CHILDREN AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Should children be covered by a restraining order even if they were not
subjected to abuse?
There are an abundance of social science studies on the correlation between intimate partner
violence and child abuse. Children can be exposed to domestic abuse if they observe a violent
act, overhear an abusive exchange, or see the results of an assault (bruises, crying, broken
objects). Children exposed to domestic violence can exhibit: (a) behavioral problems
(aggression, hyperactivity, substance abuse, promiscuity); (b) mental health problems (anxiety,
anger, depression); (c) health problems (headaches, rashes, stomach headaches); (d) learning
problems (absenteeism, school failures); and (e) social problems (poor social skills, difficulty in
forming relationships, dating violence).
A number of elements affect exposed children, including: (a) the nature and amount of the abuse
witnessed; (b) the target of the abuse; (c) severity and frequency of parental violence; (d) degree
of responsibility that the child assumes for the abuse and its outcome; (e) age and gender of the
child; and (f) mediating factors such as familial, interpersonal and community resources and
suitability and presence of interventions. A number of recent decisions have addressed this
relationship. Under the DVPA, the abuse is not limited to the protected party seeking the order.
Abuse includes placing a “person in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily injury to
that person or another.” (Cal. Fam. Code §6203 (a)(2)). In Gou v. Xiao, 228 Cal.App.4th, 812,
818 (2014), the First District held that a mother’s witnessing abuse of the children was grounds
for a DVRO protecting the mother. In Perez v Hernandez, 1 Cal.App. 5th 389, 401 (2016) the First
District remanded the case back to the trial court to consider whether the DVRO should be
renewed as to mother and also modified to include the children where father had abused the
children. Mother had not witnessed the acts of abuse but she had seen the bruises and been told
by the children, and “the abuse destroyed Perez’s emotional calm and made her fear for her
safety and the safety of her children.” Id. at 401. Justice Streeter’s concurring opinion contains an
insightful review of social science studies showing a direct correlation between partner and child
abuse. Id. at 403.
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