All couples fight, and arguments frequently get heated. However, when an argument becomes physical, this crosses the line into domestic violence.
While the stereotypical domestic violence situation involves spouses or partners who live together, violence in any romantic relationship, including someone you’re just dating, is considered to be domestic violence.
In fact, dating violence is on the rise in Texas and nationwide, which has caught the attention of law enforcement. Therefore, any and all dating violence allegations are taken very seriously and can result in serious criminal and civil consequences.
We’ve put together a guide covering how Texas defines domestic violence, particularly as it relates to dating violence, and the penalties you could face if you’re accused or convicted.
Texas Domestic Violence Is Defined by the Defendant’s Relationship with the Alleged Victim
In Texas, the offense of domestic violence is defined by the defendant’s relationship with the alleged victim. An act of violence is considered to be domestic violence if it is committed against someone with whom the defendant has a state-defined intimate or family relationship.
In Texas, violence within the following relationships is considered domestic violence:
- Someone the defendant is currently or has formerly dated
- Current or former spouse
- Current or former stepchild
- Someone with whom the defendant has children
- Foster children or parents
- Family member by blood, marriage or adoption
- Current or former roommate
Unlike some other states, Texas has separate criminal statutes that distinguish domestic violence from other forms of violence, such as assault.
Because domestic violence is likely to escalate, any domestic violence allegations trigger enhanced criminal penalties and civil consequences, which we detail below.
Three Domestic Violence Crimes in Texas
In Texas, there are three types of domestic violence crimes: domestic assault, aggravated assault, and continuous violence against the family.
In Texas, domestic assault is defined as committing one of the following acts against someone with whom the defendant has an intimate or family relationship:
- Intentionally, recklessly or knowingly causing bodily injury to the victim
- Intentionally threatening the victim with imminent bodily injury
- Intentional physical contact with the victim that is provocative or offensive
If the defendant has no prior domestic violence convictions, domestic assault is considered a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine up to $4,000.
If the defendant has prior domestic violence convictions, this charge is elevated to a third-degree felony which can increase a prison sentence up to five times and more than double the regular fine.
Aggravated Domestic Assault
Texas law defines aggravated domestic assault as committing one of the following acts against someone with whom the defendant has an intimate or family relationship:
- Intentionally, recklessly or knowingly causing serious injury to the victim
- Using or exhibiting a deadly weapon to commit the assault crime, including threatening bodily injury or engaging in offensive conduct
When the defendant commits aggravated domestic assault with a deadly weapon and causes serious bodily injury to the victim, this considered a first-degree felony punishable by 5-99 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
Any other form of aggravated domestic assault is considered a second-degree felony punishable by 2-20 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
Continuous Violence Against the Family
The charge of continuous violence against the family is pressed in addition to assault charges when an offender commits two domestic assaults within a 12-month period, even if neither assault resulted in an arrest or conviction. Further, this crime applies even for domestic assaults committed against different victims.
Continuous violence against the family is a third-degree felony punishable by 2-10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
Civil Protective Orders in Texas
Domestic violence allegations often result in the issuance of a civil protective order, in which the defendant is unable to contact the alleged victim or be at locations that this person frequents, like the alleged victim’s work or home. The protective order stays in effect until the case is resolved.
If the defendant lives with the alleged victim, the offender will be forced to vacate the premises and find alternative housing or to provide alternative housing to the alleged victim.
Regardless of whether a protective order is justified, the defendant will face serious criminal consequences for any violations while it’s in effect.
As law enforcement continues to make domestic violence a priority, we can expect to see increased domestic violence arrests – including between those couples only dating – and potentially even overzealous policing and false charges.
Your first line of defense is to find a better way to resolve your issues than by using violence. Still – we understand that mistakes happen. Now more than ever, you must fight back proactively to beat the charges against you or risk facing the consequences.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.