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Spousal Abuse Charges and Penalties



Spousal abuse comes in different forms, but is legally defined as intentionally or recklessly inflicting physical or emotional injury on your spouse. The charges and penalties for spousal abuse depend on whether the acts result in serious bodily harm, have been continual, or if the accused has a history of abusive behavior.

Domestic violence is similar to spousal abuse but encompasses additional types of relationships, including those in recognized civil unions or same-sex marriages.

Types of Spousal Abuse

Spousal abuse charges may include the following conduct:

  • Stalking—physical or cyber related
  • Physical abuse—punching, slapping, or beating
  • Social or economic deprivation
  • Unwanted sexual intercourse
  • Derogatory sexual comments
  • Psychological abuse—repeated insults and humiliation
  • Threats of physical harm

The emotional damage inflicted by spousal abuse can be devastating since it often involves a spouse exerting dominance over the other through violence, or threats of physical harm, or verbal taunting and intimidation that causes extreme fear, helplessness, and desperation in the victim.

Spousal Abuse Charges

You can be charged with a variety of offenses under the general term of spousal abuse if your behavior results in physical harm or the victim experiences extreme emotional harm as a result of repeated abusive behavior. You need not have inflicted any physical harm on your spouse to be charged with spousal abuse, such as the criminal offense of assault. Spousal abuse charges include the following:

These charges can be aggravated, or elevated to felonies, if the accused has a prior criminal record, if weapons are used, or serious bodily injury results such as a broken limb, disfigurement, or a sexual assault.

Penalties for Spousal Abuse

Most spousal abuse charges are misdemeanors with possible jail time of six months up to one year and probation of up to two years in most jurisdictions. Typically, a defendant is placed under a restraining, or protective order, that imposes limited or no contact with the abused spouse, and is orderd to complete a batterer’s intervention program or other counseling.

If a weapon was used to inflict physical injuries, or the accused has a criminal record of assault, the defendant will usually be charged with a felony. Depending on the circumstances of the abuse, the defendant’s prior record, and the severity and pervasiveness of the abusive conduct, the defendant can face from several months to 10 years in prison.