Until only recently, emotional abuse was not considered to be Domestic Violence. Thanks to the Family Violence Appellate Project, founded in 2012, victims of Domestic Violence can now seek relief from emotional abusers. Effective January 1, 2015, several changes to the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA) were enacted. One of these changes was a modification of §6203(b), which now states, “Abuse is not limited to the actual infliction of physical injury or assault.” This change in the statute reflects a growing recognition that domestic violence can involve many different forms of abuse, including psychological or emotional abuse. This modification was reflective of existing case la w at the time and clarified, but did not change, the applicable standard for a finding of abuse under the DVPA. Rodriguez v. Menjivar (2015) 243 Cal.App.4th 816, 820 (footnote 3).
Under §6203(a)(4), behavior that can be considered “abuse” includes harassment, threats, and disturbing the peace of the other party or of named household members. While the terms “harass” and “threaten” are fairly clear in their meaning, “disturbing the peace” is a less obvious term of art. California courts have weighed in on its meaning in the context of domestic violence,.. “The plain meaning of the phrase ‘disturbing the peace of the other party’ in §6320 may be properly understood as conduct that destroys the mental or emotional calm of the other party.” Marriage of Nadkarni (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 1483, 1496. In Nadkarni, a former wife’s allegation that her ex husband’s accessing, reading and publicly disclosing her confidential emails was a direct threat to interfere and impact business relationships and injure wife’s relationships with family, third parties, and professional clients.
his conduct destroyed her mental or emotional calm. Id at 1497.
Until recently, Nadkarni was the only case in California interpreting “disturbing the peace” under the DVPA. In 2014, however, the California appellate court held that continual texting, emailing and arriving uninvited to a victim’s workplace constituted “abuse” under the DVPA. Nevarez v. Tonna (2014) 227 Cal.App.4th 774. In Tonna, the parties dated for five years. After they broke up, Tonna tried to persuade Nevarez to continue the relationship. Tonna sent Nevarez several texts over a course of many days asking if he could see her again to continue the relationship. Nevarez declined repeatedly, telling Tonna she was not interested. Tonna continued to text saying he missed her, loved her, and wanted another chance. Nevarez responded that she was “done” and did not want to see him. The trial court noted in its findings that Nevarez told Tonna to leave her alone, but Tonna “did not take no for an answer.”
Yet another case, also decided in 2014, addressed the issue of “disturbing the peace” as defined under §6320. In Burquet v. Brumbaugh (2014) 223 Cal.App.4th 1140, the Respondent refused to accept that Petitioner had ended their relationship and continued to text, email, and plead with the Petitioner to reconcile with him. Petitioner requested that he stop and he refused. He then approached her home and refused to leave, even after she threatened to call the police. The trial court granted the DVRO and the appellate court affirmed this decision, holding that texting and showing up at a residence, then refusing to leave, constituted “disturbing the peace” and thus was “abuse” under the DVPA.
In Rodriguez v. Menjivar, supra, the Court of Appeal clarified that controlling and coercive behaviors constitute abuse under the DVPA. The court deemed the following behaviors by the respondent as “abusive” under the DVPA: enrolling in three of four of the petitioner’s college courses, keeping an open phone line with the petitioner (even while she slept) in order to monitor her activities; calling her multiple times a day; describing the act of slitting the throat of petitioner’s teddy bear in order to communicate what he wanted to do to petitioner; and threatening to drive into an oncoming train while petitioner was in the car with him. The court found that the respondent’s acts control and threats were sufficient to demonstrate the destruction of petitioner’s mental and emotional calm and that this constituted abuse within the meaning of §6320 of the DVPA.
In Sabato v. Brooks (2015) No. C075028. Third Dist., the Court of Appeal affirmed a three-year DVRO, stating that unwanted and harassing contacts, even without allegations of threats or violence, are sufficient to issue a DVRO. In that case, the Petitioner testified that the Respondent had hacked into her email accounts, stolen one of her house keys, and sent her a handwritten letter and unwanted gifts.
Gou v. Xiao (2014) 228 Cal.App.4th 812, at 818 held that witnessing the abuse of a child disturbed a mother’s peace by destroying her mental or emotional calm. In Gou, the Father (Xiao) repeatedly physically abused the parties’ minor child in front of Gou. Gou filed for, and was granted a temporary restraining order, based on mother’s contention witnessing her child’s abuse amounted to domestic violence. However, the trial court denied a restraining order after hearing on the theory the DVRO was brought solely in mother’s name, and she was not the victim of domestic violence. The Appellate Court held the trial abused its discretion in denying the DVRO, because Gou’s declaration was facially sufficient to support a finding of abuse under the DVPA. Id at 818.