When we talk about cases of domestic violence under California law, in most situations we’re referring to violence or abuse between “intimate partners,”—that is, spouses, ex-spouses, domestic partners, and current and former dating relationships. But of course, these aren’t the only family relationships in which domestic violence can occur. Siblings may become violent toward one another. Violence may also be directed toward (or emanate from) aunts, nephews, grandparents, step-parents…the list goes on.
Domestic violence within these relationships may not always be easy to resolve. Unlike spousal or dating relationships which may be severed by separation and divorce, inter-family DV situations may touch many other mutual relationships, either through blood or marriage. It might not be as simple to “cut off” a particular relationship or create a long-term physical separation between two parties, especially when the larger family is concerned. The effects of a violent or abusive relationship within these ranks may reverberate within the family for years to come. Let’s talk about how the law addresses domestic violence of these types, then discuss the long-term implications for families and ways to bring healing.
The Legal Piece
At first glance, one might assume California domestic violence laws only protect intimate partner relationships. California Penal Code 13700 defines “domestic violence” as “abuse committed against an adult or a minor who is a spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, or person with whom the suspect has had a child or is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship.” However, California Family Code 6211 expands the definition of domestic violence to include abuse against any of the following:
- People with whom the perpetrator has had a child;
- Children in the home, including children in legal custody; and
- Anyone else who is related by blood or marriage to the second degree.
Under these definitions, not only are marital and dating relationships covered in domestic violence laws, but also nearly every familial or cohabitation relationship possible. In other words, abuse toward children, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-aunts, great-uncles, second cousins, and “steps” of all these relationships through marriage and blended families—all of these legally count as domestic violence, and they may be prosecuted in exactly the same manner as violence toward an intimate partner, with the same possible penalties.
Violence and Threats of Violence
As a point of reminder, let’s also mention here that California law paints very broad brush strokes as to what constitutes domestic violence. Family Code Section 6203 includes in its definition of abuse any acts that a) inflict harm; b) attempt to afflict harm; or c) make the other party feel as if harm is imminent.
Under the California Family Code, the list of acts that could be considered domestic violence is quite extensive, including any/all of the following:
- Physical assault (whether or not it causes injury)
- Sexual abuse/assault
- Threatening violence
- Credibly or falsely impersonating
- Harassing (e.g., via phone, email or in-person)
- Destroying the victim’s personal property
Healing Families in the Wake of Domestic Violence
Legal implications aside, when violence occurs within the larger scope of family relationships, it can trigger repercussions extending beyond the victim to other family members, as well. If, for example, an adult brother assaults his sister, the trust may not only be broken between the two siblings, but also between their extended families. Parents, aunts, uncles, and other siblings may be put into the unfortunate position of choosing sides in the dispute, often creating long-lasting fragmentations and generating confusion and distrust between family members who may have had nothing to do with the original incident. Thus, getting past familial domestic violence can actually be more complex than between intimate partners simply because more people may be touched by it.
Perhaps you’ve experienced this type of tragedy firsthand. Perhaps you had an escalation of tensions with a sibling, aunt, uncle, or cousin, and the situation got out of hand. You now have to deal with the legal consequences, but after you’ve done that, what can you do to mend the rifts caused within your larger tribe?
As with intimate partner DV, the first step toward healing the relationship is for you to take responsibility for your own actions and mistakes. Taking responsibility fully also involves communicating that fact to the people affected—starting with the victim, then extending to other family members connected to the victim. Take ownership of your faults to them, and where applicable, ask forgiveness. Whether or not forgiveness is granted, owning your mistake is an important first step.
Get help if needed.
Your next task is to deal with the “why”–to address whatever triggers may have caused the violence to occur. This step may involve a combination of support groups, personal therapy, anger management, etc. In some cases, it may be beneficial for some family members to engage in therapy along with you. Learning what causes you to escalate tensions can help you learn new habits to bypass those triggers and prevent violence from happening again.
Rebuild trust in steps.
Trust takes a long time to build, and an instant to destroy. Committing violence against another, regardless of legalities, is one of the fastest ways to destroy trust. Accept the fact that rebuilding that trust will take time, and you’ll have to rebuild trust with numerous family members, not just the person involved in your alteration. Be consistent in your change of behavior, but also be patient with them and with the process. They are the ones who have the right to decide when to begin trusting you again, and to what degree.
Regardless of how the healing process takes shape in your family, you’ll still have to deal with the state if you’ve been arrested and charged with any form of domestic violence. To that end, you need an experienced and compassionate attorney in your corner to guide you through the process and make sure your rights are protected. Give us a call today for a free case evaluation.