Protective Orders: Who is Protected from Family Violence Under the Texas Family Code?

As a family law attorney, we are involved in a wide array of domestic issues ranging from a husband and wife who have simply fallen out of love and grown apart over the years, to situations involving infidelity and the very real emotional damage that echoes for years to come even after the divorce is finalized, to situations involving children—who will take the kids to baseball practice?  Who will be responsible for paying for their health insurance?  How will their expenses be handled?

But above all of the complications and struggles that pervade the separation and dissolution of a family unit, there is one issue that the parties, their attorneys, and the Courts place a priority on addressing, and that is family violence.  Broken relationships can be mended; money can be made back; but the physical, psychological, and emotional damage that is caused when one party is the victim of family violence at the hands of a person in whom they have put all of their love and trust is not so easily mended.

Aware of the immediate and lasting danger posed to victims of family violence, the legislature has crafted an entire chapter of the Family Code to address these situations and provide measures to protect and ensure the safety of a party who comes before the Court seeking relief from years—sometimes decades—of abuse.  When people think of family violence, there is an assumption that it necessarily occurs in the context of a traditional family structure (i.e., husband and wife living in a marriage relationship).

However, the Texas Family Code does not limit the protections offered for victims of family violence only to those people living in a marriage relationship.  Rather, section 71.004 defines family violence as “an act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault.”  The term “household” is further defined as “a unit composed of persons living together in the same dwelling, without regard to whether they are related to each other.”  This expansion of the definition of family violence provides protection to parties who find themselves living with another person in the same dwelling and is not restricted to whether those individuals are married or related.

The scope of family violence does not stop there, however, and further extends to victims of dating violence.  In section 71.0021, “dating violence” is defined as follows:

(a) “Dating Violence” means an act, other than a defensive measure to protect oneself, by an actor that:

(1) is committed against a victim or applicant for a protective order:

(A) with whom the actor has or has had a dating relationship; or

(B) because of the victim’s or applicant’s marriage to or dating relationship with an individual with whom the actor is or has been in a dating relationship or marriage; and

(2) is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault.

The statute also defines “dating relationship” to mean “a relationship between individuals who have or have had a continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.”  To determine whether a person’s relationship qualifies to meet this definition of a dating relationship, the Court looks at the following three factors:

(1) the length of the relationship;

(2) the nature of the relationship; and

(3) the frequency and type of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship.

Ultimately, the goal of these definitions is to provide the broadest array of protection to any victim of family violence under any circumstance—not just those living in a traditional marriage relationship.  If you or someone you know has been the victim of family violence, you need a team of seasoned and skilled attorneys to make sure that you are afforded the full protection provided under the law.  Call McClure Law Group today for further consultation on how to break this cycle of abuse and move forward with a happy, healthy, and secure future.

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