Physical abuse of children and spouses constitute a sad reality in too many family units. Like other states, Georgia has attempted to combat that reality with statutory protections for certain acts of violence committed among family members. This article discusses the scope of those statutory protections.

The Georgia Family Violence Act permits entry of a protective order to “bring about a cessation of acts of family violence,” upon a petitioner’s proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, that “family violence has occurred in the past and may occur in the future.”(1) The statute defines “family violence” as, and accordingly limits the conduct for which its relief may be granted to, “[a]ny felony” or “[c]ommission of offenses of battery, simple battery, simple assault, assault, stalking, criminal damage to property, unlawful restraint, or criminal trespass.”(2) The Act expressly excludes from its ambit, however, “reasonable discipline administered by a parent to a child in the form of corporal punishment, restraint, or detention.”(3)

For the Family Violence Act to apply, its designated criminal offenses must occur between “past or present spouses, persons who are parents of the same child, parents and children, stepparents and stepchildren, foster parents and foster children, or other persons living or formerly living in the same household.”(4) Specified offenses committed by one sibling against another also constitute family violence under the Act, provided at least that the siblings live or formerly lived in the same household.(5)

The court hearing a family violence petition must dismiss the proceedings where a petitioner fails to identify one of the statute’s designated crimes committed by a respondent or fails to present any evidence to establish one of those crimes.(6) Because a petitioner’s burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that an act of family violence occurred includes a burden to show that the alleged actions of a parent were not part of reasonable discipline, dismissal likewise should result from a petitioner’s failure to meet that burden.(7) For instance, a father’s evidence which failed to offer context for alleged incidences of mother hitting, yelling, chasing and being mean to their children did not satisfy his burden to show that the incidences fell outside the bounds of permissible, reasonable discipline.(8) Similarly, a wife’s vague testimony of concerns that her husband left bruises on the parties’ children which constituted assault and battery could not support issuance of a family violence protective order without evidence showing a factual basis for the wife’s concern to authorize a finding that husband committed either assault or battery.(9)

Felony interference with child custody, due to withholding visitation from a parent or otherwise interfering with a parent’s custodial rights, could support issuance of a family violence protective order, but only on the perpetrator’s third or subsequent offense of unlawful, intentional and willful retention of possession of a child within this state upon the expiration of a lawful period of visitation with the child.(10)

(1) O.C.G.A. § 19-13-3(b) and (c); and O.C.G.A. § 19-13-4(a). See also Perlman v. Perlman, 318 Ga.App. 731, 736, 734 S.E.2d 560 (2012). (2) O.C.G.A. § 19-13-1(1) and (2). (3) O.C.G.A. § 19-13-1. (4) O.C.G.A. § 19-13-1. (5) Jones v. Spruill, 337 Ga.App. 200, 203-204(2), 786 S.E.2d 848 (2016). (6) Bland v. Bland, 347 Ga.App. 273, 276-277, 819 S.E.2d 78 (2018); and Allen v. Clerk, 273 Ga.App. 896, 898-899(1), 616 S.E.2d 213 (2005). (7) See Perlman, supra, 318 Ga.App. at 736. (8) Id. (9) Dunn v. Dunn, A21A1776, A21A1777, A21A1778, *(4) (Ga. Ct. App., March 9, 2022). (10) See Dunn, supra, at (4)(b); and O.C.G.A. §§ 16-5-45(b)(1)(C) and (b)(2)(C).

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