Are same-sex partners eligible for Family Abuse?
Yes, with some restrictions. Family Abuse protective orders (see VA Code 16.1-279.1*) are available only against a “family or household member” as that term is defined in VA Code 16.1-228, which includes couples who have “cohabited” together within the past 12 months.
The statute does not specifically define the word “cohabit,” but courts have generally interpreted it to apply to unmarried couples who live together in a romantic or intimate relationship. The law does not explicitly address whether same-sex couples are included in this term, but it does not explicitly exclude them either.
In 2006, the Office of the Attorney General of Virginia issued an opinion that, while discussing related matters, assumed that a court could consider same-sex couples to be “cohabiting” for purposes of the family abuse definition.
This implicitly overruled an earlier opinion by that office which had stated that same-sex couples could not “cohabit,” though without actually referring to the earlier opinion. The Supreme Court of Virginia then sent a memo to all of the judges in Virginia advising them of the new opinion. This probably means that same-sex couples who have lived together within the last twelve months are eligible for protective orders if there has been an act of family abuse.
Unfortunately, several victims of domestic violence who were in same-sex relationships with their abusers have reported that they were not able to obtain protective orders because of that relationship. Practice varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction on this issue.
However, protective orders are an important tool for your safety, so you should still try to obtain one. If you are turned away, you should consult an attorney. You can also download the Attorney General opinion and Supreme Court memo in the Resources section of this website so that you can print them off and give them to the Judge