Court of Appeals Has Ruled That Emotional Harm Constitutes Domestic Violence

A California Court of Appeals has ruled that Trial Court was wrong when it refused to issue a permanent restraining order on the basis that emotional harm did not constitute domestic violence and a six-month hiatus from physical violence meant that further acts were unlikely to occur. In the case of Rodriguez v. Menjivar, Mother and Father began dating in June of 2013. According to Mother, Father soon began calling her many times each day, accusing her of cheating on him, isolating her from contacting other people, and engaging in other forms of controlling behavior. In November of 2013, the stress and anxiety from Fathers behavior prompted Mother to seek psychological help. Mother broke up with Father in December 2013.

In January of 2014, Mother discovered she was pregnant and resumed her relationship with Father. Father then enrolled in three of the four college classes that Mother was taking, forced her to keep her telephone calls from him open during the fourth class, and threatened her with bodily harm if she failed to keep the line open at home, so he could monitor her activities. When Mothers mother noticed the open line, Mother told her that Father would hit her if she didnt keep it open. Soon thereafter, Father sliced open the neck of Mothers teddy bear, telling her that he wanted to do the same thing to her. When Mother was diagnosed with a medical condition that required her to limit stress and strenuous activities, Father played with a knife close to Mothers face, threatened to beat her with a studded belt, and refused to stop practicing martial arts close to her. Despite Mothers pregnancy, Father pulled her hair, kicked and slapped her, punched her with his fist, and pushed her head into a seatbelt holder while driving. Mother was understandably terrified, but did not contact police because Father told her that he would tell them that she abused him.

In February 2014, Mother asked Father to drive her to the hospital because she was having abdominal pain. On the way, Father drove erratically, grabbed her phone when she tried to call her mother, threatened to send her to jail, and claimed he would drive into an oncoming train. When Mother told the hospital staff about his behavior, they called the police. After that, Mother stopped seeing Father, but he didnt stop harassing her. He threatened her in person and through social media in March and April of 2014, and had his friends threaten her. Mother changed her phone number, closed her social media, and later, stopped attending college classes. In July of 2014, she again sought counseling, after seeing Father in her neighborhood. She then filed for a Domestic Violence Prevention Act restraining order, and Trial Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order on July 24, 2014. Mother subsequently gave birth to a son.

On September 3, 2014, Trial Court held the first of three hearings on issuing a permanent restraining order against Father. Mother attempted to testify about the mental abuse that Father had inflicted on her, but Trial Court found that was irrelevant because (it believed) mental abuse was not domestic violence. Mother and her mother testified about the physical abuse that Father had inflicted on Mother. Father testified that he had moved out of the area and had no contact with Mother during the past six months. When the hearing concluded, Trial Court found that there had been significant violence through February of 2014, but none since. Concluding that the prior violence was too remote in time and that Fathers move made it unlikely that any would occur in the future, Trial Court dissolved the Temporary Restraining Order, but refused to issue a permanent order. Mother appealed, and the California Court of Appeals has now reversed Trial Courts decision.

The Court of Appeals has ruled that (1) mental abuse is relevant evidence in Domestic Violence Prevention Act proceeding, thus, Trial Court was wrong by sustaining Fathers objection to its admission; (2) Fathers acts of mental abuse were sufficient to form a basis for a permanent order; (3) Fathers acts of physical abuse were sufficient to support a permanent restraining order; and (4) Trial Court was wrong by determining that six-month hiatus from abuse and Fathers move to another area were appropriate bases for denying a restraining order. Therefore, the Appellate Court has reversed Trial Courts order denying a permanent restraining order and has sent the case back to Trial Court to issue such an order in accordance with the Appellate Courts opinion.

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