What You Need to Know About Domestic Violence Laws in California

California law explicitly makes domestic violence a criminal offense. Here is what you need to know about domestic violence laws in California.

Domestic violence is the abuse of an individual by an intimate partner. An individual who has committed domestic violence against their partner can be convicted under more than one section of California’s penal code.

What is California’s Legal Definition of Domestic Violence?

California Penal Code 13700b criminalizes and defines domestic violence. Domestic violence is abuse committed by an individual against their partner or significant other. Penal Code 13700a defines abuse as a person intentionally causing bodily harm to another, attempting to cause harm, or placing an individual in a situation where harm may be caused. The law also relates to situations where bodily harm was attempted or a result of an individual’s recklessness. Under CPC 13700, a partner is considered:

  • A spouse (whether they be an adult or minor)
  • Former spouse
  • Fiance
  • Former Fiance
  • Cohabitant
    • A cohabitant is defined as two adults who are not related and live together. Their living arrangement should have been for a long enough period of time to establish a stronger or more permanent relationship.
    • The following are some factors that affect and determine whether two individuals are considered cohabitants
      • The couple is engaging in sexual relations while living in the same quarters
      • The couple share income or expenses
      • The couple have joint ownership of property or joint use
      • The amount of time the two individuals have been together
      • The stability of the relationship
      • The couple present themselves as each other’s spouses or consider each other to be in a spousal relationship
  • Former cohabitant
  • Current boyfriend/girlfriend/or individual that a suspect is dating
  • Former boyfriend/girlfriend/or individual that a suspect dated
  • An individual with whom the suspect has a child with
  • An individual with whom the suspect is expecting a child with

Related: Sexual Harassment vs. Sexual Assault in California

Additional Definitions for Domestic Violence

Apart from the list of individuals defined under Penal Code 13700, the California Family Code 6211 states that the following individuals can also be considered victims of domestic violence:

  • The child of the individual who is suspected of committing domestic violence
  • Any individual who is related to the suspect through blood or marriage
    • Brothers and sisters
    • Half-brothers and half-sisters
    • Step-brothers and step-sisters
    • Nephews and nieces
    • Aunts and uncles
    • Grandfathers and grandmothers
    • Granddaughters and grandsons

Under What Laws Can Domestic Violence be Penalized?

Domestic violence will usually include battery, abuse, and threats. Due to this, the penalization of domestic violence is not limited to penal code 13700. Domestic violence crimes can also be penalized under the following codes:

  • Penal Code 273.5
    • The infliction of corporal injury is a felony and the following punishments can be expected for first-time offenders:
      • Up to 4 years of imprisonment at a state prison
      • Up to 1-year imprisonment at the county jail
      • A fine of up to $6,000
      • Imprisonment and a fine
  • Penal Code 243(e)(1)
    • This code makes domestic battery, the infliction of force or violence on a partner, illegal.
    • Domestic battery is a misdemeanor and first-time offenders can expect the following punishments:
      • Up to one year in county jail and/or
      • A fine of up to $2,000
  • Penal Code 368
    • This code criminalizes elder abuse (65 years and older).
    • The following constitute forms of elder abuse:
      • Physical abuse
      • Emotional abuse
      • Neglect
      • Endangerment
      • Financial fraud
    • May be tried as a felony or misdemeanor depending on the severity of the case.
      • If a misdemeanor, an individual can expect up to 1 year in jail.
      • If a felony, an individual can expect up to 4 years in state prison.
  • Penal Code 422
    • This code makes it a crime to threaten someone with serious harm.
    • Depending on the severity of the threat and crime, the case may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony.
      • If a felony, a person may face up to 4 years in state prison.
      • If a misdemeanor, a person may face up to 1 year in jail.

Related: Is It Possible to Be Sexually Harassed By Your Husband?

Both penal codes listed apply to the same victims under penal code 13700. For cases concerning children, the following penal codes protect them:

  • Penal Code 273d
    • This code criminalizes the infliction of corporal punishment or injury on a child.
    • A first time offender can expect:
      • Up to one year in a county jail
      • Up to 3 years in a state prison
  • Penal Code 273a
    • This code criminalizes child endangerment which includes:
      • Allowing a child to suffer harm
      • Endangering a child’s health and safety
    • If there was a great risk of great bodily injury, it will be considered a felony.
    • If the risk was not significant, it will be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail.


Can I get restitution for domestic violence in California?

It is possible for you to get restitution if the judge orders your offender to do so. Restitution can be provided in the form of paying medical bills and mental health counseling, but it is not limited to these forms of compensation.

Related: How to File a Domestic Violence Lawsuit in California

How does domestic violence affect custody rights?

A domestic abuser is almost always unable to get custody of their children in the state of California. While they may be allowed visitation rights, parental rights vary depending on the severity of the abuse, whether they abused the child and the age of the child.

Related: How Domestic Violence Affects Child Custody in California

Can I get a restraining order against a domestic abuser?

In California, you can apply for an emergency restraining order. This is known as a protective order, and physical harm is not required to obtain one. You can obtain the order through the civil or criminal court.

Related: Domestic Violence Restraining Orders in California

Contact Her Lawyer

If you or a loved one would like to know more about domestic violence laws in California, contact us. We’ll get you in touch with the most qualified attorney for your unique legal matter. Get your free consultation with one of our California Domestic Violence Attorneys today!