Domestic Violence, Stalking or Sexual Assault : Definitions of Protection Orders and Legal Terms

What is the “civil” definition of domestic violence (for the purpose of obtaining a civil protection order)?

The civil definition of domestic violence differs from the criminal definition in that the former does not require the abuser to “knowingly” cause or attempt to cause physical injury to the victim. Specifically, the definition of “domestic violence” for the purpose of obtaining a civil protection order (CPO) is:

  1. Attempting to cause bodily injury to a family or household member;

  2. Recklessly causing bodily injury to a family or household member;

  3. Placing a family or household member by the threat of force in fear of imminent serious physical harm or committing menacing by stalking or aggravated trespass against a family or household member; or

  4. Committing child endangerment (child abuse) against a family or household member; or

  5. Committing a sexually oriented offense (such as rape, gross sexual imposition, or importuning).

It is easier to prove domestic violence for the purpose of obtaining a civil protection order (CPO) than it is to prove criminal charges of domestic violence because of the lesser standard of proof (“by the preponderance of the evidence” in CPO cases vs. “beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal cases). Proof “by a preponderance of the evidence" means that it is more likely than not that acts of domestic violence occurred. It is also easier to prove the grounds for a CPO because it is not necessary to prove that the abuser intentionally caused bodily injury to his family or household member.

What is the difference between a restraining order and a civil or criminal protection order (CPO)?

Both a restraining order and a civil or criminal protection order (CPO) may order an abuser not to abuse or harass a victim of domestic violence. However, in Ohio, these orders are very different legal tools.

A domestic relations court may issue a restraining order in a divorce or legal separation case to protect one spouse from the other, abusive spouse. The restraining order remains in effect and is enforceable as long as the divorce or legal separation case is pending. It expires upon the termination of the divorce or legal separation case. Enforcement is limited.

If the abusive spouse violates the restraining order, the protected spouse may file a motion for contempt against the violator in the same court which granted the restraining order. Police and other law enforcement officers do not enforce restraining orders. As a result, the burden of enforcement is upon the protected spouse and his or her attorney.

By contrast, law enforcement officers anywhere in the State of Ohio must enforce civil or criminal protection orders, preferably by arresting the violator under the State's preferred arrest policy set forth in R.C. 2935.03(B)(3) and 2935.032. Law enforcement officers must also respond promptly to any report of a violation of a protection order. In addition, a protection order - especially a civil protection order - may contain additional provisions such as evicting the abuser from the parties' home, awarding temporary child custody or temporary support to the domestic violence victim, or ordering both parties to obtain counseling.

What is the criminal definition of domestic violence in Ohio?

The offender must:

  1. Knowingly cause or attempt to cause physical harm to a family or household member;

  2. Recklessly cause serious physical harm to a family or household member; or

  3. Knowingly cause a family or household member to believe that the abuser will cause imminent physical harm to the family or household member. See R.C. 2919.25.

What people are covered by Ohio’s domestic violence laws?

The domestic violence laws apply to persons who abuse a family or household member. "Family or household member" means any of the following who is residing or has resided with the offender:

  1. A spouse, a person living as a spouse, or a former spouse of the abuser;

  2. A parent, foster parent, or child of the abuser, or another person related by blood or marriage to the abuser:

  3. A parent or a child of a spouse, person living as a spouse, or former spouse of the offender, or another person related by blood or marriage to a spouse, person living as a spouse, or former spouse of the abuser. A "person living as a spouse" is a person who is not married to the abuser, but is either cohabitating or has cohabited with the abuser during the past five years. "Cohabitation" means the sharing of family and household responsibilities, including household finances, and having an intimate or close relationship between the abuser and the victim.

In addition to the above categories of persons who are living or have lived together, persons who have a child in common are covered by the domestic violence laws regardless of whether they have ever lived together or cohabited. Therefore, the mother of a child could file domestic violence charges or request a domestic violence protection order against the father of the child regardless of whether they are married, have been married, or have ever cohabited. See R.C. 2919.25(E) and 3113.3(A)(3).

What does “cohabitation” mean?

"Cohabitation" means that two adults are living together in the same household, sharing certain obligations which are equivalent to a spousal-type relationship. The Ohio Supreme Court has concluded that a person is "cohabiting" for purposes of a family or household or family relationship under the domestic violence statutes if there is:

  1. a sharing of familial or financial responsibilities; and

  2. consortium.

State v. Williams (1997), 79 Ohio St.3d 459.

"Familial or financial responsibilities" include providing shelter, food, clothing and utilities and commingling (mixing together and sharing) assets. Id.

"Consortium" includes mutual respect, fidelity, affection, society, cooperation, solace, comfort, aid of each other, friendship, and conjugal (sexual) relations. Id.

Some critics of the Supreme Court’s Williams decision have said that even mere roommates could be covered by the domestic violence laws in light of this broad definition of "cohabitation." However, as a practical matter, it is unlikely that the Ohio courts will apply this definition to cover mere roommates; there must be a close personal or intimate relationship (usually involving sexual relations) for persons to be "cohabiting" within the meaning of Ohio’s domestic violence laws.

Can “same-sex” couples qualify as “family or household members” under Ohio’s domestic violence laws?

Yes. The protections afforded to male/female relationships are equally available to same-sex relationship. If the same-sex couple consists of two adults living together in the same household, sharing curtain obligations which are equivalent to a spousal type of relationship, they meet the legal definition of "cohabiting." Therefore, the victim of violence in a same-sex relationship can file domestic violence charges or seek a domestic violence protection order against the abuser. See State v. Hadinger, 61 Ohio App. 820 (Franklin 1991); State v. Yaden, 118 Ohio App.3d 410 (Hamilton 1997).

Does a couple have to live together for a minimum period of time before they have a “family or household member” relationship subject to Ohio’s domestic violence laws?

No, there is no minimum period of time. The protections of the domestic violence laws are equally applicable to couples who have lived together for years and to couples who have been living together for only a few weeks. However, in cases where the abuser and the victim are not married to each other, it may be easier to convince the court that the parties’ are "cohabiting" if they have lived together for a reasonable period of time.

What form do I need to complete to get a civil protection order?

If you or a family member are being physically abused or threatened with harm by a family or household member (person living in your home, even if not related to you by marriage or blood) you can apply for a Domestic Violence Civil Protection Order now.

For more information on domestic violence visit the Ohio Domestic Violence Resource Center.

See also the Forms & Education tab in this section for more information.

 

The information in this site is not intended as legal advice.
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