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Legal Information: Federal

Domestic Violence in the Military

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Updated: 
October 9, 2019

I have heard the terms “domestic abuse” and “domestic violence” used by military personnel. Is there a difference?

In the military, “domestic abuse” and “domestic violence” are two different terms.

Domestic abuse is used in the military as a broader term that includes all forms of relationship violence against a current or former spouse or intimate partner, including physical harm and non-physical harm, like harassment and emotional abuse. The military considers domestic abuse to be a pattern of behavior resulting in emotional/psychological abuse, economic control, sexual abuse, “spousal neglect,” and/or interference with personal liberty. “Spousal neglect” is when an adult fails to provide necessary care or assistance to a spouse who is incapable of self-care physically, emotionally, or culturally.

Domestic violence is used by the military to specifically name the offense under the United States Code, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), or state law that:

  • involves the use, attempted use, or threatened use of force or violence against a current or former spouse or intimate partner; or
  • is a violation of a lawful order, such as a military protective order (MPO) or a civil protection order (CPO) that was issued for the protection of a current or former spouse or intimate partner.1

In 2019, the UCMJ was updated to include domestic violence as a specific crime for which the accused can be prosecuted by court martial.

If your relationship with the person who is harming you does not meet any of these requirements, you could still qualify for a civil protection order (CPO) in the state where you live. Go to the Restraining Orders section and enter your state in the drop-down menu to see if you qualify for a CPO.

1 Department of Defense Directive 6400.06, sections 6.4-6.6, incorporating change 4, May 26, 2017