What Are the Spousal Abuse Laws in Virginia?
By Claire Gillespie
Updated September 14, 2018
Rafael Ben-Ari/The Image Bank/GettyImages
In the state of Virginia, spousal abuse is known as family abuse or domestic violence. It's against state law to injure, attempt to injure or to threaten a member of your family or household, including your spouse. It's also against the law to violate a restraining order that was issued to protect your spouse. According to the 2017 Annual Report published by Virginia's Office of the Attorney General and Department of Law, there were more than 62,000 calls to domestic and sexual violence hotlines across Virginia in 2016.
Definition of Spousal Abuse
In Virginia, a person commits family abuse by carrying out any act against a family or household member that involves violence, force or threats, and that results in physical injury or places the family or household member in fear of injury or harm. Stalking and sexual assault can also constitute family abuse. Under the law, family abuse or domestic violence is classed as a pattern of abusive behaviors used to control or dominate another person. The behaviors may be physical, such as slapping, hitting, kicking, choking, biting, pushing or using weapons to cause injury, or they can be emotional, such as degrading name-calling, making verbal threats of harm or exerting economic control.
In addition to the person's spouse, the family or household member may be the person's parents, stepparents, children, stepchildren, brothers, sisters, half-brothers, half-sisters, grandparents or grandchildren. In-laws who live in the same house, people who have children together and people who cohabit or have cohabited in the past year are also included in the definition of family or household member. Additionally, the spouse may be a current or a former spouse. For the purposes of the legislation, it does not matter whether the spouse lives in the same home as the person who is responsible for the abuse.
Spousal Abuse Laws in Virginia
Spousal and domestic abuse laws in VA come under the Code of Virginia, which contains all the laws passed by the state's general assembly and signed by the governor for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Relevant sections of the code apply to family abuse, assault and battery, arrests, protective orders, deferred prosecution and repeat offenders.
Court Proceedings for Family Abuse
Family abuse or domestic violence cases may be heard by a civil or a criminal court in Virginia. If you want a court order signed by a judge to stop the abusive actions of another person – known as a protective order – you would file a petition in a civil court. Virginia is a mandatory arrest state, which means that in criminal cases of family abuse where police have reason to believe that a domestic assault and battery has occurred, the person suspected of the crime must be arrested. Subsequently, proceedings commence in a criminal court.
Protective Orders for Family Abuse
The court may issue a protective order in family abuse cases to prevent the offender from having any contact with the spouse or other family or household member protected by the order. There are three main types of protective orders: a full protective order (PO), an emergency protective order (EPO) and a preliminary protective order (PPO).
Protective Order (PO): A protective order can be valid for a specific period of time up to a maximum of two years and may be extended. It is issued to prohibit acts of family abuse or to prohibit contact with family or household members. It may include other provisions, such as granting use of the residence to family or household members, granting temporary possession of a motor vehicle owned by the victim or jointly owned by the victim and the offender, requiring someone to provide alternate housing for family or household members, ordering the offender into treatment or rehabilitative programs or ordering temporary custody of a minor child for up to two years. To request a protective order, you must file a petition with the intake office of the Court Service Unit. The order may only be issued after notice is given to both parties, and a full hearing is held before a judge.
Emergency Protective Order (EPO): Whenever an arrest is made for domestic assault and battery, or when there is reason to believe family abuse has taken place or will take place, a police officer or the victim may petition the court for an EPO. An EPO lasts for at least 72 hours, ending at 5 p.m. on the day that the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court is open. If the victim is considered to be mentally or physically unable to petition for further protection, a police officer can request an extension of an EPO on her behalf. In 2016, 55,911 EPOs were issued by magistrates and judges in Virgnia to protect victims and their family members.
Preliminary Protective Order (PPO): A PPO is similar to an EPO, but it typically lasts up to 15 days. It is designed to prevent acts of family abuse, and may also prohibit contact with family or household members or grant residence to family or household members. A petition for a PPO is filed at the intake office of the Court Service Unit. It can also be issued to someone in immediate danger of becoming a victim of family abuse, without the other party receiving notice, but the order is not effective until the other party receives a copy of it. The order provides a date for a full hearing, which must take place within 15 days of the order being issued, and both parties must receive notice of this hearing date.
Protective Orders in Stalking Cases
A stalking protective order (SPO), a stalking emergency protective order (SEPO) and a stalking preliminary protective order (SPPO) may also be issued in stalking cases. A stalker is a person who behaves in a manner, on more than one occasion, with the intent to place the victim in fear or with the knowledge that the victim is in fear of death, sexual assault or bodily injury to the victim or a member of the victim's family or household member.
After someone is convicted for stalking, or at the hearing following the granting of an SPPO where both parties are present, the court may issue an SPO. If the order is issued at the hearing, the court must find that the petitioner has proven a stalking allegation, backed by a large amount of evidence. An SPO may be valid for a specific period of time up to a maximum of two years.
An SEPO is used to prohibit stalking and/or contact with a family or household member and may be granted if a warrant has been issued for stalking, and the judge or magistrate is satisfied that there is a reasonable danger of further stalking. An SPPO may be granted if a warrant has been issued for the arrest of the alleged stalker, and a petition has been filed alleging stalking.
Violation of Protective Order
Violation of any type of civil protective order is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Following a guilty verdict, the punishment is up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. It is also a Class 1 misdemeanor crime under Virginia law for a person who is subject to a protective order to purchase or transport any firearm while the protective order is in effect. This applies to protective orders, emergency protective orders, preliminary protective orders, stalking protective orders, stalking emergency protective orders and stalking preliminary protective orders. And, under the amended Federal Gun Control Act, it is unlawful for any person convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence to possess, purchase or receive firearms or ammunition.
Domestic Violence in Same-Sex Relationships
If you are a victim of family abuse in the context of a same-sex relationship, you may be able to seek protection in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court in some parts of Virginia. However, in other parts of the state you need to go to the General District Court. Check with your local domestic violence program for the correct procedure if you are in an abusive same-sex relationship.
Minor Victim of Family Abuse
If you are a minor, you may seek an EPO in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court without a parent or legal guardian's involvement, or a police officer may request one on your behalf. A minor may only seek a PO or a PPO if he meets the legal definition of an emancipated minor. In Virginia, an emancipated minor is a person under the age of 18 who has been determined to be emancipated by a court; is or has been a party to a valid marriage; is on active duty with any of the Armed Forces of the United States; or is willingly living separate and apart from his parents or guardian with the consent of the parents or guardian and is capable of supporting himself financially.
Domestic Assault and Battery Punishment
Domestic assault and battery is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. If someone is convicted of domestic assault and battery three or more times on different dates within a period of 10 years, the crime becomes a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years in jail. The convictions do not need to be from the same jurisdiction in Virginia. If someone has two previous convictions for certain other types of assault and battery, the charge will also be elevated to a Class 6 felony.
Deferred Prosecution for Family Abuse
If you are charged with domestic violence in Virginia and it is your first offense, you may be able to defer prosecution. You must have no previous convictions relating to assault and battery against a family or household member, nor have had a previous charge for such an offense deferred and dismissed. To get a deferral, you must either plead guilty to the charge or the court finds that there is enough evidence to find you guilty of assault and battery against a family or household member. You must also give your consent to the deferral. Certain conditions may be attached to the deferral, such as undergoing an evaluation and successfully completing a sanctioned education or treatment program. The case will ultimately be dismissed, and you will be found not guilty if you comply with all conditions for the entire probationary period. However, if you violate any conditions of the deferral, you may be convicted.
Protection for Spousal Abuse Victims
In addition to protective orders and the criminal prosecution of her abuser, a victim of spousal abuse in Virginia may apply, via her local domestic or sexual violence program or victim witness assistance program, to be enrolled in an Address Confidentiality Program (ACP). This provides her with a legal substitute address, typically a post office box, to use instead of her actual physical address. It can be used whenever an address is needed by a public agency, and mail sent to the substitute address is forwarded to the victim's actual address.
All spousal abuse laws in Virginia come under the Code of Virginia. However, the laws do not use the term spousal abuse. The terms family abuse and domestic violence are used instead, and the laws apply to many classes of family or household members, including current and former spouses, cohabitants, parents, children and siblings.
- Virginia's Judicial System: Lynchburg Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court: Domestic Violence or Family Abuse
- LIS Virginia Law: Code of Virginia § 16.1-228. Definitions.
- Virginia State Crime Commission: An International Guide for Domestic Violence Victims in Virginia
- LIS Virginia Law: Code of Virginia § 18.2-57.2. Assault and Battery against a family or household member; penalty.
- LIS Virginia Law: Code of Virginia § 19.2-81.3. Arrest without a warrant authorized in cases of assault and battery against a family or household member and stalking and for violations of protective orders; procedure, etc.
- LIS Virginia Law: Code of Virginia § 16.1-253.1. Preliminary protective orders in cases of family abuse; confidentiality.
- LIS Virginia Law: Code of Virginia § 16.1-279.1. Protective order in cases of family abuse.
- LIS Virginia Law: Code of Virginia § 16.1-253.4. Emergency protective orders authorized in certain cases; penalty.
- LIS Virginia Law: Code of Virginia § 16.1-253.2. Violation of provisions of protective orders; penalty.
- LIS Virginia Law: Code of Virginia § 18.2-10. Punishment for conviction of felony; penalty.
- LIS Virginia Law: Code of Virginia § 18.2-11. Punishment for conviction of misdemeanor.
- LIS Virginia Law: Code of Virginia § 18.2-57.3. Persons charged with first offense of assault and battery against a family or household member may be placed on local community-based probation; conditions; education and treatment programs; costs and fees; violations; discharge.
- LIS Virginia Law: Code of Virginia § 18.2-60.4. Violation of protective orders; penalty.
- LIS Reports to the General Assembly: RD8 - Domestic and Sexual Violence in Virginia - 2017 Annual Report
- United States Department of Justice: 1117. Restrictions on the Possession of Firearms by Individuals Convicted of a Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence
- Virginia Office of the Attorney General: Domestic Violence - Address Confidentiality
Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.