The statute of limitations on domestic violence depends on the nature of the abuse, the state it happened in, and other factors.
Technically, you can file a police report at any time. But there may be a time limit — a “statute of limitations” — when you can seek legal recourse in criminal or civil court for domestic violence.
The statute of limitations on domestic violence may vary from 6 months to multiple years, depending on how the abuse is classified.
For some forms of abuse, there is no statute of limitations. This means that someone can be prosecuted for a crime at any point after it happened.
Likewise, there are statutes of limitations on civil cases, which means you might not be able to sue your abuser years after your abuse.
If the statute of limitations has expired, you can still report it to the police, but the state prosecutor won’t be able to press charges.
Different states have different statutes of limitations for abuse. The statute of limitations also depends on:
- The nature of the abuse: Different types of domestic violence may each have different statutes of limitations. For example, many states — including Idaho, Kansas, and New York — have no statute of limitations on rape.
- Crime classification: Some forms of domestic abuse may be considered felonies, while others are considered misdemeanors. Felony crimes typically have longer statutes of limitations than misdemeanors.
- The victim’s age: Crimes committed against minors, especially those relating to abuse, rape, or neglect, often have a longer reporting duration.
- Presence in the state: If the suspect flees, hides, or is absent, the statute of limitations might “pause” and resume only when they re-enter the state. This prevents suspects from evading consequences by simply leaving the state.
Understanding the statute of limitations in your state can be tough. Legal experts can offer guidance specific to your situation.
Some legal organizations offer free or subsidized legal advice to people who have experienced domestic abuse.
You can file a police report immediately or years after a crime. You can report domestic violence to the police even after the statute of limitations has expired, but the state prosecutors won’t be able to press charges against your abuser.
It may be worth filing a police report even if the statute of limitations has expired. A police report can create a record of abuse. This record can help prosecute the abuser if they commit abuse again.
It’s important to note that filing a police report is not the same as “pressing charges,” although the terms are often used interchangeably.
Contrary to popular belief, survivors don’t “press charges” — you can only report crimes. Prosecutors decide whether to press charges.
You don’t need to report domestic violence to the police to get a protection order or a restraining order.
However, if you want your abuser to be criminally charged, you (or someone else) will have to report the abuse.
The terms “restraining order,” “protective order,” and “protection from abuse (PFA)” are often used interchangeably, but they’re different legal filings that offer different forms of protection. You can get multiple kinds of orders of protection at the same time.
These orders are meant to keep you safe from someone harming you. Someone violating a restraining order may be arrested and charged with a crime.
Generally speaking, it’s never “too late” to file for an order of protection — you can get a restraining or protective order anytime.
You can apply for a restraining or protection order at family court or through a lawyer’s office. Some domestic violence shelters and police stations allow you to apply for orders through them.
Applying for an order of protection is free.
Because certain types of abuse are considered crimes, it’s possible for domestic abusers to be charged and brought to criminal court. However, it’s also possible for you to take them to civil court to sue them.
For example, you may sue a domestic abuser for:
- compensation for injuries
- medical fees
- loss of income
- damage to personal property
It’s worth noting that statutes of limitations don’t just affect when you can pursue criminal charges against an abuser — they also affect when you can take civil action.
There’s generally a longer statute of limitations for forms of domestic violence classified as felonies, like sexual abuse.
Other forms of domestic violence, like damage to personal property, may be considered misdemeanors. Misdemeanors usually have a shorter statute of limitations.
For example, Arizona’s statute of limitations for misdemeanor domestic violence charges is one year, while the statute of limitations for felony domestic violence charges is seven years.
If you’re planning to sue your abuser, it’s best to consult a lawyer specializing in cases like yours. They can advise you on whether you can still pursue a civil case.
Report domestic violence sooner rather than later, if at all possible. While you can report domestic violence to the police anytime, your abuser can be criminally charged or sued in civil court only if the statute of limitations hasn’t expired.
Even if it’s too late to pursue legal recourse, you can still get a protective order against your abuser. You may also benefit from seeking mental health help — therapy can be a powerful tool in helping you heal after abuse.
You can learn more here:
- Domestic Violence Resource Guide
- Sexual Assault Resource Guide
- Therapy for Every Budget: How to Access It
- RAINN’s guide to the State by State Guide on Statutes of Limitations for Sex Crimes
- WomensLaw.org state-by-state guide to laws in your state
If you’re looking for legal help, contact:
- American Bar Association Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence
- Battered Women’s Justice Project
- Legal Momentum
- Legal Network for Gender Equity
The following organizations may be able to direct you to legal and practical domestic violence resources:
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233)
- The National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE)
- Safe Horizon
Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.