Domestic Violence Legislation Across Different States

Domestic Violence Legislation Across Different States

Domestic violence between intimate partners is generally addressed by state governments, and each state treats the issue a little bit differently.  Anyone facing a domestic violence problem should consider the specific laws in their jurisdiction, especially as it relates to a few key issues:

  • Definitions
  • Arrests at the scene of suspected violence
  • Mandatory reporting
  • Rules easing separation


As hard as it is to believe, husbands were once allowed to physically discipline their wives.  Even after that idea has gone away, there remains the challenge of defining what types of behavior between intimate partners that the government will step in to stop.  Some states have very specific requirements, while others have left more discretion to police and courts.

As one example, Colorado has a very broad definition that leaves a lot of discretion up to police and courts, saying that “Domestic abuse means any act, attempted act, or threatened act of violence, stalking, harassment, or coercion that is committed by any person against another person to whom the actor is currently or was formerly related, or with whom the actor is living or has lived in the same domicile, or with whom the actor is involved or has been involved in an intimate relationship.”  Colo. Stat. § 13-14-101.

Minnesota, on the other hand, has tried to be very specific, saying that “Domestic abuse means the following, if committed against a family or household member by a family or household member: … physical harm…infliction of fear of imminent physical harm…terroristic threats…criminal sexual conduct…or interference with an emergency call…”  Minn. Stat. § 518B.01.

Related: Types of Domestic Abuse

Arrest policies upon reports of violence

States also have different laws on how police should respond to calls about domestic violence.  Many states have been concerned that police too often fail to make arrests when they respond to a call about abuse.  About half the states now have mandatory arrest provisions, which requires police to arrest a suspected abuser.  In some states police have an option to file a detailed explanation of why they did not arrest a suspect.  These provisions have been subject to great debate, as some research suggests that mandatory arrests actually increase domestic violence.  Anyone concerned about violence should have an understanding of how their local police are required to respond.  

Mandatory reporting of suspected violence

Most states have taken steps to ensure that any professional that may see child abuse, like a teacher or a doctor, must report the signs of abuse to authorities.  This was designed to ensure that abusers do not get the benefit of the doubt.  This same idea is used in some states to protect against intimate partner abuse.  Many doctors must report signs of abuse on any person, child or adult.  

Rules easing separation

States have created many protections that can help individuals caught up in domestic violence to escape their situation.  One common example is a restraining order.  In many states restraining orders are readily issued to anyone that is suffering from domestic violence.  Another example is an exception to allow victims of domestic violence to terminate their lease early to escape abuse.  

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