Arguments between family members are as common as differing opinions, and having a disagreement is not against the law. When things cross the line is when disagreements become physical or so emotionally abusive that there is a clear victim or abuser. When does an argument become domestic abuse? Here’s how to know when it becomes a crime and what will get a conviction in court.


Victims of domestic abuse are specifically spelled out in the law. Though there are variances from state to state, victims must be household or former household members, spouses, or those living as spouses or children. If what is reported to police as domestic abuse involves two nonrelated people who don’t live together, it’s not a domestic incident.


Domestic abuse is by definition, beyond mere words, unless those words are threats of imminent physical harm the victim believes will happen. Judges certainly discern between a push that doesn’t result in a fall and a hard-fisted assault when it comes to sentencing, but both may be considered domestic abuse in certain circumstances.

An example situation might be this one:  A police officer investigating a reported domestic abuse in which both the husband and wife agreed on the facts and the wife adamantly demanded he be arrested for abuse. The husband had angrily slammed a door, and as fate would have it, his wife was standing across the room when a picture frame fell off the wall and hit her on the head resulting from the door slam. Though the husband inadvertently caused the light bump on the head of his angry wife, he didn’t commit a violent act. Hence, no domestic abuse.

Who intervenes might also depend on the state you’re in. In Connecticut, the Family Relations Division provides units who help review police reports and make recommendations to the judge.


Getting convicted in court of domestic abuse depends entirely on the evidence at hand. Police officers investigate domestic abuse incidents to ensure the perpetrator is convicted in court.

Evidence can take many forms including:

  • Testimony of those involved, and of witnesses.
  • Injuries ranging from red marks to life-threatening cuts and gunshot wounds.
  • Physically present blood, weapons, and other items that tell the story.

According to a defense attorney out of San Diego, the victim must also compile and present medical records of physical injuries. To be convicted in court, the judge or the jury must find there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. When evidence exists but doesn’t rise to this level, the defendant is found not guilty.

Domestic abuse does rear its ugly head from time to time. A recent case involved a man who began beating one of his children and when his wife intervened, he assaulted her as well. His three prior domestic abuse convictions made this case a felony and he’s heading to prison.

Not every argument is domestic abuse, but abuse does happen. It is important to know the general definitions to be prepared in the case of going to trial.

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