Warning: This post includes reference to domestic abuse and may trigger strong emotions in you. If you are in an emergency situation, please do not hesitate to contact local authorities.

Very little is more precious to most people than their loved ones. Our family and loved ones are supposed to be our strongest systems of support. They are supposed to love and encourage us to be our best selves. For many people in situations involving domestic abuse, intimate violence, sexual violence, or other forms of abuse, however, the same people whom they hope will love them are also the ones who hurt them.



What Constitutes Abuse?

In Massachusetts, abuse is defined as the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between family or household members: 1. Attempting to cause or causing physical harm; 2. Placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm; or 3. Causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat, or duress.

Domestic abuse does not apply to a romantic relationship only. The abuse may involve parents, children, partners, spouses, or other family members. Although domestic abuse is commonly thought of as a criminal law issue, domestic abuse is also important in the civil and family law contexts.

When a victim of a domestic abuse situation is abused, he or she may want to know: may I pursue a civil action in tort against my abuser? May I be compensated for my injuries or my emotional suffering? In Massachusetts, the answer is most likely “yes,” but each case is different.


For Example…

Suppose a woman named Kelly lived with her long-term boyfriend Peter for two years. They had two children and a dog named Jojo together. At the start of their relationship, Kelly and Peter had a wonderful love affair. They were kind to each other. They went on vacations as a family. Kelly’s parents welcomed Peter as one of their own. Peter did not speak with his abusive father. His mother had passed away prior to the start of a Peter’s relationship with Kelly. After a year of dating, Peter began to exhibit signs of abuse against Kelly. He would tell her that he did not want her to be with her friends as much. He would accuse her of cheating on him. As time progressed, the abuse worsened.

One Friday evening, Kelly began to get ready to have a night out with her friends from college. She put on a black dress. Peter did not want her to go out wearing a dress. When Kelly refused to change, he struck Kelly in the face, causing injuries to her face and also causing her to fall. As she fell, Kelly hit the edge of her bedroom’s wooden dresser. She also fell on one of Jojo’s dog toy bones, which caused her to sprain her wrist. Kelly had several medical appointments and missed time from work. She did not tell anyone about the incident, because she hoped that Peter would change back to the person he used to be when she first met him.


Problems Continue to Worsen

A few months later, Peter began to hit or push Kelly more frequently. He also deleted all of her contacts on her phone, broke her laptop, and threw a book at her. One evening, Peter pushed Kelly and accidentally struck one of their children who had tried to defend Kelly from an attack. As the abuse worsened, so did the injuries. Eventually, Kelly decided to call law enforcement and looked for a safe haven for the two children and Jojo. Fortunately, Kelly and her children and Jojo were able to permanently stay away from Peter and receive the help that they needed.


What Can Kelly Do?

Generally, a victim in Massachusetts has three years from the date of the injury-producing event to file a lawsuit against a defendant-abuser. In the example above, Kelly could potentially bring a civil action against Peter for the damage to her person and possibly her property.

It is basically undisputed that Peter assaulted Kelly and her children. In Massachusetts, an assault is an act creating a reasonable apprehension of fear in another person that is of immediate harmful or offense contact to the victim’s person. Assault requires the element of intent. Damages–such as monetary or bodily injury damages–are not required to prevail in an assault. Peter’s assault and battery against Kelly may be enough to warrant her working with a competent attorney to file a civil complaint against him. She may also work with law enforcement and her attorney to keep Peter away from her children. It is likely that the family court would be involved, especially for the safety of the children.


Contact Us

Are you looking for an experienced Newburyport or Andover divorce lawyer or family law attorney? If you have any questions about issues involving domestic violence, intimate partner violence, abuse, or other issues in family law, contact us. You can schedule a free consultation with our office. If you’d prefer to schedule a consultation by phone, call (866) 995-6663.