Domestic violence is a serious problem in Texas, and law enforcement agencies take family and dating violence, as well as the threat of violence, seriously. According to the Texas Advocacy Project, one in three Texans will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. Girls and young women between 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of domestic violence, at triple the rate of the national average for intimate partner violence.
Domestic violence isn't limited to a hit, kick, or punch. It also encompasses behavior like stalking, threats, and emotional abuse. But where is the line? When does a simple verbal fight, with threats and harsh words on either side, become domestic violence in Texas?
The Texas Family Violence Statute
Whether your actions fall under the Texas family violence statute will depend on the nature of your relationship with your accuser and your alleged actions against them.The law describes “family violence” as:
- an act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself;
- abuse […] by a member of a family or household toward a child of the family or household; or
- dating violence […].
Tex. Fam. Code § 71.004 (2017).
- Family Violence in Texas Relationships that fall under Texas's “family violence” statute are quite broad. Your “family” under the Texas statute includes your spouse, a former spouse, and those with whom you have a child, regardless of marital status. You can also face domestic violence charges against people in your “household” in Texas. Under state law, “household” includes people who live with you or once lived with you, regardless of gender, marital status, or how you're related.
- Dating Violence in Texas Under Texas law, dating violence also qualifies as family violence, covering couples that aren't necessarily married or living together. Dating includes “a relationship between individuals who have or have had a continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.” But dating violence also includes those your former partners have dated or married if they have applied for a protective order against you. The acts that qualify as dating violence include any act:
- […] intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the victim or applicant in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault.
In determining whether you have a “dating relationship” when it comes to dating violence, the court will look at the following:
- The nature of your relationship,
- The length of your relationship, and
- The type of interaction and frequency of your relationship.
See Tex. Fam. Code § 71.0021(2015). But casual social or business relationships won't qualify as “dating” under Texas law.
Does Verbal Abuse Qualify as Domestic Assault?
Under Texas law, yelling alone won't necessarily qualify as family or dating violence. However, the nature of what you yell or say can fall under the legal definition of family or dating violence.The most common domestic violence charges include domestic assault, aggravated domestic assault, or continuous violence against a family member. While you may assume that all three of these charges require actual physical violence or contact, that's not the case.
Aside from physical assault, the Texas Family Code defines an act that involves “a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault” as family or dating violence. Moreover, under Texas law, an assault includes “intentionally or knowingly threaten[ing] another with imminent bodily injury, including the person's spouse.” See Tex. Penal Code § 22.01(a)(2) (2021). Examples of threats that could be illegal include:
- Threatening to hit someone,
- Threatening to kill someone,
- Making threats to someone on social media or messaging,
- Making specific violent threats online or by phone, or
- Yelling at someone in an aggressive, threatening, or abusive manner.
So, if you threatened to harm or assault your partner or yelled at them in a way they considered threatening, you could face an arrest for family or dating violence.
What are the Consequences of a Domestic Violence Conviction?
Assault is typically a Class C Misdemeanor if you threaten harm but don't make physical contact provocatively or cause any injury. A Class C Misdemeanor can result in up to $500 in fines. Assault may be a Class A Misdemeanor against a disabled or elderly person, regardless of whether any injury or physical harm occurs. A Class A Misdemeanor in Texas can result in up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
A threat against a family member can also be simple domestic assault, a Class C Misdemeanor. However, if you have prior convictions for domestic assault involving choking, police can charge you with domestic assault as a second or third-degree felony. A conviction for felony domestic assault can result in ten to twenty years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
You Need an Expert in Texas Criminal Defense Law
If you're facing charges of family or dating violence, this isn't something you have to go through alone. The consequences of a criminal conviction for what may seem like a loud disagreement with your partner can be serious and long-lasting. You need an expert in criminal defense law who is well-versed in domestic violence charges as soon as possible. Attorney Doug Murphy is just such an expert. He is one of only two attorneys in Texas who is a board-certified expert in both Criminal Defense and DWI Defense.
Doug is well-regarded by his peers in the Houston legal community. Moreover, Best Lawyers in America recently named Doug a 2023 “Lawyer of the Year” for DWI defense in Houston in recognition of his accomplishments in and out of the courtroom. Doug and his experienced legal team have been guiding people through domestic violence charges for years, and they can help you too. Give the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. a call at 713-229-8333 or contact them online to schedule your consultation.