Domestic Violence and Destruction of Property / by Cassandra Hearn

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When most people think about domestic violence, they think about physical abuse. Although it is true that physical assault most definitely qualifies as domestic violence, there are other types of domestic violence. California law also qualifies other types of behavior as domestic violence, including stalking, threatening injury to a person, or damaging or abandoning property of the victim.

Property destruction in a domestic violence context is often charged as vandalism. In a case styled People v. Cates, the California Court of Appeals held that if the victim of the vandalism also qualifies as one of the people listed as in the 6211 of the California Family Code as possible domestic violence victims, then the vandalism is actually a domestic violence crime. Accordingly, the crime will be subject to the mandatory sentencing guidelines provided for domestic violence crimes listed under Penal Code 1203.097.

Property destruction is not uncommon in domestic violence contexts. One way it could occur is an abuser using property to physically injure or attempt to injure the victim, such as, for example, throwing a heavy object at the victim, and the object then breaks. However, property destruction is also a tool that abusers will use as a method of control. Destroying or threatening to destroy prized possessions or family heirlooms is a method that abusers may use to coerce the victim into complying with the abuser’s demands. Abusers may also use property destruction as a way of physically restricting the victim’s ability to get away, as would be the case if the abuser slashed the tires on the victim’s car. All of these examples and many others are ways in which destruction or damaging property could actually be domestic violence and not simply vandalism.

In the context of a divorce, intentional and malicious destruction of property could ultimate impact a court’s property division. California is a community property state, meaning that the court will award each spouse one half of the marital property. However, if the court determines that one spouse has willfully destroyed marital property, this could result in penalties for that person and a reduced share of the marital estate. In custody actions, the courts take domestic violence extremely seriously, and the family code recognizes this by incorporating domestic violence as a specific consideration in the court’s best interest determination. Domestic violence in that context is not simply limited to physical injury, so destruction of property would also qualify under the family code as a factor for the court to consider.

We have extensive experience helping our clients with domestic violence situations. Call us today at 619-800-0384 for an appointment to talk about how we can help you.