils down to a debate over whether the physical damage inflicted on someone is sufficient to warrant the label “abuse.” In practical terms, this conversation often devolves into debating how big a bruise must be to qualify as domestic violence. Ultimately, this debate isn’t very useful.
In California, courts and mental health professionals instead often see domestic violence as a pattern of behaviors whose function is to degrade, coerce, and control an intimate partner. Many of these behaviors are not, in themselves, physically violent, and may include the following:
- Pattern of name-calling and belittling treatment;
- Pattern of blaming and/or shaming the other person;
- Emotional isolation (pressuring the other spouse to sever friendships/denigrating the spouse to shared friends);
- Financial control (refusing to share financial information while putting the other spouse on a “budget”); and
- Control of daily life/invasion of privacy (setting a rigid schedule for the partner, knowing the other’s location at all times, review of the other’s email and phone records, etc.).
To be identified as domestic violence in California, however, problematic behaviors like the ones listed above must usually be paired with a history of physical violence or intimidation or the threat of physical violence. Typical manifestations of this include:
- Physically harming the other person (hitting, shoving, striking with an object);
- Physical destruction of property (i.e. throwing things across the room or hitting walls);
- Threats of physical harm directed at the other person;
- Harming yourself (hitting yourself while angry); and
- Threats to harm yourself (threatening suicide if left by the other person).
However, where actions or words – though not physically violent – are outrageous enough to “destroy the emotional calm” of the other party or if they suggest an unstable and dangerous situation, then the court may well consider it domestic violence.
Physical and Non-Physical Elements of Domestic Violence in California
There is a mutually reinforcing interplay between the physical and non-physical elements of domestic violence. When you’ve been physically harmed or intimidated by a partner, you are less likely to object to their efforts to shame or control your behavior. When your self-esteem has been eroded through a partner’s insults and belittling treatment, you are more likely to endure physical intimidation and violence. It is difficult to understate how effective this toxic mix is at establishing and maintaining an abusive hierarchy between intimate partners.
It is also true that perpetrators of domestic violence are often oblivious to the fact that they are perpetrators. At the S.L. Pitts family law firm in Los Angeles, we have never seen (or even heard rumor of) a person truly acknowledge that they have committed domestic violence. For every problematic behavior, the perpetrator is able to summon a compelling excuse. Our Los Angeles domestic violence attorneys have noted that these excuses fall into a well-worn pattern: deny, downplay, and blame. Deny that the alleged behavior ever occurred (“I never did that – she’s lying!”). Downplay the behavior in question (“I didn’t throw the furniture – I tossed it over.” Or “The bruise in that photo is really, really small.”) Blame the victim for the behavior in question (“I only kicked that door in because she wouldn’t come out when I told her to.” Or “I told her I’d lose my temper if she didn’t get home on time. She was late, so it’s her fault I got mad!”) These excuses are usually made simultaneously – despite the logical incoherence of denying a behavior ever occurred while simultaneously blaming someone else for it.
If you’re a victim of domestic violence in California, you can obtain a court order preventing your spouse or other party from coming near you or from having any contact with you or the children. This is often the first and necessary step in divorcing an abuser. At S.L. Pitts, our experienced Los Angeles family law attorneys can assist with that process and can provide ongoing guidance throughout the domestic violence proceeding.
Defending Against an Allegation of Domestic Violence in California
If you’re accused of committing domestic violence in California, then it is not enough to simply deny it. It’s true that there are instances in which domestic violence is falsely alleged out of vindictiveness, but they’re rare. That doesn’t mean you’re necessarily a perpetrator of domestic violence, but it does mean that a court is likely to weigh your declaration of innocence in light of that fact. That means you need to think carefully about how you’re going to proceed.
Unfortunately, most people accused of domestic violence seem to immediately go online and read a bunch of garbage about the “epidemic” of false allegations. Usually, these articles are little more than paid advertising for law firms with names like “Divorce and Justice for Righteous, Red Blooded, Manly Fathers.” The business model for these law firms is to essentially tell the accused what they want to hear while putting on a show in the courtroom that fails to alter, in any way, the outcome of the case – then they tell their client that the system is rigged against them and that a grave injustice has been done. While this strategy ensures that the client accused of domestic violence feels righteous, it is entirely counter productive and does nothing to help their case.
All too often, people accused of domestic violence decide that they’re going to “fight back” and “tell the truth” and “clear their name.” This usually entails submitting one or more angry declarations to the court in which the other party’s character is repeatedly attacked, coupled with an accusation that the other party is crazy and should be forced to undergo a psychological examination. Sometimes, the accused party decides – for good measure – to cancel the other person’s phone, kick them off the auto insurance policy, and/or drain the joint bank account. These people are then shocked – shocked! – to discover that their angry and retaliatory conduct succeeded only in convincing the court that they have an anger problem.
That isn’t to say that the only option is to admit fault – especially if you are not a perpetrator of domestic violence in California. But it is to say that you have to think about the tone and the content of your communications to the court and to the opposing party and you must be mindful of how your actions will appear in court.
If you are trying to convince the court that you are not a perpetrator of domestic violence, then do not do the myriad things that perpetrators of domestic violence typically do – better yet, do the things that perpetrators of domestic violence typically don’t do. Instead of attacking your partner’s character, compliment it. Instead of blaming your partner for problematic behavior that you have already admitted, own it and take demonstrative steps to address it. You can do all of this while still insisting that your parenting should not be restricted or that your freedom of movement should not be limited.
At Los Angeles family law firm S.L. Pitts PC, we believe that it is absolutely imperative to take the high road in all matters related to divorce in California. Like it or not, any deviation from that path will likely be viewed by the court as evidence in support of the domestic violence allegation. Navigating that path requires an experienced Los Angeles family law attorney to guide and advise you. Maintaining objectivity in your own divorce is always difficult; doing it in the context of a domestic violence allegation is impossible.
The Los Angeles Lawyers at S.L. Pitts Can Defend You Against Threats or Accusations of Domestic Violence
Whether you need a protective order for you and your children or legal advice after being accused of domestic violence, our Los Angeles family lawyers can help. Our team of domestic violence attorneys have decades of experience helping our clients navigate these dangerous waters. If you have questions about domestic violence in California, contact the seasoned family law attorneys at S.L. Pitts in Los Angeles today. We will work tirelessly to protect you from threats or accusations of domestic violence both during and after divorce. We can also help resolve any other issues related to divorce in Los Angeles, including child custody, child support, property division, and more. Contact us today to see how we can help.