Domestic violence cases are, by nature, complicated. Whether such a case is civil or criminal depends on a variety of factors and typically rests on who controls the case and the desired legal outcome. In some circumstances, both a civil and criminal suit can exist at the same time.
In order to understand how domestic violence cases differ, it is important to note some key considerations.
Civil domestic violence
When an individual pursues a civil domestic violence action, that person is requesting that the courts establish orders to protect him or her from future harm. Civil cases may involve seeking a restraining or other protective order, as well as emergency child custody orders or the dissolution of a marriage.
Typically, these cases do not seek an arrest or criminal charges against the alleged perpetrator. However, criminal action can coexist, though the burden of proof increases when added to an existing civil case.
Criminal domestic violence
The objective of a criminal domestic violence case is to investigate and prosecute a potential abuser for violent crimes. Because the courts must conduct a criminal investigation, the burden of proof is much higher, and the possible consequences for the accused are greater as well.
Suspected victims are not in control of criminal cases, as a prosecutor, usually the state or county district attorney, brings the charges against the accused. This means a case may continue regardless of a victim’s wishes, who may be, in some cases, subpoenaed for court testimony.