Child Witnesses to Domestic Violence: Summary of State Laws





State Statutes U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesAdministration for Children and FamiliesAdministration on Children, Youth and FamiliesChildren’s BureauCurrent Through November 2009

Child Witnesses to Domestic Violence: Summary of State LawsIn recent years, increased attention has been focused on children who may be affected by violence in the home, either as victims or as witnesses to domestic violence. Research shows that even when children are not direct targets of violence in the home, they can be harmed by witnessing its occurrence. The witnessing of domestic violence can be auditory, visual, or inferred, including cases in which the child perceives the aftermath of violence, such as physical injuries to family members or damage to property. Children who witness domestic violence can suffer severe emotional and developmental difficulties that are similar to those of children who are direct victims of abuse. The legal system is beginning to recognize the need to protect and care for these children. Approximately 22 States and Puerto Rico currently address in statute the issue of children who witness domestic violence in their homes.

A child is a witness to domestic violence when an act that is defined as domestic violence is committed in the presence of or perceived by the child. In six States, the definition goes no further than that. In 14 States and Puerto Rico, the language used is more specific, stating that witnessing by a child occurs when the child is physically present or can see or hear the act of violence. Ohio law states that witnessing occurs when the domestic violence is committed “in the vicinity of the child,” meaning within 30 feet or within the same residential unit occupied by the child, whether or not the child is present or can see the commission of the offense.

In 10 States, the laws apply to any child who may be present or a witness to the act of domestic violence.6 In 10 States and Puerto Rico, the laws apply specifically to a child who is related to or a member of the household of the victim or perpetrator of the violence.7 The law in Indiana applies only to the noncustodial child of a noncustodial parent.

Circumstances That Constitute Witnessing Legal Consequences

In many States, a conviction for domestic violence that was committed in the presence of a child may result in harsher penalties than a conviction for domestic violence without a child present. Approximately eight States consider an act of domestic violence committed in the presence of a child an “aggravating circumstance” in their sentencing guidelines. This usually results in a longer jail term, an increased fine, or both. An additional five States, while not using the term “aggravating circumstance,” require more severe penalties. In five States, committing domestic violence in the presence of a child is a separate crime that may be charged separately or in addition to the act of violence.

In addition to any criminal penalties, Illinois, Louisiana, and Nevada require perpetrators of domestic violence to pay for any counseling that a child victim may require. Ohio and Oklahoma require the offenders to undergo counseling. Indiana requires that visitation of a noncustodial parent who has been convicted of domestic violence in the presence of his or her noncustodial child be supervised for at least 1 year and not more than 2 years following the act of domestic violence.This publication is a product of the State Statutes Series prepared by Child Welfare Information Gateway. While every attempt has been made to be as complete as possible, additional information on these topics may be in other sections of a State’s code as well as agency regulations, case law, and informal practices and procedures.

Alabama

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Alaska

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingAlaska Stat. §§ 12.55.155; 47.10.011In criminal law: A felony offense of domestic violence that was committed in the physical presence or hearing of a child under age 16 who was, at the time of the offense, living within the residence of the victim, the residence of the perpetrator, or the residence where the domestic violence occurred is considered an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes. In civil law: The court may find a child to be a child in need of aid if it finds by a preponderance of evidence that the child has been subjected to conduct by or conditions created by the parent, guardian, or custodian that have resulted in mental injury to the child, or placed the child at substantial risk of mental injury, due to:Exposure to conduct by a household member against another household member that is the crime of murder, • assault, or sexual assault, or the attempt to commit these crimes Repeated exposure to conduct by a household member against another household member that is the crime of • reckless endangerment or stalking ConsequencesAlaska Stat. § 12.55.155Domestic violence committed in the physical presence or hearing of a child under 16 years of age is considered an aggravating factor and may allow imposition of a sentence above the presumptive range set out in § 12.55.125.

Arizona

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingRev. Stat. § 13-702(C) In criminal law: An act of domestic violence, as defined in § 13-3601(A), that was committed in the presence of a child will be considered an aggravating circumstance.ConsequencesRev. Stat. § 13-702(C) An act of domestic violence committed in the presence of a child is considered an aggravating circumstance when determining a sentence and may result in a longer period of incarceration. Child Witnesses to Domestic

Arkansas

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingAnn. Code § 5-4-701In criminal law: ‘’In the presence of a child’’ means in the physical presence of a child or knowing or having reason to know that a child is present and may see or hear an act of assault; battery; domestic battering; aggravated cruelty to a dog, cat, or horse; or assault on a family member or household member.ConsequencesAnn. Code § 5-4-702Any person who commits a felony offense involving homicide, assault, battery, domestic battering, or assault on a family member or household member may be subject to an enhanced sentence of an additional term of imprisonment of not less than 1 year and not greater than 10 years if the offense is committed in the presence of a child. The enhanced portion of the sentence is consecutive to any other sentence imposed. Any person who commits the offense of aggravated cruelty to a dog, cat, or horse may be subject to an enhanced sentence of an additional term of imprisonment not to exceed 5 years if the offense is committed in the presence of a child.Any person convicted under this section is not eligible for early release on parole or community correction transfer for the enhanced portion of the sentence.

California

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingPenal Code § 1170.76In criminal law: A child is considered a witness of domestic violence when the person who commits or attempts to commit a violation of §§ 243.4 [sexual battery], 245 [assault with a deadly weapon], or 273.5 [infliction of injury on a present or former spouse], is or has been a member of the household of the child or the victim of the offense, is a marital or blood relative of the child or the victim, or the offender or the victim is the natural parent, adoptive parent, stepparent, or foster parent of the child, and the offense contemporaneously occurred in the presence of, or was witnessed by, the child.ConsequencesPenal Code § 1170.76Such circumstances shall be considered a circumstance in aggravation of the crime in imposing a term under § 1170(b).

Colorado

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Connecticut

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Delaware

Circumstances That Constitute Witnessing Ann. Code Tit. 11, § 1102In criminal law: A person is guilty of endangering the welfare of a child when the person commits any violent felony, or second-degree reckless endangering, third-degree assault, terroristic threatening, or second-degree unlawful imprisonment against a victim, knowing that such felony or misdemeanor was witnessed, either by sight or sound, by a child younger than age 18 who is a member of the person’s family or the victim’s family. ConsequencesAnn. Code Tit. 11, § 1102The crime of endangering the welfare of a child may be classified as follows:When the death of a child occurs while the child’s welfare was endangered, endangering the welfare of a child is a • Class E felony.When serious physical injury to a child occurs while the child’s welfare was endangered, endangering the welfare • of a child is a Class G felony.When a child becomes the victim of a sexual offense, as defined in § 761(d) of this title, while the child’s welfare • was endangered, endangering the welfare of a child is a Class G felony. In all other cases, endangering the welfare of a child is a Class A misdemeanor.•

District of Columbia

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

FloridaCircumstances That Constitute WitnessingAnn. Stat. § 921.0024 In criminal law: It is considered domestic violence in the presence of a child if an offender is convicted of a primary offense of domestic violence, and that offense was committed in the presence of a child under age 16 who is a family or household member with the victim or perpetrator. ConsequencesAnn. Stat. § 921.0024When domestic violence is committed in the presence of a child, the subtotal sentence points are multiplied by 1.5.

Georgia

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingAnn. Code § 16-5-70(d) In criminal law: Any person commits the offense of cruelty to children in the third degree when:Such person, who is the primary aggressor, intentionally allows a child under age 18 to witness the commission of • a forcible felony, battery, or family violence battery.Such person, who is the primary aggressor, having knowledge that a child under age 18 is present and sees or • hears the act, commits a forcible felony, battery, or family violence battery. ConsequencesAnn. Code § 16-5-70(e)(3)A person convicted of the offense of cruelty to children in the third degree shall be punished as for a misdemeanor upon the first or second conviction.Upon conviction of a third or subsequent offense of cruelty to children in the third degree, the defendant shall be guilty of a felony and shall be sentenced to a fine not less than $1,000 or more than $5,000, imprisonment for not less than 1 year or more than 3 years, or both fine and imprisonment.

Hawaii

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingRev. Stat. § 706-606.4 In criminal law: The term ‘’in the presence of a minor’’ means in the actual physical presence of a child or knowing that a child is present and may hear or see the offense. ConsequencesRev. Stat. § 706-606.4 The court shall consider the following aggravating factors in determining the particular sentence to be imposed:The defendant has been convicted of committing or attempting to commit an offense involving abuse of a family • or household member.The defendant is or has been a family or household member of either a minor or the victim of the offense.• The offense contemporaneously occurred in the presence of a minor.•

Idaho

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingIdaho Code § 18-918(4) In criminal law: The term ‘’in the presence of a child’’ means in the physical presence of a child or knowing that a child is present and may see or hear an act of domestic assault or battery. For purposes of this section, ‘’child’’ means a person under age 16. Idaho Code § 18-918(4) The maximum penalties provided in this section shall be doubled when the act of domestic assault or battery for which the person is convicted or pleads guilty took place in the presence of a child.

Illinois

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingComp. Stat. Ch. 720 § 5/12-3.2 In criminal law: For purposes of this section: ‘’Child’’ means a person under 18 years of age who is the defendant’s or victim’s child or stepchild or who is a • minor child residing within or visiting the household of the defendant or victim. ‘’In the presence of a child’’ means in the physical presence of a child or knowing or having reason to know that a • child is present and may see or hear an act constituting one of the offenses listed in the section below.ConsequencesComp. Stat. Ch. 720 § 5/12-3.2 In addition to any other sentencing alternatives, a defendant who commits, in the presence of a child, a felony domestic battery, aggravated domestic battery, aggravated battery, unlawful restraint, or aggravated unlawful restraint against a family or household member shall be:Required to serve a mandatory minimum imprisonment of 10 days, perform 300 hours of community service, or • bothLiable for the cost of any counseling required for the child at the discretion of the court •

Indiana

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingAnn. Stat. § 31-14-14-5In civil law: This section applies if a court finds that a noncustodial parent has been convicted of a crime involving domestic or family violence that was witnessed or heard by the noncustodial parent’s child. ConsequencesAnn. Stat. § 31-14-14-5When a noncustodial parent has been convicted of domestic violence that was witnessed by the noncustodial parent’s child, his or his parenting time with the child must be supervised:For at least 1 year and not more than 2 years immediately following the crime involving domestic or family • violenceUntil the child becomes emancipated, whichever occurs first•

Iowa

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Kansas

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Kentucky

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Louisiana

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingRev. Stat. § 14:35.3(I)In criminal law: When the State proves, in addition to the elements of the crime of domestic abuse battery, as set forth in § 14:35.3(A), that a minor child age 13 or younger was present at the residence or any other scene at the time of the commission of the offense, additional penalties will apply, as described in the section below. ConsequencesRev. Stat. § 14:35.3(I); Children’s Code Art. 1570.1In criminal law: When the circumstances described above apply:The minimum mandatory sentence for a first or second offense shall not be suspended.• The minimum mandatory sentence imposed for a third offense shall be 2 years without suspension of sentence.• The minimum mandatory sentence imposed for a fourth or subsequent offense shall be 4 years without • suspension of sentence. In civil law: All court costs, attorney fees, costs of enforcement and modifications proceedings, costs of appeals, evaluation fees, and expert witness fees incurred in maintaining or defending any proceeding concerning domestic abuse assistance in accordance with the provisions of this Chapter shall be paid by the perpetrator of the domestic violence, including all costs of medical and psychological care for the abused adult, or for any of the children, necessitated by the domestic violence.

Maine

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Maryland

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Massachusetts

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Michigan

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Minnesota

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Mississippi

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingAnn. Code § 97-3-7(3), (4)In criminal law: The crime of domestic violence is committed ‘’in the physical presence or hearing of a child’’ when a child who is under age 16 was, at the time of the offense, living within the residence of the victim, the residence of the perpetrator, or the residence where the offense occurred. ConsequencesAnn. Code § 97-3-7(3), (4)In sentencing for the crime of domestic violence, the court shall consider as an aggravating factor whether the crime was committed in the physical presence or hearing of a child.

Missouri

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Montana

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingAnn. Code § 45-5-206(v) In criminal law: If the offense [of assault of a partner or family member] was committed within the vision or hearing of a minor, the judge shall consider the minor’s presence as a factor at the time of sentencingConsequencesAnn. Code § 45-5-206(v) If the offense [of assault of a partner or family member] was committed within the vision or hearing of a minor, the judge shall consider the minor’s presence as a factor at the time of sentencing.

Nebraska

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Nevada

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingRev. Stat. § 200.485(7) In criminal law: If it appears from information presented to the court that a child under age 18 may need counseling as a result of the commission of a battery that constitutes domestic violence, the court may refer the child to a child welfare services agency. ConsequencesRev. Stat. § 200.485(7) If the court refers a child to a child welfare services agency, the court shall require the person convicted of domestic violence battery to reimburse the agency for the costs of any services provided, to the extent of his or her ability to pay.

New Hampshire

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

New Jersey

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

New Mexico

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

New York

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

North Carolina

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingGen. Stat. § 14-33(d)In criminal law: The term ‘’in the presence of a minor’’ means that the minor was in a position to have observed the assault.A minor is any person younger than age 18 who is residing with or is under the care and supervision of, and who has a personal relationship with, the person assaulted or the person committing the assault.ConsequencesGen. Stat. § 14-33(d)Any person who, in the course of an assault, assault and battery, or affray, inflicts serious injury upon another person, or uses a deadly weapon on a person with whom the person has a personal relationship, and in the presence of a minor, is guilty of a Class A1 misdemeanor. Upon conviction, the person shall be:Placed on supervised probation in addition to any other punishment imposed by the court • Sentenced to an active punishment of no less than 30 days in addition to any other punishment imposed by the • court for a second or subsequent violation

North Dakota

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Ohio

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingRev. Code § 2929.01(LL) In criminal law: An offense is ‘’committed in the vicinity of a child’’ if the offender commits the offense within 30 feet of or within the same residential unit as a child who is under age 18, regardless of whether the offender knows the age of the child or that the offense is being committed within 30 feet of or within the same residential unit as the child and regardless of whether the child actually views the commission of the offense. ConsequencesRev. Code §§ 2929.12; 2929.17If the offense of domestic violence or assault involves a person who was a family or household member at the time of the violation, and the offender committed the offense in the vicinity of one or more children who are not victims of the offense, and the offender or the victim of the offense is a parent, guardian, custodian, or person in loco parentis of one or more of those children:The sentencing court shall consider the offender’s conduct to be more serious than conduct normally constituting • the offense.The offender shall also be required to obtain counseling.•

Oklahoma

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingAnn. Stat. Tit. 21, § 644(G) In criminal law: ‘’In the presence of a child’’ means in the physical presence of a child or having knowledge that a child is present and may see or hear an act of domestic violence. For the purposes of this section, ‘’child’’ may be any child whether or not related to the victim or the defendant. ConsequencesAnn. Stat. Tit. 21, § 644(F)Any person convicted of domestic abuse that was committed in the presence of a child shall be punished by:Imprisonment for not less than 6 months or more than 1 year, a fine not exceeding $5,000, or by both • For second or subsequent convictions, imprisonment for not less than 1 year or more than 5 years, a fine not • exceeding $7,000, or by bothFor every conviction of domestic abuse, the court shall specifically order as a condition of a suspended sentence or probation that a defendant participate in counseling or undergo treatment by an individual licensed practitioner or a domestic abuse treatment program certified by the attorney general to bring about the cessation of domestic abuse.If the defendant is ordered to participate in a domestic abuse counseling or treatment program, the order shall require the defendant to attend the program for a minimum of 52 weeks, complete the program, and be evaluated before and after attendance of the program by a program counselor or a private counselor.The defendant may be required to pay all or part of the cost of the counseling or treatment, at the discretion of the court.

Oregon

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingRev. Stat. § 163.160 In criminal law: An assault is witnessed by a child:When it is committed in the immediate presence of, or is witnessed by, the person’s or the victim’s minor child or • stepchild or a minor child residing within the household of the person or victimIf it is seen or directly perceived in any other manner by the child• ConsequencesRev. Stat. § 163.160(3)(c)Assault in the fourth degree is a Class A misdemeanor, except when it is witnessed by the person’s or the victim’s minor child, when it is a Class C felony.

Pennsylvania

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. Puerto RicoCircumstances That Constitute WitnessingAnn. Laws Tit. 8, §§ 444; 632In civil law: Minors will be considered to be victims of abuse if the father, mother, or person responsible for the minor has engaged in acts that constitute domestic violence in the presence of minors, as defined in Title 8, § 601, et seq.Domestic abuse is considered ‘’aggravated’’ when:It is committed in the presence of minors.• Child abuse is committed and simultaneously incurred.• ConsequencesAnn. Laws Tit. 8, § 632The penalty for aggravated abuse is imprisonment for a fixed term of 3 years. If there were aggravating circumstances, the fixed penalty may be increased to a maximum of 5 years; if there were extenuating circumstances, it may be reduced to a minimum of 2 years. In addition, the court may impose the penalty of restitution.

Rhode Island

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

South Carolina

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

South Dakota

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Tennessee

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Texas

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Utah

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingAnn. Code § 76-5-109.1 In criminal law: The term ‘’in the presence of a child’’ means:In the physical presence of a child• Having knowledge that a child is present and may see or hear an act of domestic violence• ConsequencesAnn. Code § 76-5-109.1 A person commits domestic violence in the presence of a child if the person:Commits or attempts to commit criminal homicide against a cohabitant in the presence of a child • Intentionally causes serious bodily injury to a cohabitant or uses a dangerous weapon or other means or force • likely to produce death or serious bodily injury against a cohabitant in the presence of a childUnder circumstances not amounting to criminal homicide or serious bodily injury as described above, commits an • act of domestic violence in the presence of a childA person who violates either of the first two subsections is guilty of a third-degree felony. A person who commits domestic violence in the presence of a child is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.A charge under this section is separate and distinct from, and is in addition to, a charge of domestic violence where the victim is the cohabitant. Either or both charges may be filed by the prosecutor.A person who commits a violation of this section when more than one child is present is guilty of one offense of domestic violence in the presence of a child regarding each child present when the violation occurred.

Vermont

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesAnn. Stat. Tit. 13, § 1047In criminal law: When imposing sentence for an offense [of domestic assault] listed in this subchapter, the court may consider whether the offense was committed within the presence of a child.

Virginia

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Washington

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingRev. Code § 9.94A.535In criminal law: A child is a witness to an act of domestic violence if the offense occurred within sight or sound of the victim’s or the offender’s minor child under age 18.ConsequencesRev. Code §§ 9.94A.535; 9.94A.537 It can be considered an aggravating circumstance that supports a sentence above the standard range when the current offense involved domestic violence, as defined in § 10.99.020, and the offense occurred within sight or sound of the victim’s or the offender’s minor children under age 18. Under such circumstance, the court may impose an aggravated sentence that may consist of the maximum allowed under § 9A.20.021 for the underlying conviction.

West Virginia

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Wisconsin

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. ConsequencesThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Wyoming

Circumstances That Constitute WitnessingThis issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.Consequences