Delaware Domestic Violence Laws
Domestic violence in Delaware is abuse committed between family members, parents of the same child, persons who cohabitate, and persons who have been in a dating relationship. Delaware law does not punish domestic violence as a crime that is separate and distinct from the abusive act, but a victim of domestic violence may seek a court-issued protective order, the violation of which carries criminal penalties.
The Family Court Of Delaware
The Family Court of Delaware has jurisdiction over domestic matters, including but not limited to matters involving domestic violence. In addition to exercising jurisdiction over matters such as divorce, child support, and juvenile delinquency, the court has jurisdiction over acts of intra-family violence that are misdemeanors. The court does not have jurisdiction over domestic violence matters that are felonies. The court also has jurisdiction to issue protective orders to persons found to have been subjected to domestic violence.
To learn more about the Family Court of Delaware, visit their website.
Acts that Constitute Domestic Violence
Delaware defines domestic violence as abuse committed between the following persons:
- in a family (husband and wife), a man and woman cohabitating in a home where there is a child of either or both, a custodian and child, or any persons related by blood or marriage residing in one house under one head, or where both parties are related as mother, father, mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother, sister, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, grandfather, grandmother, grandson, granddaughter, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, or stepdaughter
- former spouses
- persons cohabitating who hold themselves out as a couple
- persons living apart who have a child together, or
- persons currently or formerly in a substantive dating relationship.
The following acts constitute “abuse”:
- intentionally or recklessly causing or attempting to cause physical injury or a sexual offense
- intentionally or recklessly placing or attempting to place another person in reasonable apprehension of physical injury or sexual offense being committed against the person or another person
- intentionally or recklessly destroying, damaging, or taking another person’s tangible property
- engaging in a pattern of alarming or distressing conduct in a way likely to cause fear, emotional distress, or provoke a violent or disorderly response
- trespassing on another person’s property or on property from which the trespasser has been excluded by court order
- child abuse
- unlawful imprisonment, kidnapping, interference with custody, or coercion; or
- any other conduct that a reasonable person under the circumstances would find threatening or harmful.
(Del. Code tit. 10, §§ 901, 1041.)
A victim of domestic violence may file a petition in the Family Court seeking a protective order. A petition may also be filed on the victim’s behalf by the Division of Child Protective Services or Division of Adult Protective Services.
A person may request an emergency protective order where there is an immediate and present danger of domestic violence being committed against the person, the person’s child, or an impaired adult. The court must hold a hearing the same day that a petition for an emergency protective order is filed, or the next day that the court is in session. The hearing may be held without the presence of the alleged aggressor. If the court grants the petitioner’s request for an emergency protective order, a full hearing must be held within ten days.
If the judge decides that the domestic violence alleged in the petition occurred, the judge must grant a protective order. This order may, for example, restrain the aggressor from contacting the victim, grant exclusive possession of a residence to the victim, or require the aggressor to provide temporary support for the victim and their minor children.
(Del. Code tit. 10, §§ 1042, 1043, 1045.)
Violations of a Domestic Violence Protective Order
A person who knowingly violates or fails to obey any term of a domestic violence protective order commits criminal contempt of a domestic violence protective order, which is punished as a Class A misdemeanor. If the offense results in physical injury or involves the use or threatened use of a weapon, the offense is a felony. The defendant must serve a minimum of 15 days in jail if the violation results in physical injury, the use or threatened use of a weapon, or if the defendant has two or more prior convictions for criminal contempt of a domestic violence protective order.
(Del. Code tit. 11, § 1271A.)
First Offender Treatment
Persons charged with certain domestic violence offenses may apply for first offender status. Where the court grants a request for first offender treatment, the defendant enters a guilty plea to the offense but the court does not enter a judgment of guilt on the record. Instead, the court defers further proceedings and places the defendant on probation for one year. The defendant must satisfactorily complete a counseling program, be evaluated for alcohol and drug abuse and complete any recommended treatment, pay restitution, and not have any unlawful contact with the victim during probation.
If a defendant violates the terms of first offender probation, the court will adjudge the defendant guilty and impose a sentence for the conviction. If a person successfully completes the terms of first offender probation, the court will dismiss the case. A defendant who successfully completes first offender probation is not considered to have a conviction.
Only the following domestic violence offenses are eligible for first offender treatment:
- offensive touching
- sexual harassment
- criminal mischief classified as a misdemeanor
- criminal trespass in the first, second, and third degrees
- harassment, and
- aggravated harassment
Furthermore, to be eligible for first offender status, a defendant must not have a prior conviction for a violent felony or a domestic violence offense, nor can the defendant have previously received first offender treatment or another form of diversion for a domestic violence charge.
(Del. Code tit. 10, § 1024.)
Consult With A Lawyer
If you are charged in Delaware with committing a criminal offense that involves domestic violence, or if you are charged with violating a domestic violence protective order, you should consult with an attorney experienced in handling such charges. An attorney will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your case and will guide you throughout the process. An lawyer may seek to have your charges reduced or dismissed. If your case proceeds to trial, having a skilled attorney is essential to protecting your rights and advocating for your acquittal.