This is a series of blogs addressing the issue of domestic violence and protecting yourself within the legal system. The first of these series addresses the identification of what is occurring in your marriage, both emotionally and legally. Always remember to never lose sight of the fact domestic violence is about “power and control,” and when you take any steps which alters your spouse’s sense of control over you, your safety and the safety of the children, must always stay in the forefront of your mind.

Facing the reality of your relationship can be the most difficult, and potentially the most dangerous moment in your marriage, especially when domestic abuse is a factor. Complicating this process is the fact this is no stranger, rather the person hurting you is your spouse, partner, and/or the father/mother of your children.

In order to stay safe, and to reach out for the needed support and assistance, your first step is to identify what is truly going on in your marriage. This can be challenging, as reflecting on whether you are being abused by your spouse or partner, may create many feelings, such as a sense of denial or disbelief; self-doubt; anger; fear, uncertainty, and perhaps even a sense of hopelessness. Further, if you have children, you may think your options to leave, file for a domestic violence restraining order, and/or file for a divorce, are limited based on certain beliefs, whether accurate or inaccurate, such as: the children will be angry at you; you will not be able to monitor your spouse to keep the children safe; or your spouse will obtain custody of the children. All of these beliefs and feelings, are also complicated by many additional factors, such as, it is your spouse or partner committing these acts, your financial status, isolation, religious faith; and/or your upbringing, which can make you feel paralyzed as to the options you have in order to legally and emotionally move forward, for both you and your children.

You need to understand how the law defines domestic abuse, how this definition applies to your life and situation, and how your reflective meaning regarding your spouse’s behaviors impacts the steps you take in moving forward. Legally, California Family Code, Sections 6203 and 6320 define and prohibit domestic abuse. However, the challenge is in the identification of your spouse’s behavior and/or conduct, and to ascertain if this behavior qualifies as domestic abuse. While this in itself does not appear challenging, the labeling of your spouse’s behavior as abusive, and then determining the action you would like to pursue is where the challenge lies. California Family Code, Section 6203, defines abuse as, (a) to intentional or recklessly cause or attempt to cause bodily injury; (b) place a person in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily injury to that person or another; (c) behavior that has been or could be enjoined pursuant to Family Code, Section 6320; and (d) sexual assault, where abuse is not limited to actual infliction of physical injury or assault.

Looking specifically at California Family Code, Section 6320, the Court may issue an ex parte domestic violence restraining order prohibiting a party from perpetrating the following conduct: (a) threatening; (b) credibly impersonating; (c) falsely personating; (d) harassing; (e) telephoning, including but not limited to, making annoying telephone calls; (f) destroying personal property; (g) contacting either directly or indirectly, by mail or otherwise; (h) coming within a specified distance of; (i) disturbing the peace of the other party; () molesting; (k) attacking; (m) striking; (n) stalking; (o) battering; and/or (p) sexually assaulting. Where, at the Court’s own discretion, and with good cause, the Court can protect other named family or household members.

While one can obtain a domestic violence restraining order without reflecting and identifying where one is as to the phases of healing from domestic violence, or as to the degree of domestic abuse you are enduring; recognizing how you have put forth meaning to explain your spouse’s behaviors and conduct, will allow you to move forward in a positive and healing manner. A person being abused needs to process the losses which occurred due to the abuse, allowing the reflective self to understand the impact abuse has had on the making of meaning, and this processing will result in new a perception of self. (Nerken, I. (1993) Grief and the Reflective Self: Toward a Clearer Model of Loss Resolution and Growth; Woodfield, R. & Viney, L. (1984 1985) A Personal Construct Approach to the Conjugally Bereaved Woman.)

Consider the following questions within these five phases to determine where you are in your meaning making as to the domestic abuse committed against you, and how you use this to reflect back in defining yourself. Remember these are not rigid phases, where you must move from one phase to the next. Rather, you might move back and forth or skip a phase entirely, everyone’s process is unique and impacted by the complexity of the abuse, and the additional dynamics of each person.

Phase 1: This is a period of disbelief or shock as to your spouse’s or partner’s behaviors, resulting in survival or coping mechanism; self-blame for your spouse’s or partner’s behavior, and/or a perception that abuse occurs in other relationships but not in your relationship. Ask yourself these questions and/or statements to see if you are in this phase:

  • a) My spouse or partner loves me, so you know he/she didn’t mean to do it;
  • b) If there was less stress, your spouse or partner would not be abusive;
  • c) If you worked at your relationship harder your spouse or partner would not be abusive;
  • d) It is not like your partner has ever hurt you. [Remember physical abuse does not have to leave a bruise, besides hitting you, it can include blocking you from leaving, preventing you from accessing your phone to call 9-1-1, pushing you, throwing an object at you, and/or restraining you.)

Phase 2: This is a period of awareness that your partner’s behavior is abusive, often creating anxiety, anger, destructive coping mechanisms, bargaining, depression, and is a period where your energy is spent on surviving rather than on personal growth. Ask yourself these questions and/or statements to see if you are in this phase:

  • a) You use alcohol to numb the hurt from your spouse’s or partner’s abusive behavior;
  • b) You frequently think in an “if only” thought process about your spouse or partner;
  • c) You feel hopeless about your relationship with your spouse or partner;
  • d) You can’t understand why your spouse or partner is abusive to you.

Phase 3: This is a period of withdrawal from society, a sense of hopelessness, as well as the beginning of understanding of social support available to you. Ask yourself these questions and/or statements to see if you are in this phase:

  • a) You have trouble focusing on a task;
  • b) You feel all alone;
  • c) You have no hope for your dreams;
  • d) You feel sad most of the time;

Phase 4: This is a period of change, healing, acceptance of loss, and redirecting your attention towards personal growth steps. Ask yourself these questions and/or statements to see if you are in this phase:

  • a) You are angry your spouse or partner is happy and you are struggling;
  • b) You are angry at your spouse or partner for abusing you;
  • c)You deserve to feel safe in your home;
  • d) Your spouse or partner is responsible for his/her abusive behavior.

Phase 5: This is a phase of moving on, acceptance, and self-growth. Ask yourself these questions and/or statements to see if you are in this phase:

  • a) You feel confident about taking positive steps for you;
  • b) You feel empowered most of the time;
  • c) You feel positive about how you are taking care of yourself; v
  • d) You have dreams for the future.

This is not considered a substitution for professional therapy and/or support groups, which may provide you with any needed therapeutic treatment. Rather, this blog serves the sole purpose to provide you with a connecting link between the emotional identification of your spouse’s behaviors and legal remedies, such as a domestic violence restraining order, and any other legal mechanisms, including a dissolution of marriage.

If you determine you want to seek a domestic violence restraining order, the individuals who can seek this form of protection, is defined by California Family Code, Section 6211, Where the abuse is being perpetrated against a: (a) spouse or former spouse; (b) cohabitant or former cohabitant, which is a person who regularly (or formerly) resided in the same household; (c) dated or engaged; (d) has a child with the perpetrator, where the male parent is the father of the child of the female parent; and (e) blood relative to the second-degree (grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces or half-siblings). Protection for other individuals would be through a civil harassment restraining order, or if you are 65 years old or older or a dependent adult you may be able to seek protection through an elder or dependent adult restraining order.

Our firm has ability to legally assist you throughout your process, whether this is to obtain a domestic violence restraining order; a dissolution of marriage; address custody, parenting schedule, or support issue; and/or modify a post-judgment matter. We have years of experience in the area of domestic violence to litigate on your behalf, as well as provide you with the emotional support during this process.