Domestic violence and child abuse are not terms that can be used interchangeably. Child abuse may be a type of domestic violence, but it does not have to be. Domestic violence can involve a child, but it can also involve adults. Both of these crimes may qualify as misdemeanors or felonies.
To understand the connection between domestic violence and child abuse, it is necessary to understand what each term means. Domestic violence is generally defined as the abuse of a household member. The definition is often expanded to include individuals who may not be in the same household but who are either family members or past or present associates of the accused. Examples include former roommates, ex-wives, and a person with whom an individual has a child.
Child abuse refers to harm that is done to a minor. It is not necessary for the guilty party to be a family member or to reside in the same household as the victim. For example, a daycare provider may be guilty of child abuse but cannot be guilty of domestic violence because she does not live with the child and the child is not a relative. A father, however, could technically be guilty of domestic violence and child abuse if he harms his daughter.
Whether or not the law will actually allow both charges to be filed in one case may vary from one jurisdiction to another. In some places, prosecutors may be required to pursue domestic violence in all cases that qualify. Child abuse may be reserved for all other cases.
Both child abuse and domestic violence cases may be handled solely in juvenile and domestic relations courts in jurisdictions that have them. Another similarity between domestic violence and child abuse is that both may generally be classified as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances. It is common for first-offense domestic violence to be a misdemeanor unless serious harm is done or certain circumstances exist. For example, the use or attempted use of a dangerous item, such as a knife, may allow a first-offense domestic violence charge to be a felony.
Whether the charge is a misdemeanor or felony in child abuse cases is more likely to be determined by circumstances than by repeated offenses. Child abuse law commonly includes degrees of the crime. When abuse of a minor degree occurs, it may be a misdemeanor. If the abuse that occurs is moderate to severe, it may be a felony, even if there are no prior convictions.