The Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA) is designed to protect victims of domestic violence and allow them a simplified and expedited means to obtain a restraining order against the perpetrator. Despite all of the right intentions, domestic violence actions can become some of the most contentious forms of family law litigation.
The categories of protected person in a domestic violence action are (1) a spouse or former spouse, (2) a “cohabitant” or former cohabitant, which generally means a person who regularly resides (or used to regularly reside) in the household, (3) a person who was involved in a dating or engagement relationship with the other, (4) a coparent (mother and father of the same child) (5) a child of a parent or (6) blood relatives.
A domestic violence action generally starts with an emergency request (that can be noticed or unnoticed depending on the circumstances) for a temporary restraining order, followed by a formal hearing where the accused and accuser testify, as do witnesses, if available.
Domestic violence restraining orders are designed to protect the victim and prevent further harm. To obtain a restraining order, the person seeking it must show past act or acts of abuse. The word “abuse” is broadly defined and includes intentionally or recklessly causing or attempting to cause bodily injury, sexual assault, placing a person in “reasonable apprehension” of imminent (immediate) serious bodily injury or engaging in any of the following behavior, as defined by Family Code section 6320: “molesting, attacking, striking, stalking, threatening, sexually assaulting, battering, 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.”
If it sounds a little broad, that is because it is and that is one of the reasons family law domestic violence cases can becomes such contentious hearings. When there is no physical injury and the domestic violence case comes down to a “he said, she said” situation, the family law judge is forced to not just listen to what the parties are claiming happened but also evaluate the manner in which the two of them testify and determine if one’s version is more credible than the other.
A finding of domestic violence can have serious ramifications. Not only is the information inputted in law enforcement’s database through a CLETS order, but it could affect a person’s job (especially if they are in a position of public trust), reputation and have a serious detrimental effect on later custody and support awards.