Kentucky Domestic Violence Laws

By , Contributing Author

Domestic violence in Kentucky is an assault against a family member (or member of an unmarried couple) by a family member (or member of an unmarried couple), as further defined below. With a few exceptions, Kentucky does not have criminal statutes that exclusively target domestic violence. For example, a person who threatens to physically injure another person is guilty of terroristic threatening in the third degree, regardless of whether the suspect and victim are family members or members of an unmarried couple.

But committing an offense in a domestic violence setting does have consequences that can go beyond the normal punishment that non-domestic violence perpetrators face. The law will increase penalties for certain repeat domestic violence offenders, and impose criminal penalties for violations of domestic violence protective orders.

Family Members & Unmarried Couples

Kentucky law defines "family member" as a current or former spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a child, or stepchild. Also, where the victim is a child, any person living in the same household as the child is considered a family member. "Member of an unmarried couple" refers to people who have a child or children together. The unmarried couple's children are included in this definition, as are people who currently live or once resided together.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 403.720)

Enhanced Criminal Penalties for Repeat Offenders

A person who commits a third or subsequent assault in the fourth degree within a five-year period may be charged with a Class D felony if the victim in each case was a family member or member of an unmarried couple. A conviction for a Class D felony carries the possibility of up to five years in prison. At trial, the jury (or the judge, if the case is tried without a jury) may choose to convict the defendant of a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 508.032, 532.060)

Protective Orders

A person alleging to be the victim of domestic violence committed by a family member (or by an alleged abuser who is a member of an unmarried couple with the victim) may file a petition in court seeking a domestic violence protective order.

Emergency Protective Order

A person filing the petition (referred to as the petitioner) may request an emergency protective order. The alleged abuser (referred to as the respondent) does not have to be notified that the petitioner is seeking an emergency protective order, and the court is not required to hold a hearing. Instead, after reviewing the petition, the judge may issue an emergency protective order if the allegations in the petition indicate that an immediate danger of domestic violence exists. In granting a temporary protective order, a judge may include the following provisions:

  • prohibit the respondent from contacting or communicating with the petitioner
  • prohibit the respondent from committing further acts of abuse
  • prohibit the respondent from damaging or disposing of the parties' property
  • prohibit the respondent from coming within a specified distance of the residence, workplace, or school of the petitioner, the petitioner's children, family member, or member of an unmarried couple protected in the order
  • require the respondent to stay a specified distance from the petitioner or petitioner's children
  • require the respondent to vacate the home shared with the petitioner
  • grant temporary child custody, and
  • any other provision the court deems necessary to prevent future acts of domestic violence, except that the court shall not order the respondent to use a global positioning monitoring system.

Full Hearing & Long-Term Protective Order

An emergency protective order remains in effect until a full hearing is held with the respondent participating. The court will schedule a full hearing to be held within 14 days of issuing the emergency order.

If the evidence at the full hearing indicates that domestic violence has occurred and might occur again, the judge may issue a protective order that lasts for a specified time but no more than three years in duration, and the order may be extended one time for an additional three years. The judge can include any of the provisions that are authorized by law for emergency domestic violence protective orders. Additionally, a long-term order may also set temporary child support. The judge can also order either the petitioner or respondent or both parties to receive counseling, although the judge may not order the parties to enter mediation to resolve matters alleged in the petition.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 403.740, 403.750)

Violation of a Protective Order: Civil or Criminal Repercussions?

A violation of the terms of the protective order can be punished either by being held in contempt of court (a civil proceeding) or by being charged criminally for violating the protective order, but not both. Once civil contempt proceedings are initiated, a respondent cannot be charged with the criminal violation of the protective order, and civil contempt proceedings cannot be initiated if the respondent has been charged with criminal violation of the protective order. A respondent who intentionally violates a protective order commits a Class A misdemeanor, and if convicted may be punished by up to 12 months in jail.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 532.090)

If the judge determines that the respondent has committed a substantial violation of the protective order, the respondent may be ordered to wear a global positioning monitor. Substantial violations of a protective order are defined by statute and include stalking, sexual offenses, terroristic threatening, burglary, and any felony when committed against a person protected by a domestic violence protective order.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 403.760, 403.761, 403.763)

A respondent to a domestic violence protective order also commits a crime by entering a domestic violence shelter while the protective order is in effect. Domestic violence shelter trespass is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of 12 months in jail.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 511.085)

Consult With An Attorney

If you are charged with a domestic violence criminal offense or are accused of domestic violence in a petition for a protective order, you should speak with an attorney immediately. A conviction for an offense involving domestic violence carries the possibility of jail time and a fine, and having a domestic violence protective order issued against you can affect important areas of your life, such as child custody rights and where you reside. An experienced attorney will evaluate the allegations against you and provide important guidance throughout the process.

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