Family Law

Legal Consequences of Abuse

Most of the time, our government stays out of our personal relationships. However, when domestic or child abuse is present, there can be serious legal consequences. Know what type of behavior is abusive and against the law, and the legal consequences abusers may face.

Child Abuse

It's a crime in every state for a parent, or a person caring for a child, to intentionally or recklessly injure the child. The injury may be:

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Both physical and psychological

A court may order an abusive parent to complete parenting training or assistance.

In extreme cases, the state may remove the child from the parent's home and place him or her in foster care or with a relative.

Terminating parental rights is possible in extraordinary cases, where the abuse is outrageous or the parent lacks capacity for rehabilitation. The child may be placed with a new family for adoption.

Each state has a procedure for reporting child abuse cases to law enforcement agencies or child protective services.

Each state also requires some individuals to report any signs of abuse. This typically applies at a minimum to:

  • Teachers
  • Medical professionals
  • Law enforcement personnel

Some states expand this reporting responsibility to all citizens.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is violent conduct that causes or threatens injury between:

  • Spouses
  • Family members
  • Those residing in the same household 

Where the violence is between adults, a state generally won't get involved unless the conduct is criminal. Most states have a list of criminal statutes that, if violated, qualify as domestic violence if the victim is a family member or lives with the person violating the statute.

The legal consequences of domestic violence vary from state to state.

In general, courts are authorized at a first (or emergency) hearing to act on a temporary basis. For example, where there is reasonable suspicion that domestic violence has taken place, the court may temporarily restrain the person accused of domestic violence from contact with the victim.

Where appropriate, the court will restrain the person accused from contact with the children of the victim or the parties.

Temporary restraints may require the accused person to move out of the shared residence. These restraints may also bar contact at the victim's workplace or school.

Shortly following a first or emergency hearing, a court must hold a full hearing or a trial to determine whether or not domestic violence occurred.

If the court decides there was domestic violence, the judge can offer a wide range of remedies, which differ from state to state. These remedies may include:

  • Permanent restraints
  • Award of money damages
  • Liability for child or spousal support
  • Orders regarding child custody and visitation

Additionally, if a court finds someone was violent, the court may refer the matter to law enforcement for criminal prosecution.

Most states have shelters to house victims of domestic violence.

Many police departments intervene aggressively in domestic violence situations to encourage the victim to bring criminal and civil charges against the abuser.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What should I do if I suspect a child is being abused?
  • How long does it take to get a temporary restraining order?
  • How will a restraining order against my spouse be enforced?
  • Can I sue family members for domestic violence?
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