What Constitutes Domestic Abuse?

In Utah, abusive behavior is grounds for an at-fault divorce. In addition, evidence of abuse may affect the division of property, custody arrangements, visitation rights, and alimony.

If you wonder whether your partner’s behavior constitutes abuse and whether that behavior affects your divorce negotiation, find answers by consulting with an experienced Salt Lake divorce lawyer near you.

If your spouse falsely accuses you of abuse, talking with a divorce attorney can bring clarity to a difficult situation and help you know how to protect yourself legally.

Is there a difference between “domestic violence” and “domestic abuse”?

No. The terms “domestic violence” and “domestic abuse” are used interchangeably.

The United Nations, for example, states the following on their domestic abuse website:

Domestic abuse, also called “domestic violence” or “intimate partner violence,” can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.

The US-based Center for Family Justice also uses “domestic violence” and “domestic abuse” interchangeably.

Is it possible that I’ve been abused even if my partner has never physically hurt me?

Yes. Domestic abuse includes other forms of violence besides physical violence. “Mild” abuse is still abuse.

What are the different forms of domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse comes in various forms. Many abusers use multiple types of abuse in their relationships.

Some common categories of domestic abuse include:

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Economic
  • Psychological
  • Sexual

What are examples of physical abuse?

Physical abuse can include various ways of using physical force to cause fear or harm and may include the following types of behaviors:

  • Damaging property (throwing objects, smashing glass, kicking doors, dumping your clothes, etc.)
  • Uses force to scare you (driving recklessly, abandoning you in an unfamiliar place, locking you up, brandishing a weapon, etc.)
  • Traps you in a room, physically restrains you
  • Prevents you from getting help (calling the police, going to the doctor, etc.)
  • Uses physical force in sexual situations
  • Hurts you, your children, or your pets (pushes, slaps, chokes, kicks, etc.)

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse includes constant criticism, verbal cruelty, name-calling, and belittling. Emotional abuse often presents a more significant challenge in healing than physical abuse. An emotionally abusive partner might use the following types of abuse behaviors:

  • Tries to separate you from family or friends
  • Tries to keep you from working
  • Calls you names or insults you
  • Threatens to hurt you or hurt themself
  • Monitors you or expects you to ask permission
  • Verbal cruelty

What is economic abuse?

Economic abuse describes situations in which a partner doesn’t allow their spouse to control their finances. An abusive partner may attempt to make their spouse financially dependent by withholding access to money, work, or school.

What is psychological abuse?

Psychological abuse includes behavior that serves no legitimate purpose except to annoy, intimidate, or harass a victim. Examples of psychological abuse include:

  • Stalking (repeated phone calls, surveillance at home and outside the home, unwelcome gifts, unwelcome digital communications, etc.)
  • Threatening to harm self, the partner, children, pets, property
  • Using “mind games”
  • Religious abuse (maligning you inside your religious community, using religious authority to stoke fear, etc.)

What is sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse is any behavior that coerces a partner to take part in a sexual act without consent. A sexually abusive partner may use behaviors such as:

  • Calls you sexual names, insults you sexually, or makes unwelcome sexual advances in public or private
  • Holds you down during sex, hurts or intimidates you during sex
  • Demands sex, forces or manipulates you to perform sexual acts
  • Hurts you during sex
  • Involves other people in sexual activities with you against your will

Is one type of domestic abuse worse than another?

No. There is not a hierarchy of the types of domestic abuse. Emotional abuse can be every bit as frightening as physical abuse; sexual abuse can be as hurtful as economic abuse.

Abusive behaviors often fall into more than one category. No domestic abuse situation includes only one type of abuse. The only reason to differentiate the types of abuse is to help analyze problematic behavior.

Mild abuse is still abuse. Unfortunately, many abuse victims avoid seeking support because the abuse they experience is less than abuse they have seen on TV or in the news.

Is it domestic abuse if I fight back?

Yes. Domestic abuse includes situations in which a survivor fights back against the abuser. Some survivors become passive to cope with the abuse; other survivors fight back. It’s still abuse.

If an abuser threatens, the survivor may threaten back. If the abuser takes a swing, the survivor may swing back, grab something sharp to defend themselves, or lock themselves in a bedroom. If an abuser gets their partner fired from a job, the partner may find another job and continue to resist manipulation.

Fighting back does not mean that the abuse is not happening. It’s just one way of trying to cope.

What if the abusive incidents stop when I comply or become passive? Is that still abuse?

Yes. You have the right to live in a relationship without giving up your rights as a person.

What if you have disappointed or frustrated your partner? Disappointing or frustrating your partner is no excuse for your partner to abuse you physically, emotionally, economically, psychologically, or sexually.

Disappointments or frustrations that your partner experiences outside your relationship do not excuse your partner from abusing you. For example, the following excuses do not somehow change abusive behavior into something other than abuse:

  • A hard day at work
  • Stress
  • Financial loss
  • Lack of sleep
  • Alcohol or drug consumption
  • History of abuse as a child

Abuse is still abuse, no matter what stressors may have played a part in the abusive behavior.

What evidence will my divorce lawyer need to introduce domestic abuse in my divorce proceedings?

Evidence of abuse could include:

  • Witness testimony from friends, relatives, neighbors, social workers, or police
  • Photographs of injured property
  • Photographs of personal injuries
  • Previous or current orders of protection
  • Medical records
  • Digital records from personal devices

For immediate 24/7 support, call a domestic abuse hotline:

National Domestic Violence Hotline
1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788

Utah Domestic Violence Coalition Hotline
1.800.897.LINK (5465)



What Constitutes Domestic Abuse?

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