State Domestic Violence Legislation
Domestic violence laws differ from state to state, sometimes significantly. These differences range from the very definition of domestic abuse – whether abuse must be physical, or whether it can be emotional, psychological, and financial – to the requirements under mandatory reporting laws. For example, in some states, medical professionals may have to report suspected abuse to the police. This is important because many women choose not to receive medical care if they know that their abuser will get in trouble.
Because of all these differences, the whole process of escaping a domestic violence situation depends on the state in which you live. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please read ahead to understand existing domestic violence law and how the differences from state to state may change the development of your case.
Many states differ on their arrest policies for domestic violence cases. The majority of states have adopted preferred arrest policies that require police to either arrest one or both parties at the scene, or to write a report justifying why an arrest is not made, and some states (for example, New York, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) have even adopted mandatory arrest policies requiring that an officer make an arrest during a domestic violence situation, but only if the domestic violence meets certain criteria.
In states with mandatory arrest policies, police are encouraged not to leave the scene without making an arrest. Mandatory arrest policies are generally safer for the victim because, if the abuser isn’t arrested, he or she may escalate the violence against the victim as punishment for having contacted the authorities.
Mandatory reporting laws are widespread in the United States. Domestic violence mandatory reporting requires that a medical professional report to the police when he or she knows or reasonably suspects that a patient has been injured as a result of domestic abuse. The details of mandatory reporting laws are quite distinct between states, however.
In California, for example, counselors and psychologists are not subject to mandatory reporting. Mandatory reporting applies only to medical professionals who have provided medical services for physical conditions. This is to encourage victims to attend counseling sessions for their mental health, even if they’re not ready to tell the police about the abuse. It’s important that this distinction is made, because in California, medical professionals are subject to criminal punishment if they fail to report abuse. What this means is that, if a victim is abused and goes to the hospital to treat the injuries, the physician absolutely must report the suspected abuse. The victim won’t be left in the dark, however. Federal law requires that the medical professional alert the patient if a mandatory report will be sent out (with exceptions). That way the victim can make plans to avoid their abuser if they fear further violence.
Only two states, New Jersey and Wyoming, do not mandate that medical professionals report, but that’s because they have even broader laws. In both states, any person who knows or reasonably suspects domestic abuse is required to report the abuse to police.
Terminating A Lease Early – the Domestic Violence Exception
Much of the difficulty in escaping domestic violence is due to the fact that most victims share their lives with their abusers. They share the same home, they often share their finances, and frequently, they share a family.
Consider the shared home. If a victim reports domestic violence to the authorities, and the abuser is arrested, it’s not a guarantee that the abuser will be found guilty and convicted. Abusers who return to their homes turn to violence to take revenge on the victim. It’s therefore important that the victim look for other living arrangements.
The good news is that, in many states (such as New York, New Jersey, California, and others), if you’re a victim of domestic violence, it’s now possible to terminate your lease early without having to pay the rest of your lease. Keep in mind that you need to have either a police report documenting the abuse, or a restraining order against your abuser, in order to make use of early lease termination.
Escaping domestic violence is a long, difficult process that demands a great deal of courage from the victim. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please consider the available options and the applicable law of the state. For a better understanding and for help with the overall process, contact a qualified local attorney.