Tennessee’s new definition of ‘domestic abuse’ (T.C.A. § 36-3-601) will have a significant impact on Orders of Protection. The mid-2023 TN law change includes financial abuse within the definition of domestic abuse, which drastically broadens the scope.
This article will focus specifically on the inclusion of ‘financial abuse’ within the ‘domestic abuse’ definition. See our Orders of Protection page for any detailed information about the whole topic. Additionally, it is important to note that the ‘domestic abuse’ definition has no impact on criminal domestic violence charges in TN. If you are dealing with domestic assault charges, see our Nashville domestic violence lawyers page for detailed information about those charges and how to defend against them.
Under Tennessee law, ‘domestic abuse’ is one of the three criteria for obtaining an order of protection:
- Domestic abuse victim;
- Sexual assault victim; and/or
- Stalking victim.
Next, we look at the ‘domestic abuse’ definition to see that ‘financial abuse’ qualifies someone as a victim entitled to an Order of Protection.
Financial Abuse Now Included In TN’s Domestic Abuse Definition
‘Domestic’ refers to the type of relationship with the alleged victim (see qualifying domestic relationships), and the term ‘abuse’ means:
- Inflicting, or attempting to inflict, physical injury on an adult or minor by other than accidental means;
- Placing an adult or minor in fear of, or in, physical harm or physical restraint
- Causing malicious damage to the personal property of the abused party;
- Intentionally engaging in behavior that amounts to financial abuse.
The last point, ‘Intentionally engaging in behavior that amounts to financial abuse,’ is the new addition and the subject of discussion here.
TN Law Defines Financial Abuse
‘Financial abuse’ means coercive behavior, that is deceptive, or that unreasonably controls or restrains a person’s ability to acquire, use, or maintain economic resources to which the person is entitled, including using coercion, fraud, or manipulation to:
- Restrict a person’s access to money, assets, credit, or financial information;
- Unfairly use a person’s economic resources, including money, assets, and credit, to gain an advantage; or
- Exert undue influence over a person’s financial behavior or decisions, including forcing default on joint or other financial obligations; exploiting powers of attorney, guardianship, or conservatorship; or failing or neglecting to act in the best interest of the person to whom a fiduciary duty is owed.
This ‘financial abuse’ definition uses very subjective language, i.e., ‘unfairly’ and ‘undue influence.’
Financial Abuse vs Financial Exploitation
‘Financial abuse’ has nothing to do with Tennessee’s ‘financial exploitation’ law (see § 45-2-1202). We have seen some articles making this claim, but they are incorrect. The ‘financial exploitation’ law makes it illegal to financially exploit a person who is elderly or diminished mentally or physically.
The statutory definition of ‘financial abuse’ is broader in scope and applies only to the order of protection statute. Likewise, the statutory definition of ‘financial exploitation’ only applies to the ‘financial exploitation’ criminal statute.
Financial Abuse & Orders of Protection – A Low Burden of Proof
The burden of proof to obtain an order of protection is by a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of the evidence burden of proof means to prove something is more likely than not, which is a lower burden than beyond all reasonable doubt.
Previously, petitioners seeking an order of protection needed to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the respondent committed some physical act or threat that may reasonably cause the petitioner to be in fear. Under the new law, even when petitioners cannot prove the respondent committed some physical act or threat, they can still obtain an order of protection if ‘financial abuse’ can be proven by a preponderance of the evidence.
How Will Judges Evaluate Financial Abuse Claims In Order of Protection Cases?
Previously, we mentioned the very subjective language within the definition of ‘financial abuse’ (i.e., ‘unfairly’ and ‘undue influence.’) Considering this and the low burden of proof, be cautious, even jokingly texting their partner, ‘I’ll buy you, X, if you do Y.’ We have handled hundreds of orders of protection cases and are confident these claims will be made.
But will the courts accept such claims? It is too early to tell how courts will interpret this law, but considering the low burden of proof required and the subjective language of the definition, it is likely. Judges can now legally grant orders of protection based on the weakest of financial abuse claims in cases where the respondent has engaged in questionable behavior, but that does not come close to a physical act or threat that can reasonably cause the petitioner to be in fear of the respondent.
If you need help fighting or getting an order of protection, call 615-873-5670 to speak with a lawyer.