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Domestic Violence: Relevant Even If Nonphysical or Unreported

Family or Dating Violence

This article explores the different forms of domestic violence and the legal significance of nonphysical abuse.

Here, learn why domestic violence is legally significant—even if the victim did not make a police report or if the abuse was not physical. Understand the difference between protective orders and restraining orders, and learn about what economic and emotional abuse are.  

Can I get a protective order against someone when they’ve only threatened me?

According to Texas Family Code 85.001, a court can grant a final protective order if the judge concludes that family violence has occurred.

Family violence is defined as an act against a family member or household member against another family member or household member that does any of the following:

  1. Intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault; or
  2. Makes a threat that reasonably places the person in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault.

Based on the above, a threat is family violence as long as the threat reasonably places the person in fear of harm. A threat without any other supporting evidence may not be enough for a protective order. It is completely dependent on the particular facts of each case

The violence was a long time ago and I never reported it. Is it relevant?

Generally, any violence during the relationship is relevant when pursuing a protective orderdivorce, or custody. However, the weight given to the evidence depends on many factors, especially how long ago it occurred. The most recent incidents are especially important, but the weight given to the abuse decreases the longer the time span between the violent incident and the legal action being pursued.

The violence does not have to be reported to the police for it to be relevant. The fact that it happened is enough to make it important to consider using it as evidence in the case

I dated someone and ended the relationship. My ex-partner keeps calling me. Can I get a protective order to make him/her stop?

A protective order is available for people who have experienced dating or family violence. Without family violence, you would not qualify for a protective order. You can make a police report about the harassment, and your ex-partner can be investigated for harassing you.

There was emotional abuse. I am leaving. Can I get a "restraining order"?

An individual can ask the court for a temporary restraining order as part of a divorce or custody caseTexas Rule of Civil Procedure 680.

To grant a temporary restraining order, the court must find that because of the emotional abuse, immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will occur if the order is not signed. 

If granted, the temporary restraining order is in effect for 14 days unless a different time period is set by the court. The court sets the matter for hearing so the judge can hear all of the evidence regarding the abuse. The judge then decides on whether to continue the protection in a temporary or permanent injunction

What is the difference between a “protective order” and a "restraining order"?

Most individuals tend to use the terms “restraining order” and “protective order” to mean the same thing. However, these are two different types of orders.

The Texas Family Code defines a restraining order as either a temporary restraining order (TRO) or an ​​​​​injunction. They are typically used to dictate to parties on either side of a lawsuit or court case what they can and cannot do. For example, a restraining order may prevent either spouse from withdrawing funds from their joint bank accounts while a divorce is pending. Restraining orders can be lengthy and contain numerous provisions. Restraining order violations cannot be enforced criminally – police do not have the authority to act. Instead, the affected party must return to court to seek a civil resolution. Usually, a court hearing will be required, and a judge will rule on the merits of the facts.

protective order (also called an order of protection) is a court order that typically demands that a specific abuser stop harassing, stalking, threatening, or physically assaulting a particular victim. Protective order violations can be enforced criminally—police have the authority to act. 

What is emotional abuse?

The National Domestic Violence Hotline ( defines emotional abuse as non-physical behaviors meant to control, isolate, or frighten you. This may present as threats, insults, constant monitoring, excessive jealousy, manipulation, humiliation, intimidation, and dismissiveness.

Scenarios and examples of emotional abuse:

  • The individual name calls or demeans you.
  • The individual tries to control you, your time, and your actions.
  • The individual withholds affection or attention as a punishment.
  • The individual denies that certain events, discussions, arguments, etc., ever occurred and tries to make you appear mentally unstable. This is also known as gaslighting. 
  • The individual is jealous of your relationships with friends and family. 
  • The individual constantly accuses you of cheating. 
  • The individual threatens to harm themselves or you during arguments or as a way to control you.
  • The individual constantly asks for your location or information about who you are with.
  • The individual wants you to ask for permission before doing something or spending time with anyone else.
  • The individual name-calls, insults, or tries to humiliate you in front of friends, family, or strangers. 
  • The individual wants access to your phone, passwords, social media, email, etc.
  • The individual makes you feel guilty or immature for not wanting sex.
  • The individual overloads you with compliments and gifts and then uses that to manipulate you later. This is also known as love bombing.
  • The individual blames you for their unhealthy and abusive behaviors.

What are my remedies if I’m experiencing emotional abuse?

  1. Seek counseling.

  2. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member to talk about what you’ve been going through.

  3. Reach out to a domestic violence agency for more information concerning emotional abuse.

  4. Research the Power and Control Wheels from the Texas Council on Family Violence. The wheel is a diagram of tactics that an abusive partner uses to keep their victims in a relationship.

  5. Set safe boundaries with the person who is being emotionally abusive.

  6. Consider safety planning with a family violence advocate.

  7. Call 911 if the threats begin to escalate.

  8. Seek legal counsel to determine potential legal remedies. 

What is economic abuse?

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence ( defines Economic Abuse as:

Economic abuse involves maintaining control over financial resources, withholding access to money, or attempting to prevent a victim or survivor from working and attending school to create financial dependence as a means of control. Victims and survivors are often forced to choose between staying in abusive relationships and poverty or even homelessness. Economic abuse is a common reason victims stay in abusive relationships.

Economic abuse can take many forms, including employment-related abuse, preventing the victim from accessing existing funds, coerced debt, and more. 

Scenarios and examples of economic abuse:

  • The individual prevents you from going to work, looking for jobs, or attending job interviews.
  • The individual sabotages your employment or interferes with your work performance through frequent phone calls or unannounced visits.
  • The individual demands that you quit your job.
  • The individual forces you to hand over their entire paycheck to them.
  • The individual decides when and how you can use cash, bank accounts, or credit/debit cards.
  • The individual opens accounts and credit cards in your name.
  • The individual forces you to take out loans, mortgages, etc.
  • The individual demands that all accounts, leases, mortgages, or assets be in their name.
  • The individual requires you to be the stay-at-home parent you become financially dependent on them.
  • The individual controls and withholds household funds. 
  • The individual intentionally withholds necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene products, or medication.
  • The individual requires justification for any money spent and punishes you with physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. 

What are my remedies if I’m experiencing economic abuse?

  1. If you are employed, try to begin saving money in a separate account that the abusive partner does not know about.
  2. If you are not employed, save allowance money or spare change in a lockbox or with a trusted friend or family member. 
  3. Check your credit report to ensure no new credit cards or accounts have been opened in your name.
  4. Freeze your credit with the three credit bureaus.
  5. Consider safety planning with a family violence advocate.
  6. Seek legal counsel to determine potential legal remedies. 

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