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Domestic Violence: When You Should Sue and What You Should Know Before Filing a Case

Domestic abuse occurs when one person in a relationship, such as a romantic partner or family member, exhibits abusive or violent behavior in order to control the other person. Up to one-third of all female murders result from escalated domestic violence. The following web page seeks to define domestic abuse, the forms it takes, and the considerations to make before filing a claim.

What Is Domestic Abuse?

According to the American Bar Association, domestic abuse is a behavioral pattern that involves one intimate partner using physical violence; threats; coercion; intimidation; and emotional, economic, or sexual abuse to control their partner in a relationship.

Domestic abuse may take any of the following forms:

  •    Physical violence, such as punching, hitting, and similar actions
  •    Isolating a person from their family and friends or threatening to take a person’s child from them
  •    Making harassing phone calls and stalking
  •    Destruction of property
  •    Withholding financial access
  •    Marital rape

Considerations to Make Before Suing a Person for Domestic Abuse

Can You Sue a Spouse or Family Member?

For a long time, suing your spouse was restricted on the grounds of spousal privilege. These days, a few states allow parties to sue their spouses—either while they are still married or after they are divorced. However, there are states where suing your immediate family is still prohibited. These include Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana, Texas, and Washington, D.C. But in these states, exceptions are allowed for intentional torts or purposeful and specific acts of wrongdoing. All the behaviors that constitute domestic abuse, such as assault, psychological abuse, and battery, are categorized as intentional torts.

Protective Orders

Courts usually issue protective orders as a first measure toward resolving cases of spousal abuse. Evidence such as medical records, police reports, and photographs may need to be obtained when necessary. In some instances, a sworn statement is enough for one to be given a protective order.

Protective orders take many forms, depending on the prevailing situation. These orders generally require the at-fault party to comply with any of the following:

  •    Stop the abuse, which includes threatening or hurting the victim
  •    Stay away from the victim and their home, school, or workplace
  •    Cease all contact with the victim, including texts, phone calls, email, mail, or delivery of gifts or any parcels
  •    Surrender firearms
  •    Attend counseling sessions

Violating a protective order may result in a fine, imprisonment, or an extension of the duration of the order.

Criminal vs. Civil Charges

In some cases, the one accused of engaging in domestic abuse could be charged with breaching domestic abuse laws or other crimes when they engage in assault, threats, criminal coercion, child endangerment, or contempt of court by violating a protective order. Child abuse, harassment, kidnapping, or unlawful imprisonment are also considered violations of domestic abuse laws.

Many people wrongly think that when a person is tried for an offense in a criminal court, they cannot be tried for the same offense in a civil court. This is not the case, as demonstrated by the case of Goldman v. Simpson. In this example, O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder in a criminal court but was sued for money damages in a civil court. Therefore, a domestic abuse victim can pursue a personal injury claim against their oppressor in a civil court. In civil lawsuits, a domestic abuse victim may be able to recover medical expenses, property damage, lost wages, pain and suffering, wrongful death, and punitive damages.

Family Court Case

Spousal abuse is mostly revealed during divorce or child custody cases. Studies show that half of all cases of child custody involve some form of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse in these proceedings means that the accused partner will lose the custody of the child until they satisfy certain conditions. The court may require the accused to complete a treatment program before they can be allowed child visitation rights.

Tort Claims vs. Criminal and Family Court Proceedings

Pursuing a tort claim against a person engaging in domestic abuse is far more relieving and rewarding compared to criminal and family court proceedings. The following are some of the reasons you should consider pursuing a tort claim in domestic abuse situations:

  •    Divorce is normally granted after spouses have been separated for one year. However, a tort case based on domestic abuse can be sufficient grounds for breaking down a marriage.
  •    Even after the abuser is charged with a crime, the victim can pursue a civil action to be compensated for damages. The awards can be as high as $100,000, depending on the duration of abuse.
  •    During the division of matrimonial property, a tort claim can cause the victim to get a larger share of the property.
  •    A tort claim can also be used to bargain for a separation.
  •    In criminal cases, the victim plays a passive role in the proceedings. Most victims feel that justice is not served in criminal trials. On the other hand, tort cases are driven and determined by the plaintiff. In tort claim, victims can get retribution. Furthermore, while criminal charges are based on a few cases of violence that are easily proven, tort claims may involve several years of abuse.
  •    Victims of assault in domestic abuse cases use tort actions to deter potential abusers. Media coverage of high-profile tort claims condemn violence and educate as well as encourage victims who are fearful of filing their own claims.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, there are several measures you can take to ensure that your oppressor is brought to justice. However, before taking any action, you need to determine what actions qualify as domestic abuse. The other consideration you need to make is to decide the type of charges you want to press. Even after pursuing criminal charges, you can further make a tort claim against your oppressor to maximize punishment and to experience relief from your ordeal.


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