Domestic Violence: When Should You Sue?

Hossein Berenji, Apr 08, 2020

The statistics of domestic violence are staggering. In the U.S., it is estimated that almost 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner. The actual number may even be higher because many victims fear retaliation or further actions if they report their abuse. Remember though, you do have options if you are the victim of abuse. An abuser can face charges in criminal court. They can also be sued in civil court for any damages you receive as a result of their abuse.

What Are the Laws on Domestic Violence in California?

States are the authority when it comes to domestic violence laws. In California, domestic abuse occurs when it is between partners who are married, registered domestic partners, dating, exes who used to date, living together, used to live together with an intimate relationship, or closely related family members. These cases can be pursued in both criminal and civil court.

California also has guidelines and definitions on what constitutes as abuse in the state. Some of these include:

  • Physical harm to another or trying to hurt someone either intentionally or recklessly
  • Certain behaviors like stalking, harassing, threatening, disturbing the peace, or destroying personal property
  • The act of making someone afraid that they or someone they care about will be hurt
  • Non-physical violence including verbal, emotional, or psychological

One first step you can take is to petition the court for a restraining order. This is a court order that is meant to protect victims from further abuse or threats of abuse from someone they have a close connection with. These orders make it illegal for the abuser to approach or be near the victim. They can also include provisions like not owning a gun, paying child support, paying spousal support, paying bills, and complete abuser prevention and intervention programs.

Should I Sue My Abuser in Criminal Court or Civil Court?

Domestic violence can be found in both criminal and civil courts. In criminal court, the decision to be charged will not be in your control. If you or your partner have been arrested for abuse, the district attorney will generally decide whether they want to pursue criminal charges. If they do, then it will be up to a jury or judge to determine guilt. The abuser can spend time in jail and may have to face other punishments like fines.

Double jeopardy, the concept that someone cannot be convicted of the same offense more than once, does not apply to cases that in both criminal and civil courts. This means that you are not barred from suing someone civilly if they have been convicted in criminal court. This is true even if they are serving time in prison. Some states have bans on suing an abuser if they are a member of your family. California does not prohibit this and a victim can sue any abuser- even if they are a close relative like a parent or sibling.

Suing your abuser in civil court is a personal injury claim. Courts can award the victim payment for lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. The type of case will depend on the injury caused. You may need to file a civil lawsuit for damages stemming from battery, assault, stalking, intentional infliction of emotional distress, or even elder or child abuse.

What Is Considered Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence (IVP), is a pattern of abusive behavior. It occurs when one partner attempts to maintain power and control over the other person in a relationship. To do this, they can be abusive and manipulative physically, verbally, emotionally, and economically. Other forms of abuse can include stalking, battery, sexual assault, and rape. Sometimes it even escalates to homicide.

Domestic violence does not discriminate. It can happen to any person, regardless of their gender, race, age, sexual orientation, education, or income. It can also happen with couples that are married, living together, dating, or even divorced. There are even some relationships where both partners are abusive towards each other. The balance of control shifts back and forth in an unhealthy pattern.

In California, you can sue your abuser in court if you have been abused. However, many victims do not take the steps to do this. Some reasons they do not are that they are afraid of retaliation, they fear how their abuser may act in the future, they do not have the funds to hire a lawyer, or they simply do not want to deal with the stress of a lawsuit.