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The Domestic Violence Prevention Act Was Enacted to Protect Domestic Partners from Abusive Conduct that Causes Severe Emotional Distress

In 2011, shortly after his separation from his ex-Carolina, John Ervin began a relationship with Carolina Altafulla. John and Carolina purchased a residence together, where they lived with Carolina’s two daughters. In 2014, John received a surveillance report which provided evidence that Carolina had an affair. John created a digital image of the report, which included photographs of Carolina and the man she was having an affair with. John emailed the report to the couple’s friends, relatives, and co-workers. After the disclosure of the affair, John and Carolina remained living together, but avoided contact. One evening, John refused to let Carolina into the master bedroom to retrieve her belongings. Carolina called the police. After the police left the residence, John began angrily disassembling the children’s bedroom furniture. Carolina claimed that while John disassembled the children’s furniture, he disclosed to the children that Carolina had been having an affair with another man, what “blow jobs” were, and warned them that Carolina might have a sexually transmitted disease that they could contract from her. Carolina’s 17-year-old daughter was severely traumatized by John’s behavior.  The daughter fled the residence and checked in to a psychiatric facility where she told a psychologist that she was afraid of John. The psychologist contacted Carolina and said that the facility would not release her daughter until John left the home.

Carolina’s family law attorney obtained a temporary restraining order under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act that required John to leave the residence and prevented him from contact with the children. The family law court conducted a hearing on Carolina’s application for a permanent domestic violence restraining order against John, and John’s application for restraining order against Carolina. The family law court granted Carolina’s family law attorney’s application but denied John’s. The family law court reasoned that Carolina was legitimately in fear of ongoing harassing behavior from John. After his application was denied, John filed a second application, which was also denied. John’s family law lawyer then filed a notice of appeal regarding the restraining order.

On appeal, John’s family law lawyer argued that the truth of his statements regarding Carolina’s affair and her sexually transmitted disease could not be a basis for a restraining order against him. The Court of Appeal rejected John’s family law lawyer’s argument explaining that the Domestic Violence Prevention Act was enacted to protect domestic partners from abusive conduct which may involve the use of arguably accurate information in a manner that causes severe emotional distress. The Court of Appeal noted that California Family Code section 6320 provides that “disturbing the peace of the other party” constitutes abuse for purposes of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act. The meaning of the phrase “disturbing the peace of the other party” may be properly understood as conduct that destroys the mental or emotional calm of the other party. The Court of Appeal reasoned that John’s actions and statements caused Carolina and her daughters grave emotional distress. Thus, the Court of Appeal agreed with Carolina’s family law attorney and affirmed the family law court’s order granting Carolina’s permanent restraining order against John.

Altafulla v. Ervin (2015) 238 Cal. App. 4th 571