Special Report

Can Verbal or Emotional Abuse Lead to Domestic Violence?

May 17, 2022 by Sarah Edwards in Special Report  
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Recognizing the Signs Before It’s Too Late

Domestic violence is a problem that can have far-reaching effects on the lives of those involved. It’s important to recognize that domestic violence can include many behaviors besides striking your partner.

When you get charged with domestic violence, prosecutors must prove some very specific elements to win a conviction. Under California law, verbal and emotional abuse alone does not constitute a criminal offense. But verbal or emotional abuse can lead to domestic violence and criminal charges in some situations.

Below, you will learn about verbal and emotional abuse and how they relate to domestic violence and domestic violence charges.

Verbal and Emotional Abuse

Abusive relationships are largely based on control. The abuser uses verbal, emotional, and physical coercion to maintain control over their partner.

Studies show that verbal and emotional abuse almost always accompanies or escalates into physical abuse.

So the short answer to the question, “Can verbal or emotional abuse lead to domestic violence?”.. is yes.

Verbal and emotional abuse include many behaviors meant to coerce the partner into doing the abuser’s bidding. Some examples of verbal or emotional abuse include:

  • Name-calling
  • Shaming
  • Verbal attacks
  • Humiliation
  • Mean-spirited criticism
  • Yelling or cursing at someone
  • Threats
  • Gaslighting
  • Blaming someone for things outside their control
  • Demeaning someone
  • Withholding affection or attention

If you have experienced any of these behaviors, you may be in an abusive relationship. You should consider speaking to someone and developing a plan for dealing with it.

California’s Domestic Violence Laws and Verbal and Emotional Abuse

California has two laws that address domestic violence:

Corporal Injury

In PC 273.5, California criminalizes any intentional act that causes a bodily injury, even a minor one, to a spouse, domestic partner, or dating partner. This law deliberately uses the phrase “corporal injury” to exclude mental and emotional injuries. As such, prosecutors cannot use this law when the only abuse is verbal or emotional.

Domestic Battery

In PC 243(e)(1), California criminalizes any willful act of force or violence against a current or former intimate partner, domestic partner, or co-parent. Domestic battery does not require any injury. Instead, it only requires contact with the person or something connected to that person, such as their clothing or an item in their hand. But again, since domestic battery requires contact, verbal or emotional abuse alone will not constitute domestic battery.

How Can Verbal or Emotional Abuse Lead to Domestic Violence Charges?

California does not have a law prohibiting verbal or emotional abuse. Yet people who commit verbal or emotional abuse get arrested and charged with crimes. This can happen for a few reasons, including:

Incidental Contact

Things might have gotten heated between you and your partner. You might have yelled. You might have said things you should not have said.

Yelling does not constitute a crime in California. But any contact, even incidental contact, could be considered domestic battery.

You might be able to fight this charge if there were extenuating circumstances. For example, suppose your partner destroyed your phone. You grabbed your partner’s phone from their hand to call 911. You might have been justified in grabbing the phone from your partner, and your criminal defense lawyer might be able to work with prosecutors to get the case dismissed.


One specific type of verbal abuse is prohibited by California PC 422. This statute prohibits anyone from making criminal threats to another person. These threats can happen in person, in writing, or electronically.

The message must threaten a crime that will result in death or great bodily injury. And you must make a credible and specific threat. Trash talk would not be enough.

Violating Restraining Order

Even though you cannot get arrested for yelling, a judge can issue a restraining order against you for verbal or emotional abuse. If you violate that order, you could get arrested.

Such an arrest would not result from the verbal or emotional abuse alone but rather from verbal or emotional abuse in violation of a restraining order. If you get a restraining order against you, read it carefully so you understand what you can and cannot do.

False Accusations

An argument between you and your partner could result in an arrest, but not because of anything you did. Instead, you could get arrested for what your partner said you did.
If you have witnesses and physical evidence to support your story, you might persuade a prosecutor to drop the charges or convince a jury to acquit you.

But after a brush with a domestic violence charge, you should reexamine your life. Even if you “only” yelled at each other, yelling will not sustain a long-term relationship.

Dealing with Domestic Violence Charges for Verbal or Emotional Abuse

Prosecutors may worry that verbal and emotional abuse will escalate to physical violence. They might proactively file charges for a confrontation that did not result in an injury by focusing on threats or contact during the fight.

Sometimes you can beat these charges because California has no law against emotional or verbal abuse. But these cases can provide a wake-up call to better understand yourself and your relationships.

Accused of a Domestic Violence Crime?

You need an experienced domestic violence lawyer to fight for your freedom and your rights.

Need a Criminal Defense Attorney? CALL NOW: 310-274-6529

Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Criminal Defense Attorney who has over 21 years of practice defending a variety of criminal cases.

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How to Win Your Case

We cannot stress enough that you read, understand and follow these 10 basic rules if you are criminally charged or under investigation:

  1. Don’t ever talk to the police
  2. Do not discuss your case with anyone
  3. Everything you tell your lawyer is confidential
  4. Tell police you need to contact your attorney
  5. Never consent to any search by the police
  6. If the police knock on your door, don't answer!
  7. Realize the consequences of a criminal conviction
  8. Your lawyer (not you) will contact any witnesses
  9. Information on your cell phone is evidence
  10. Early Intervention is the key

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