As our society has expanded its understanding of what makes up a family, we see statistically that no family unit is immune to the threat of domestic violence. Whether you’re part of what is historically considered a “traditional” family (i.e., heterosexual married couple/biological parents) or one of many types of “nontraditional” families, it’s still possible for disagreements to get out of hand, emotional triggers to surface…and before you know it, someone is facing domestic violence charges with a restraining order blocking them from the people they love.
We’ve already begun exploring how domestic violence may affect certain nontraditional families, but let’s continue looking at this topic below.
The term “cohabiting families” is a blanket term that can describe many different types of households, any of which has the potential for domestic violence depending on the situation. Common examples of cohabiting families include:
- Cohabiting couples
- Cohabiting couples and their children (including children from previous unions)
- Cohabiting couples who rent out their extra room to a third party
- Siblings and/or cousins living together
- Friends/roommates of any number or variety living in the same home (and possibly their children)
For our purposes, we refer to all these household configurations as “families” because they are living under the same roof. Any of these family configurations may be susceptible to domestic violence in a variety of ways, including:
- Violence between cohabiting couples
- Violence against children by any cohabiting adults
- Violence between siblings, live-in friends, and/or roommates
Interestingly, California law extends the definition of domestic violence to include anyone with whom you’re cohabiting. Thus, if you’re living with a roommate who isn’t related to you and whom you’re not dating, and you engage in a physical altercation, it’s more than just simple assault. It’s categorized as domestic violence, and it’s, therefore, subject to the same harsher penalties, as well as additional protections for the alleged victim.
The legalization of same-sex marriage not only created a whole new set of parameters with regard to family law (i.e., marriages, prenups, divorces)…it also shone a new light on the possibilities for criminal domestic violence. Whether an LGBTQ couple is cohabiting or legally married, it’s just as possible for fights to become physical, or for one partner to become abusive of the other, as in heterosexual marriages.
Several studies have shown that LGBTQ couples are statistically more likely to suffer from domestic violence than heterosexual couples—and bi- or lesbian women are more likely than their gay male counterparts to experience it. One possible explanation for this trend is what one researcher described as “minority stress”—that is, the unique stress levels that are encountered by a people group that feels particularly marginalized. This theory would suggest that as the LGBTQ community sees more equality and acceptance in our culture, those stress levels should subside, and rates of domestic violence within these couples may start to decline.
Polyamory involves different configurations of sexual relationships among more than two people, and a growing number of households are reflecting this trend. Examples of polyamorous families may include:
- Bigamy (one person has more than one married spouse—not legal in the U.S. but still exists in some corners)
- Threesomes—one male cohabiting with two females, or one female with two males, or threesomes including people who identify as nonbinary
- Open relationships—married or cohabiting couples who mutually decide to take additional partners
- “Swingers”—couples who swap partners, either casually or while cohabiting together
Polyamorous relationships can stir up very complex emotions and mixed feelings (not the least of which is jealousy). While polyamory seeks to minimize feelings of “ownership” between couples, not everyone involved is able to control these feelings. Thus, polyamory of any type can easily become a breeding ground for domestic violence, whether between married partners in an open relationship, two love interests of the same person, etc.
Extended Family Households
It’s not unusual for extended family members to live together, but when they assume roles not typically attributed to them, it creates a different type of family unit we’ll call “extended family households.” Examples might include any of the following:
- Grandparents raising their grandchildren (e.g., because the parents died or are unable to care for their children)
- Aunts/uncles raising nieces and nephews
- Adult siblings caring for younger siblings as parents
- Adult children caring for their aging parents
Anytime a relative assumes a caregiver role, it potentially sets up an additional layer of stress—in part because, in many cases, the caregiver role is neither planned nor asked for. While the majority of these households carry on just fine, occasionally, the added stress (along with any other risk factors) may result in domestic violence. For example:
- Violence between couples who have assumed an unexpected parental role
- Violence against any of the children by any of the adults
- Violence between adult siblings
- Adult children abusing their elderly parents (a special category of domestic violence called elder abuse)
Whatever configuration your family happens to take, living with others can produce certain amounts of stress. Disagreements can happen, emotions can get out of hand, and suddenly one or more of you is on the wrong side of the law. If you find yourself in this situation, charged with domestic violence, your first step toward making things whole is to hire compassionate legal counsel to help you defend against the charges. Call our office today for a free case evaluation.