Virginia Domestic Violence Laws

The basics of Virginia's domestic violence crimes and penalties.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 3/22/2023

Under Virginia's laws, it is a crime to injure, attempt to injure, or threaten a family or household member. It is also a crime to violate a protective order. Virginia refers to these acts of domestic violence as family abuse. This article provides an overview for anyone who's been accused of family abuse or is interested in understanding the law. Read on to learn how Virginia addresses crimes against family or household members.

What Is Domestic Violence in Virginia?

Virginia refers to domestic violence as family abuse. A person commits family abuse by committing any act of violence, force, or threats against a "family or household member," which results in physical injury or places another in fear of such harm.

Family and household members include:

  • spouses and former spouses
  • parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings (including step and half relations)
  • in-laws who live in the same house
  • people who have children together, and
  • people who live together or have lived together in the past year.

Acts of family abuse can include assault and battery, stalking, strangulation, sexual assault, and forceful detention, among other crimes.

(Va. Code § 16.1-228 (2022).)

What Are the Penalties for Family Abuse Crimes in Virginia?

Several crimes in the Virginia Code specify penalties for harming a family or household member.

Assault and Battery Against a Family or Household Member

A person commits assault and battery by:

  • engaging in some act that's intended to place another in fear of harm, or
  • unlawfully touching another in a rude, insolent, or angry manner.

For example, someone who starts walking toward another, shaking their fist, and threatening to smash in the person's face commits an assault. Pushing, pulling hair, or grabbing another can be acts of battery. Assault and battery don't require any physical injury to the victim. (If an injury occurs, the crime may be considered malicious or unlawful wounding or bodily injury.)

Penalties. Assault and battery against a family or household member starts as a class 1 misdemeanor, with penalties of up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. If a defendant has two or more prior convictions for the same offense, malicious or unlawful wounding or bodily injury, or strangulation, the penalty increases to a class 6 felony. Class 6 felonies are wobblers that can be punished by one year in jail or one to five years in prison.

No firearms. Defendants convicted of assault and battery against a family or household member are prohibited from possessing or purchasing a firearm. Prohibited possession results in a class 1 misdemeanor under state law. (Federal prohibitions and penalties may also apply.)

(Va. Code §§ 18.2-57.2, 18.2-57.3, 18.2-308.1:8 (2022).)

Violations of Protective Orders

Protective orders prohibit a defendant from having any contact with a victim. A defendant who violates a protective order (emergency, preliminary, or final) faces a class 1 misdemeanor. The penalty for a first conviction bumps up to a class 6 felony if the defendant was armed with a firearm or deadly weapon, injured the victim, stalked the victim, or snuck into the victim's home.

A defendant who has repeat convictions for protective order violations—any of which involve an act or threat of violence—must serve a minimum sentence. A judge must order the defendant to serve at least 60 days in jail for a second violation. For a third or subsequent conviction, the penalty increases to a class 6 felony with a minimum sentence of six months.

(Va. Code § 18.2-60.4 (2022).)

Strangulation and Stalking Crimes

Although not specific to acts against family or household members, strangulation and stalking are common family abuse crimes.

Strangulation is a class 6 felony. It's committed by unlawfully applying pressure to a person's neck to impede blood circulation or respiration which results in injuries.

Stalking. A person commits stalking by committing two or more acts that place another in reasonable fear of harm for themself or for a family or household member. Stalking can include following someone in person or sending them unwanted communications by mail, text, or electronically. A first violation is a class 1 misdemeanor, and a second violation is a class 6 felony.

(Va. Code §§ 18.2-51.6, 18.2-60.3 (2022).)

Arrests for Family Abuse Crimes in Virginia

Under Virginia's laws, if a police officer has probable cause to believe that a person has committed assault and battery against a family or household member or violated a protective order, the officer may make a warrantless arrest and take the person into custody. An officer can make the arrest even if they did not witness the offense.

If physical aggression was involved, the officer must make the arrest. An officer must also petition for an emergency protective order if they have reason to believe a danger of family abuse continues to exist.

(Va. Code § 19.2-81.3 (2022).)

Obtaining Legal Advice and Representation

A protective order or a conviction for assault on a family or household member can have serious consequences. If you are charged with domestic violence or served with a protective order, you should contact a criminal defense attorney in Virginia.

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