Mental Abuse of a Party Can Be the Basis for an Order for Domestic Violence Protection Without Showing of Physical Harm to Victim

Likelihood of future abuse is not required to obtain a domestic violence restraining order. 

A girlfriend filed for a domestic violence restraining order against her boyfriend.

A girlfriend alleged that her boyfriend exhibited controlling behavior, calling her multiple times in a day, accusing her of cheating, and isolating her from contact with others. She sought psychological help due to the stress and anxiety and ended her relationship with her boyfriend.

A month later, she discovered she was pregnant and resumed the relationship with her boyfriend. The boyfriend was enrolled in three of four college classes with his girlfriend. For the one class they did not share, he made her keep a telephone call open during class to monitor her socializing with others; he also kept a line open with her when she was at home to monitor her activities.

On one occasion, the boyfriend sliced open the neck of a teddy bear and told her that is what he wanted to do to her. She was subsequently diagnosed with sub-chorionic hemorrhage and a cyst and advised to limit strenuous activity and stress. Although he was aware of her diagnosis, he practiced martial arts in close proximity to her despite her requests to stop, played with a knife close to her face, and threatened to beat her with a belt. During the pregnancy he would physically assault her: pulling hair, punching, kicking, and slapping her. While driving his girlfriend to the hospital for abdominal pain, the boyfriend began driving erratically, took her phone away when she called her mother for help, threatened to send her to jail, and finally threatened to drive into path of an oncoming train.

She ended her relationship with her boyfriend immediately thereafter. However, he and his friends continued to threaten her over social media. She had to change her phone number, shut down her social media, and stopped attending her college classes. She also sought counseling. She filed for a domestic violence restraining order after she believed she saw him in the vicinity.

The family law court found that the mental abuse and controlling behavior of the boyfriend were not relevant to its determination of domestic violence. Further, the family law court said that the physical abuse, which it believed occurred, ceased in the six month period leading up to the hearing and was thus too remote and unlikely to recur. On those basis, the court denied girlfriend’s request for a domestic violence restraining order.

The Court of Appeal found that the family law court erred on both grounds, and reversed the denial of the domestic violence restraining order.

Mental abuse is relevant evidence in a domestic violence proceeding. The testimony in this case revealed significant acts of emotional abuse. The acts of isolation, control, and threats were sufficient to demonstrate the destruction of girlfriend’s mental and emotional calm. The disturbance continued despite boyfriend’s knowledge of the adverse consequences to the girlfriend’s health and pregnancy.

In regards to the family law court’s finding that the physical abuse was too remote and unlikely to recur in the future, the family law court erred because domestic violence statutes do not require any showing of likelihood of future abuse to obtain a domestic violence restraining order. The domestic violence statutes expressly allows renewal of a protective order without a showing of any further abuse beyond that on which the original order was based.

Rodriguez v. Menjivar (2016) 243 Cal.App.4th 816

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