What is Domestic Violence in Arizona
Domestic violence is misunderstood in many Arizona divorce and child custody cases. If the court finds significant domestic violence has occurred or that a significant history of domestic violence exists, the court may award sole custody of children to the victim of that domestic violence
Many divorce and child custody cases hinge on whether domestic violence occurred. So, what is domestic violence in an Arizona child custody case?
It may surprise you that a spouse can be a bad person who does very bad things to you but, despite that fact, has not committed an act of domestic violence. It may also surprise you to hear that a counselor or self-professed “domestic violence expert” should not be permitted to give an opinion in court whether an act or series of acts constitute domestic violence because that determination calls for a conclusion of law that may only be decided by a judge.
Definitions of Domestic Violence in Arizona
The Arizona Court of Appeals in the published case of Engstrom vs. McCarthy answered the question of what is domestic violence in Arizona. The trial court, in that case, awarded mother sole custody after finding the father had committed significant acts of domestic violence against the mother. Father appealed that decision and the court of appeals overturned the trial court’s finding that father committed domestic violence against mother.
At trial, Mother testified Father had done some pretty bad things to her, including Father allegedly coercing Mother into participating in online sexual activity, having sex with prostitutes, threatening to have affairs or leave Mother if she didn’t sexually gratify him, driving by Mother’s work to ensure she was there, and manipulating the children to further control Mother.
Furthermore, Mother used a “domestic violence expert” at trial. The “expert” testified that she was an expert on domestic violence and that the acts Mother claimed Father had done to her constitute domestic violence. The Arizona Court of Appeals found that an expert’s declaration of what he or she believes constitutes domestic violence is not legally binding on the court. Stated differently, it is for the court to decide if acts testified about in a divorce trial constitute domestic violence based upon the statutes the define domestic violence in Arizona.
The Court of Appeals found that in Arizona, the legislature has defined a list of what acts constitute domestic violence. If the acts complained of in a child custody trial do not fit in the statutory definition of domestic violence they are not acts of domestic violence no matter how otherwise reprehensible those acts may be. In Arizona, all domestic violence offenses are defined by statute; specifically, Arizona Revised Statute Section 13-3601.
Mother attempted to argue that the concept of what constitutes domestic violence was a nebulous concept that is constantly evolving and can take many forms. The Court Appeals concluded that it agreed domestic violence can take many forms but found that neither statutes or case law defines domestic violence as a nebulous concept subject to ad hoc facts, particularly when a parent’s fundamental rights to the care, custody, and control of their children are at stake.
The Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the trial court to allow the trial court to consider all the testimony to determine if Father’s conduct met the statutory definition of domestic violence as those offenses are outlined in that statute. If not, it doesn’t matter how reprehensible father’s conduct may have been – it wasn’t domestic violence. The following list outlines all of the acts that are considered domestic violence in Arizona:
- Negligent Homicide
- Second Degree Murder
- First Degree Murder
- Threatening or Intimidating
- Aggravated Assault
- Custodial Interference
- Unlawful Imprisonment
- Sexual Assault
- Unlawful Disclosure of Pictures Depicting State of Nudity or Specific Sexual Activity
- Criminal Trespass
- Criminal Damage
- Interfering With Judicial Proceedings
- Disorderly Conduct
- Cruelty to Animals
- Preventing the Use of a Telephone to Make an Emergency Call
- Use of Electronic Communication to Terrify, Intimidate, Threaten or Harass
- Surreptitious Photographing, Videotaping, Filing or Digitally Recording or Viewing
- Abuse of a Child or a Vulnerable Adult
If the conduct of a parent does not meet all of the legal elements of the offenses described above, the acts do not constitute an act of domestic violence in Arizona and cannot be the basis for a trial court finding that a parent committed an act of domestic violence in Arizona.
Many people’s belief that a person who commits reprehensible acts is a perpetrator of domestic violence. That is simply not true. It may make him or her a very bad person, but they do not meet the criteria to be found as a perpetrator of domestic violence in Arizona.
Call the experienced Scottsdale and Phoenix Arizona domestic violence attorneys at (480)305-8300 at Hildebrand Law, PC to learn more about what is and what is not domestic violence in Arizona.
Chris Hildebrand wrote this article about domestic violence in Arizona to ensure everyone has access to information about divorce laws in Arizona. Chris is a family law attorney at Hildebrand Law, PC. He has over 24 years of Arizona family law experience and has received multiple awards, including US News and World Report “Top Arizona Divorce Attorneys”, Phoenix Magazine “Top Divorce Law Firms”, and Arizona Foothills Magazine “Best of the Valley” award. He believes the policies and procedures he uses to get his clients through a child custody case should all be guided by the principles of honesty, integrity, and actually caring about what his clients are going through.