Domestic Violence: What is Considered Domestic Violence?

Divorce and domestic violence are linked areas of law. Often, one type of case precedes, and even causes, the other type of case to be filed. Domestic violence cases are governed by different Michigan statutes than divorce matters.

MCL 400.1501(1) states:

(d) “Domestic violence” means the occurrence of any of the following acts by a person that is not an act of self-defense:

(i) Causing or attempting to cause physical or mental harm to a family or household member.

(ii) Placing a family or household member in fear of physical or mental harm.

(iii) Causing or attempting to cause a family or household member to engage in involuntary sexual activity by force, threat of force, or duress.

(iv) Engaging in activity toward a family or household member that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested.

(e) “Family or household member” includes any of the following:

(i) A spouse or former spouse.

(ii) An individual with whom the person resides or has resided.

(iii) An individual with whom the person has or has had a dating relationship.

(iv) An individual with whom the person is or has engaged in a sexual relationship.

(v) An individual to whom the person is related or was formerly related by marriage.

(vi) An individual with whom the person has a child in common.

(vii) The minor child of an individual described in subparagraphs (i) to (vi).

I highlighted two paragraphs above to make an important point about domestic violence in Michigan. There does not need to be an overt physical act that involves an involuntary touching of any person's body. Rather, actions which are calculated to make another person feel some type of fear are also considered domestic violence.

Example: "Hello [Spouse], I am coming over to your house to kill you tonight."

The above statement is not an attempt to cause physical harm to a family member. However, a reasonable person receiving that call would feel terrified that their spouse is coming to harm them, assuming no other factors. For illustrative purposes, this sort of threat would almost certainly be found to be domestic violence under parts (ii) or (iv) of MCL 400.1501(1).

But what if there are other factors in play?

What if the threatened spouse in the above example was married to an incarcerated person? Would a reasonable person still feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, etc? The answer is probably yes, although it is no longer a certainty.

What if the threatened spouse in the above example was married to an astronaut who was currently in orbit above the earth? Would a reasonable person still feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, etc? The answer is probably no, although it is still not a certainty.

Any statement made could, in theory, cause a person to feel some form of emotional duress, such as feeling terrorized or intimidated. The Circuit Court is going to focus solely on the specific allegations of violent behavior, whether those claims are sufficiently supported by evidence, and whether or not the claims of the plaintiff are 'reasonable.'

In the next post, we'll discuss in greater detail the concept of reasonableness, as it relates to domestic violence allegations.

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