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Proving Abuse in California Family Court

California Family Law Articles
Proving Abuse in California Family Court

Under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA), a court may issue a protective order “to restrain any person for the purpose of preventing a recurrence of domestic violence and ensuring a period of separation of the persons involved” upon “reasonable proof of a past act or acts of abuse.” (In re Marriage of Davila & Mejia (2018) 29 Cal.App.5th 220, 225, 228.)

Disturbing The Peace Of The Other Party

It is important to recognize that “abuse” is not limited to the actual infliction of physical injury or assault” (§ 6203, subd. (b). Indeed, the DVPA provides that the trial court may find abuse and enjoin a party from “disturbing the peace of the other party.” (§ 6320(a), meaning, conduct that under the totality of the circumstances destroys the mental or emotional calm of the other party.

“What disturbs the peace of a person differs in each case.” (K.L. v. R.H. (2021) 70 Cal.App.5th 965, 981. Important cases are as follows: Burquet v. Brumbaugh (2014) 223 Cal.App.4th 1140, 1146-1147 [defendant disturbed plaintiff’s peace by his “course of conduct of contacting plaintiff by phone, e-mail, and text,” and arriving at her residence uninvited and refusing to leave]; In re Marriage of Nadkarni (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 1483, 1497-1499 [husband destroyed wife’s emotional calm when he surreptitiously accessed and disclosed her confidential information causing her “to suffer ‘shock’ and ’embarrassment,’ to fear the destruction of her ‘business relationships,’ and to fear for her safety”]; Rodriguez v. Menjivar (2015) 243 Cal.App.4th 816, 822 [“significant acts of emotional abuse,” including “acts of isolation, control, and threats” were sufficient to demonstrate the destruction of Rodriguez’s mental and emotional calm]; In re Marriage of Evilsizor & Sweeney (2015) 237 Cal.App.4th 1416, 1420-1421, 1426 [husband disturbed wife’s peace when he disclosed her private text communications, hacked into her social media account and threatened to reveal additional private information about her, causing her to suffer sleepless nights, shock and embarrassment].

Other cases have refused to find abuse for disturbing the peace of another: K.L. v. R.H. (2021) 70 Cal.App.5th 965, 981 [calling former boyfriend a derogatory name on “TalkingParents” app and failing to show up for child custody exchanges “is not sufficient to disturb anyone’s peace”]; Curcio v. Pels (2020) 47 Cal.App.5th 1 [private Facebook post accusing ex-girlfriend of abusing her and urging employers not to hire her did not rise to the level of “disturbing the peace,” even if the post upset ex-girlfriend and made her fear for her career]; S.M. v. E.P. (2010) 184 Cal.App.4th 1249, 1266, [badgering and making negative comments during arguments does not constitute “abuse” for purposes of the DVPA].)

Coercive Control

The legislature added the term “coercive control” as one example of conduct that destroys another’s mental or emotional calm. (§ 6320, subd. (c).) Family Code section 6320 defines “coercive control” as “a pattern of behavior that in purpose or effect unreasonably interferes with a person’s free will and personal liberty.”

Section 6320 (§ 6320, subd. (c)(1)-(4).) provides several examples of coercive control. They include, in part,

“(1) Isolating the other party from friends, relatives, or other sources of support. (2) Depriving the other party of basic necessities. (3) Controlling, regulating, or monitoring the other party’s movements, communications, daily behavior, finances, economic resources, or access to services, and (4) Compelling the other party by force, threat of force, or intimidation . . . to engage in conduct from which the other party has a right to abstain or to abstain from conduct in which the other party has a right to engage.”

These examples were intended to help courts recognize coercive control when hearing these cases but should in no way limit what a court may consider coercive control to just these instances.


David Dworakowski is a certified family law specialist and a founding partner at Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, a premier family law firm in Irvine. Mr. Dworakowski takes tremendous pride in his work. For over 30 years he has been helping clients achieve outstanding results.

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