Section of CA Law & Code of Ethics Pertaining to
Spousal and Partner Abuse


Sections of California law that pertain to Spousal and Partner Abuse

Following are sections of California law that are most relevant to issues of Spousal and Partner Abuse:

PC 273.5: Corporal Injury to Spouse/Cohabitant

  • Domestic violence is a criminal act against the state.
  • The district attorney can prosecute domestic violence cases without the victims’ approval or cooperation, if the DA has sufficient evidence.
  • If the district attorney decides to prosecute, he or she will act on the victims’ behalf against the batterer and will call on the victim to testify.
  • Great bodily injury is not required, only a wound or external or internal injury whether of a minor or serious nature, caused by physical force.

PC 11160: Assault

  • This California Penal Code states that health practitioners who provide medical services to a person suffering from a gunshot wound inflicted by self or others, or any wound resulting from assault or abuse, are mandated to report this information.
  • Psychotherapists and other providers of mental health services (e.g., psychologists, MFTs, SWs) are NOT mandated to report assault.
  • Unless the battered gives written authorization to release confidential information, therapists cannot report or disclose information about the battering.
  • If a therapist, who is told about the assault and battering by the battered and even sees the marks on the victim’s body, reports it without the patient’s consent, it constitutes serious violation of confidentiality.

Additional Related Criminal Laws In California

  • PC 243 (e):Battery. It is not necessary to show a physical injury. There can be a complaint of internal pain.
  • PC 136.1: Attempting to Prevent Victim from Reporting Crime. These are situations in which the batterer destroyed or concealed (or attempted to) a telephone so that the victim could not call police.
  • PC 422: Terrorist Threats. Specific intent of the statement to harm? is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intention of actually carrying it out. Any threatening statement, even without teeth, can constitute a Terrorist Threat.
  • PC 653: Harassing Communications. Applies to all electronic communication devices (i.e., phone machines, email etc.); obscene language; threats to person or property. Of course it is applies to harassing notes left on the windshield of a car or on the door of the house.
  • PC 236: False Imprisonment. The unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another. This typically happens when the batterer locks the battered in a room in the house.
  • PC 237.6: Violation of Protective Order (Contempt of Court). Even if the batterer was invited to the house by the battered, as soon as the batterer is there against the will of the battered, he (she) is in violation of the restraining order. In other words as soon as the battered changes her (his) mind, the batterer must disengage and leave. May also be punished as criminal contempt; defendant had knowledge of the order and the ability to comply, but willfully disobeyed it.
  • PC 646.9: Stalking. It is not necessary to prove that the defendant intended to carry out the threat. The sheer act of stalking is illegal.

Child Abuse reporting:

  • The California Penal Code, Sections 11164-11166, requires that mandated reporters, such as psychotherapists, make a report of child abuse whenever a “reasonable suspicion” of child abuse exists. A child abuse report is mandated whenever a therapist learns about the abuse in his or her professional capacity.
  • When domestic violence takes place, the children are often in danger of physical or emotional abuse.
  • When therapists are not sure if a report to CPS is mandated, therapists may call CPS and consult with them first before filing a report.
  • Therapists should not make the mistake of equating domestic violence and child abuse. While these two situations are often linked, in some situations the physical and emotional violence is only towards the partner and/or the spouse, and the children may be only marginally involved.

Tarasoff and the Duty to Warn:

  • California Civil Code 43.92 clarifies the Tarasoff Statute and states, with regard to the duty to warn, “where the patient has communicated to the psychotherapist a serious threat of physical violence against a reasonably identifiable victim or victims.” In these situations, the psychotherapist’s duty is to make a “reasonable effort to communicate the threat to the victim or victims and to a law enforcement agency.” Failure to act may also result in potential civil liabilities.
  • Tarasoff is primarily relevant to domestic violence in situations where the batterer communicates a serious threat of physical violence against the battered. Of course, the children are often considered the ‘potential victims’ in this situation and therefore must be protected under Tarasoff.
  • Usually, when therapists are exclusively treating the battered, or the victim, and there is no communication of threat against and identifiable victim, Tarasoff does not necessarily apply. In this situation therapists must work with the battered to help them assess the danger, consider several plans of action, create a safety plan, etc.
  • Of course, if authorization-permission to disclose confidential information is given by the patient, therapists can disclose information according to the authorization.
  • Important New Ruling regarding Tarasoff Mandated Reporting: In July 2004 California Court Extends Tarasoff Mandated Reporting Standard. Ewing v. Goldstein is a recent California appeals court decision that extended the interpretation of the Tarasoff warning law. The court expanded the definition of Civil Code § 43.92 to “include family members as persons covered within the statute who, upon communication to a therapist of a serious threat of physical violence against a reasonably identifiable victim, would trigger a duty to warn.” The court states in Goldstein: “The intent of the statute is clear. A therapist has a duty to warn if, and only if, the threat which the therapist has learned – whether from the patient or a family member – actually leads him or her to believe the patient poses a risk of grave bodily injury to another person.” The expanded duty from now on applies to credible threats received from the patient, or the patient’s family, however, the court made clear that its decision did not go beyond “family members.”


  • California Evidence Code 1024 states that there is no privileged communication if the therapist has reasonable cause to believe that the client is in such a mental or emotional condition as to be dangerous to him/herself or to the person or property of another, and that disclosure of the communication is necessary to prevent the threatened danger.
  • Therapists cannot evoke 1024 against a batterer if the information comes from the battered-client.
    • According to the California Psychological Association in their September, 2011 Updates, clinicians are reminded:

      Domestic Violence is not an exception to patient confidentiality or privilege which requires psychologists to make a report. There is a law that requires a report by health practitioners who provide medical services for a physical condition when domestic violence is reasonably suspected. Psychologists are not regarded as practitioners who provide medical services for a physical condition pursuant to this law. Accordingly, psychologists do not have an obligation to report domestic violence and must respect patients’ confidentiality and privilege when domestic violence is suspected. Just below is the relevant language of the applicable law.

      CA PENAL CODE. SECTION 11160-11163.6 11160. (a) Any health practitioner employed in a health facility, clinic, physician’s office, local or state public health department, or a clinic or other type of facility operated by a local or state public health department who, in his or her professional capacity or within the scope of his or her employment, provides medical services for a physical condition to a patient whom he or she knows or reasonably suspects is a person described as follows, shall immediately make a report in accordance with subdivision.

  • Of course, if authorization-permission to disclose confidential information is given by the patient, therapists can disclose information according to the authorization.

Elder, and dependent adult abuse mandate reporting:

  • Sections 15610, 15630-15634 of the California Welfare and Institution Code require reporting of physical abuse, abandonment, isolation, financial abuse or neglect of any elder or dependent adult under certain circumstances.
  • The elder abuse mandate reporting can be helpful to therapists in situations when the battered is an elder or dependent adult. In these situations the therapist does NOT need to get permission to disclose confidential information from the client.
  • A report is required if the therapist observes or has knowledge of the abuse or if the patient reveals information about being abused.

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Training requirements: California BOP/BBS Spousal and Partner Abuse training requirement

Senate Bill No. 564, Chapter 481, Statutes of 2002

On September 11, 2002, Governor Davis signed Senate Bill 564, which was authored by state Senator Jackie Speier. This bill amends sections 2914 and 2915 of the California Business and Professions Code.

This bill will, in part, increase the number of contact hours of coursework or training in spousal or partner abuse assessment, detection and intervention strategies required to become licensed as a psychologist. It would also require continuing education in this area for renewal applicants. Currently, this course of training is not required for renewal applicants.

This bill will require any psychologist applying for a license who began graduate study on or after January 1, 2004, to complete a minimum of 15 contact hours of coursework in spousal or partner abuse assessment, detection and intervention strategies. An exemption may be requested by the applicant if they intend to practice in an area that does not include the direct provision of mental health services.

Additionally, as of January 1, 2004, this law requires all licensed psychologists who began graduate study prior to January 1, 2004, to take a course in spousal or partner abuse assessment, detection and intervention strategies for his or her first renewal after the operative date of this law. This is a one-time renewal requirement.

The statute does not specify the number of hours required, however, section 1397.60(c) of the Board’s regulations defines a course as an approved systematic learning experience of at least one hour in length. Although one hour is the minimum for any course, to fulfill this particular requirement, the course must be of sufficient length to cover spousal or partner abuse assessment, detection and intervention strategies, including community resources, cultural factors and same gender abuse dynamics.

This course must be taken within the two-year period immediately preceding the expiration date of the license. A psychologist’s license cannot be renewed until the licensee certifies, under penalty of perjury, on the license renewal form, the completion of the required course.

The language of the law

The following notice by CPA notice was retrieved from regchanges.htm

Spousal and Partner Abuse requirement – Beginning in January, 2004, all licensees must meet a one time Spousal and Partner Abuse CE requirement set by the Legislature to renew their license. Currently there is not a number of hours required but rather a content requirement. … For more information about this requirement go to laws_regs/sb_564.pdf

Ultimately, you will determine if you have met these requirements, and you will report your compliance directly to the BOP on your license renewal form. The Accrediting Agency cannot track or report your fulfillment of these special requirements.

BBS notice

Senate Bill 564 (Speier) – This legislation specifies that persons who begin graduate studies on and after January 1, 2004, must complete 15 hours of coursework in domestic violence for licensure as a marriage and family therapist or a licensed clinical social worker and requires, effective January 1, 2004, that licensees who began graduate studies prior to January 1, 2004, complete a one time continuing education course in domestic violence taken during the first license renewal period after the operative date of the bill. The Board may accept evidence of completion of an equivalent course taken prior to the operative date of the legislation or may accept prior teaching or practice experience in order to fulfill the continuing education requirement. In addition, the course can count toward the required 36 hours of continuing education so long as it is taken through an approved provider.

Sections of California Law most relevant to psychotherapy and counseling are in the following sections of the Business and Professional Code of California.

  • Psychologists: Chapter 6.6
  • MFTs: Division 2, Chapter 13, Articles 1-7, Sections 4980 – 4989.
  • LCSWs: Division 2, Chapter 14, Articles 1-4, Sections 4990 – 4998.7.

For complete regulations online:

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Sections of Codes of Ethics relevant to Spousal and Partner Abuse

There are many parts of the Codes of Ethics in the above three Codes that are relevant to psychotherapists working with domestic violence cases. While most of the codes that pertain to clinical work are generally relevant to domestic violence, I would flag some of the sections from all three codes, as they are highly pertinent to domestic violence.

  • Emergency situations are often associated with domestic violence. An ethical practitioner trained in crisis intervention, is aware of his/her legal and ethical mandate and is knowledgeable about community resources that can aid the client in crisis.
  • Awareness of cultural differences. While some cultures’ tolerance of domestic violence should never be a justification for abuse, nevertheless it is important to understand and acknowledge cultural differences in order to be able to effectively prevent further abuse.
  • Due to the volatile nature of domestic violence cases, it is very important that the therapists are specially trained and educated to treat such cases and operate only within their scope of practice. Therapists’ education and training must prepare them to detect, assess, treat and prevent domestic violence as well as to be aware of the potential for harm if certain guidelines are not followed. Additionally, special attention must be given to issues of custody evaluation and forensic assessment in which therapists must be fully qualified to fulfill such duties. Due to the potential for harm and the volatility of the situation, therapists must be well trained and educated before they attempt to conduct couple therapy with batterers and battered.
  • Cooperation with other professionals, such as physicians, police and probation officers, is extremely important in domestic violence cases.
  • Concern with confidentiality is often involved in domestic violence cases. If a therapist is being told about the assault and battering by the battered and even if s/he sees the marks on the victim body, s/he cannot reveal this information without patient’s consent.
  • Respect of client integrity, dignity and autonomy is very important in domestic violence cases. It is important to avoid placing the blame on victims of domestic violence. Therapists, who implement systems approach, family therapy and couple work must be sensitive to avoiding blaming the victim.
  • Confidentiality must be maintained in this situation. Confidentiality in domestic violence cases must be maintained when a subpoena is being served. Therapists must carefully assess the situation and when necessary seek legal and ethical consultation before they release records.
  • Psychotherapists must be very cautious before entering into a dual role with their battered client. This complexity arises when the treating therapist is also asked to serve as a forensic expert in court.
  • Sensitivity to gender differences is especially important in domestic violence cases. In heterosexual relationships man are usually the batterers. This has to be understood in the context of a culture that often accepts (and many argue promotes) violent behavior from men.
  • In the light of the fact that there is an increase in reports of same sex partner abuse cases, therapists are mandated to be sensitive and knowledgeable about the complexities that arise in same sex relationships and abusive situations.
  • Therapists should seek clinical, ethical and legal consultations in cases that require such support.
  • An example of the ethical complexities involved in battering was raised during the murder trial of O.J. Simpson. O.J. had an established history of battering and was accused and found not guilty criminally, but later was held responsible under civil law, for murdering his wife. Dr. Lenore Walker, a renowned expert, feminist and forensic practitioner was engaged by O.J.’s defense. Dr. Walker coined the term the Battered Woman Syndrome, has extensively published on the topic and often testifies for battered women who killed their batterers in self-defense. Her position in the O.J. case was very upsetting for women’s advocates. She testified that, in her professional opinion, after careful evaluation of O.J.’s psychological characteristics, that a man with such characteristics is not the sort of batterer who would escalate to murder. She based her position on scientific data about batterers’ typology. Her participation and testimony evoked enormous controversy among feminists. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, like many other organizations, condemned the choice as a clear violation of feminist ethics. Dr. Walker’s honorable position was appropriately based on the premise that an ethical stance does not cave in to political pressures or political correctness but should be based solely on available scientific evidence.


Summary of Online Resources Regarding Legal Issues for California Psychotherapists

    Sections of California Law most relevant to psychotherapy and counseling are in the following sections of the Business & Regulations in California.

    • LCSWs: Division 2, Chapter 14, Articles 1-4, Sections 4990 – 4998.7.
    • Psychologists: Chapter 6.6
    • MFTs: Division 2, Chapter 13, Articles 1-7, Sections 4980 – 4989.

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