Under California’s Penal Code 13700, it is illegal to commit abuse against an intimate partner. The law defines abuse as the act of intentionally and recklessly using or threatening to use physical force. While this is a far cry from an argument, it is not foreign for someone to find their wrists slapped with handcuffs following a verbal fight with a spouse. As long as someone dials 911, the person who seems more infuriated could quickly end up facing domestic violence charges.

There is a blurry line that separates a heated debate between intimate partners and domestic violence. Sometimes, the accused may not be sure whether they crossed the legal line and committed domestic abuse. Because of the grave consequences of the charges you may face, it’s best to consult with an attorney as soon as the police arrest you.

Intimate Partner Defined

To understand what constitutes domestic violence, it is also imperative to know who is an intimate partner. Under the law, an intimate partner can be any of the following people:

  • A spouse, ex-spouse, fiancé or ex-fiancé
  • Someone with whom you have a child
  • Anyone you are dating or have ever dated
  • Any person with whom you have or have had a sexual relationship
  • Other people living in your household
  • Persons related by blood or by law, such as parents in law

You must understand that California embraces the LGBT community. This means that anyone with whom you have a gay or heterosexual relationship counts as a domestic partner.

Understanding The Legal Definition Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is also referred to as domestic abuse or intimate partner violence. Broadly speaking, it is any pattern of behavior in the relationship typically used to gain or maintain control and power over an intimate partner.

Abuse can take different forms. It can be physical, emotional, sexual, psychological, or economic. Moreover, it can take the shape of threats, making the victim feel hurt, humiliated, terrorized, intimidated, manipulated, guilty, or frightened.

It remains imperative to understand that you can face domestic violence charges irrespective of your religion, race, age, gender, or sexual orientation. Contrary to popular belief, even women can face charges for committing domestic abuse against their male partners.

In any case, an alleged victim may have to press charges for the purposes of:

  • Obtaining a domestic violence restraining order
  • Pursuing a matter legally
  • Filing a civil lawsuit to obtain restitution
  • Protecting the kids following child custody disputes

Was It an Argument or Domestic Violence? and What Constitutes Domestic Violence?

The most apparent forms of domestic violence include threats or physical and sexual assault. However, these are merely actions that make other people aware of the problem within an intimate relationship. It remains imperative to understand that you may also face charges for abusive behavior even when it doesn’t lead to physical injury.

Here is what constitutes domestic violence under Penal Code 13700:

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse involves inflicting pain on a victim through pinching, punching, kicking, shoving, biting, choking, slapping, pulling hair, or using other forms of physical force. It remains imperative to understand that inflicting indirect pain is also a type of physical abuse. For instance, you are guilty of domestic violence if you force an intimate partner to use drugs/ alcohol or deny them medical care.

Moreover, the law deems you physically abusive if you:

  • Damage property when upset (kick through doors, punch walls, throw objects, etc.)
  • Touch the victim harmfully or offensively
  • Abandon an intimate partner in an unfamiliar or dangerous location
  • Use a weapon when harling threats
  • Scare the victim by driving dangerously or recklessly
  • Force an intimate partner to leave the home
  • Prevent a victim from leaving the home
  • Use physical force during sexual encounters
  • Hurt the kids or other members of the household

Emotional Abuse

Unlike physical abuse, which law enforcement can point out with ease, it is often challenging to provide evidence of emotional abuse. Such abuse involved undermining an intimate partner or making them question their self-worth.

Emotional abuse can take different forms. The most common involve belittling an intimate partner, throwing constant criticism, name-calling, and verbal abuse, just to mention a few.

  • Other not so obvious forms of emotional abuse include:
  • Acting towards an intimate partner in a possessive manner
  • Controlling finances and withholding money required for household needs
  • Limiting whom the victim can call or interact with
  • Monitoring your movement, daily activities, and communications
  • Threatening to hurt household members or pets

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse is yet another form of domestic violence. It involves instilling fear in an intimate partner through intimidation. Generally, it involves mind games, making the victim feel imprisoned for doing things your way “or else”.

Financial or Economic Abuse

Economic abuse mainly involves controlling finances or financial resources. It may include withholding money or forbidding an intimate partner from working or engaging in activities that allow financial independence.

Sexual Abuse

Did you know that you must seek sexual consent from an intimate partner? This is irrespective of whether you are married, love birds, or just dating. Sexual abuse mainly involves forcing an intimate partner to engage in sexual acts that they don’t want.

Other forms of sexual abuse involve:

  • Wanting an intimate partner to dress in a particular sexual fashion
  • Demanding conjugal rights when a partner is unwell or after a beating
  • Involving other people during sexual activities without express permission from your partner


Under Penal Code 646.9 PC, the law describes stalking as the offense of deliberately and repeatedly following another person with malicious intent. Often, stalkers pursue their victims with the intent to cause fear, intimidate, annoy, harass or terrorize them. Stalking an intimate partner may also involve installing surveillance cameras for purposes beyond security or repeatedly making unwanted phone calls with the intent to instill fear.

What Is The Difference Between Domestic Violence And A Fight With A Spouse?

As aforementioned, there’s a thin line between disagreements from domestic violence. Perfect relationships don’t exist, and even law enforcement officers understand this much. While differences between domestic partners are inevitable, the situation escalates into abuse when one partner establishes control or power over the other.

Example: John disagrees with his girlfriend, Mary, over who should take out the garbage. While Mary feels the chore requires someone masculine, John argues that he works hard all day only to return home to more duties. In the heat of the argument, John strikes Mary in the face. This situation makes John guilty of physical abuse, leaving him at risk of facing domestic violence charges.

Moreover, John would still be guilty of domestic abuse if you resolved to insult Mary instead of striking her. In this case, he is guilty of emotional abuse. Anytime an argument involves physical, emotional, or psychological abuse, it automatically turns the situation into domestic violence.

Unfortunately, the police can arrest you and press charges if someone informs them about a situation. You may face charges even if the alleged victim doesn’t report the incident in person. Fortunately, a skilled attorney can fight to reduce your charges to a lesser crime like disturbing the peace.

You cannot afford to underestimate the importance of understanding the range of behaviors and actions that constitute domestic abuse. After all, dropping the charges once the police start their investigations is often challenging, if not impossible. Even if both parties agree that there is no need to push forward with the case, the prosecution will still proceed as long as they have primary evidence.

Irrespective of whether the prosecution has sufficient evidence or not, your best chances of getting off the loop may highly depend on the levels of expertise of the legal team you choose. Your attorney can help prove to the court that pursuing a case any further is not worth it, mainly because you were arrested and charged based on exaggerated claims, a misunderstanding, false accusations, or misremembered events.

Consequences for a Domestic Violence Conviction

Domestic violence is a wobbler offense that may attract felony or misdemeanor charges. The prosecution will impose charges based on various factors, including the victim’s age, their relationship with a defendant, and the severity of injuries suffered, among other factors.

If charged with a felony, the penalty may include:

  • Up to 4 to 7 years’ incarceration in state prison
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000

The penalty for domestic violence, when charged as a misdemeanor, is as follows:

  • Imprisonment for up to 1 year in county jail
  • A fine not exceeding $2,000

Additional penalties may include the following:

Domestic Violence Restitution

Irrespective of the twists and turns your case takes, the victim of domestic violence may file a legal lawsuit and seek restitution. The compensation offered may cover the following damages:

  • Medical costs
  • Psychological/mental health counseling
  • Property damage
  • Lost wages

Enrollment in a Batterer’s Program

Often, judges will also order mandatory enrollment in a domestic violence program. The program provides counseling and treatment such as anger management. A competent lawyer may manage to have your sentence reduced to summary probation when charged with a misdemeanor or formal probation when facing felony charges. In this case, the judge is likely to order mandatory participation in a batterer’s program.

Permanent Criminal Record

It is essential to note that a domestic violence conviction will end up on your permanent criminal record. In short, any potential employer who does a background check on you will see the conviction on your criminal background. This may limit your chances of enjoying state licensing, meaningful employment, or even specific housing options.

Loss of Child Custodial Rights

Another common consequence of a domestic abuse conviction is the loss of custody rights. The law prohibits convicted persons from gaining custody of minors, although this may not affect your visitation rights.

It is in your best interests to clear your name as swiftly as possible if charged with domestic violence over a mere disagreement with a domestic partner. Note that the family law courts can deny you child custody rights even if you are acquitted. Your best chance of enjoying the custody of your kids is to have the charges dropped.

Loss of Gun Rights

If convicted of domestic violence, you may also be at a loss of your rights to own or possess a gun. Note that recovering your gun rights following the conviction may be impossible. If convicted of a misdemeanor, you may suffer a 10-year firearm ban. On the other hand, you will lose your gun rights for a lifetime under both state and federal laws if convicted of a domestic abuse felony such as corporal injury on an intimate partner.

Restraining Orders

Victims of domestic violence can obtain an emergency restraining order immediately after an incident. They then have the option of filing for a more permanent restraining order further to protect themselves from possible harm from a defendant. An alleged victim can obtain a restraining order against you, whether you caused physical, psychological, economic, or emotional abuse.

Immigration Consequences

Domestic violence can be a “removable” offense if aggravating circumstances exist or a crime involves moral turpitude. In this case, you may be deported if convicted and possibly deemed inadmissible into the country. This means you cannot reenter by adjusting your status or even applying for a green card.

Find a Domestic Violence Attorney Law Firm Near Me

So, is there a difference between domestic violence and a fight with a spouse? Yes. Is it easy to cross the line, turning the situation from a fight into domestic violence? Absolutely. Law enforcement may no longer view the situation as an argument when you exert power or control over an intimate partner. If the police arrest you in San Diego and impose domestic violence charges, it is in your best interests to seek legal counsel immediately. At Domestic Violence Attorney Law Firm, we can provide reliable defense, irrespective of whether you are innocent or guilty as charged. Our decades of experience in the field allow us to carry out thorough investigations to unveil the truth. We can help clear your name if you are wrongfully accused. Call us today at 619-393-8588 for a 100% free and confidential consultation.