As per the latest statistics by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, more than 12 million women and men suffer from some kind of domestic violence in a year. This means that on average, 24 people per minute are victims of physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. Further, the reports also state that there is a direct link between child abuse and domestic violence. 40% of victims of child abuse report domestic violence in their home. The majority of the victims of domestic violence are women.
What Is Domestic Violence?
Although the definition of domestic violence varies from state to state, it can commonly be understood to include any acts of actual or threatened abuse including physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse, and threatening or intimidating behavior towards a spouse. A few states also refer to domestic violence as ‘cruel treatment’. The following are examples of the common types of domestic abuse that happen between married couples:
- Physical abuse: This includes violent actions such as beating or causing physical pain in any manner.
- Emotional abuse: Putting the other person down, playing mind games, using manipulation to make the other person feel that they are insane/ crazy, humiliation, making them feel unworthy or doubt their self-esteem.
- Control & Power Play: Controlling who the other person talks to, who they meet, where do they go, limiting outside interaction.
- Tactics Through Children: Relaying messages through children, threatening to take the children away, feeding the child’s mind with false negative information about the victim, blaming for a child’s wrongful behavior.
- Economic/ Financial abuse: Making the other person beg for money, taking away their money using emotional tactics, preventing them from keeping or getting a job, and/or coercing or forcing to take money from his/ her parents.
- Using Gender Roles: Treating a woman like a domestic worker, not involving a woman in important decisions, women taunting and harassing a man for not earning enough.
- Property Damage: Causing damage to the spouse’s property
- Sexual Abuse: Sex against one’s wish or using sex as a means to fulfill one’s commands and demands.
Can Domestic Violence Be Grounds for Divorce?
Usually, a divorce proceeding can be categorized into two categories:
- At-Fault Divorce: Some states require that the spouse who wants to get a divorce must show some reason(s) or grounds for divorce. In such states, usually, ‘domestic violence’ is a valid ground to seek divorce.
- No-Fault Divorce: A few states allow for a no-fault divorce. This means that the party seeking a divorce does not need to show any type of bad behavior on part of the other party to file for a divorce. In these states, a mere claim that there are ‘irreconcilable differences’ to the extent that the marriage cannot be saved is enough to file for a divorce. However, the existence of ‘domestic violence’ allegations does impact the rights of the parties during the divorce proceedings.
To determine if your case is a fault or no-fault divorce, speak with an experienced local divorce lawyer.
What Impact Does Domestic Violence Have on Divorce Proceedings?
The impact of domestic violence can be fairly negative on the physical and emotional well-being of any person. Therefore, courts take charges of domestic violence very seriously.
- Protective Order: Also called a restraining order in some states, the victim of domestic violence can file for ‘Domestic Violence Restraining Order’. The victim may ask for a temporary or permanent Protective Order. These orders majorly include two types of orders from the court:
- Stay-Away Orders: This implies no contact with the victim in any manner or restrained from being at a certain distance from the victim at home, at work, or at any other place the victim is known to visit often. These are also called ‘stay away’ orders.
- No Contact/Limited Contact With Children: The court may also direct the abuser to not contact or have limited/ supervised contact with the children. Further, the custody of children may be exclusively granted to the victim in order to keep the children safe from abuse or being a witness to such abuse.
- Child Custody: The first and the most important impact of domestic violence in a divorce proceeding is on child custody. If there is a consistent behavior showing domestic violence, then that spouse is less likely to get child custody. Further, if extreme allegations of domestic violence are proved then some judges may even order a complete prohibition on visitation. In other cases, the courts may order supervised visitation, or visitation only in public places and even prohibit overnight visitation. The decision is made based on a child’s best interests. If it is proved that being a witness to domestic violence or being close to the abuser negatively impacts the child’s growth, then the court will consider domestic violence as a prominent factor in determining the custody rights of the child.
- Division of Marital Assets: Courts usually take into account a spouse’s behavior during marriage to decide the division of marital assets. A larger share of marital assets may be awarded to the victim of domestic violence. If the domestic violence was related to economic or financial abuse, then the division of the assets will be more favorable to the victims of such abuse. For example, if the domestic violence consisted of mental abuse that impacted the victim’s ability to make or earn money, or caused a job loss to the victim, then the courts will usually award a larger share to the victim.
- Alimony: Usually, a victim of domestic violence gets an upper hand in many aspects of the divorce proceeding. Similarly, in determining the amount of alimony, the court will look at the relevant allegations of domestic violence. If the domestic violence includes aspects related to economic or financial abuse, such as, not letting the victim work so as make him/ her financially dependent on the abuser, then the courts may grant higher alimony. Sometimes, even if the victim’s earning capacity was not affected, the courts may decide to grant alimony to victims of domestic abuse.
What Important Factors Will a Court Consider in a Divorce Proceeding Involving Domestic Violence?
- Kind & Level of Domestic Abuse: The kind and level of domestic abuse are important criterion judges look at while deciding issues like child custody or marital assets division. For example, more serious abuses such as causing chronic depression or major physical harm may have more serious repercussions. Further, the duration or the consistency of the domestic abuse is also considered by the courts. The longer the abuse, the more favorable the court is towards the victim.
- Evidence to Prove Allegations: Mere allegations without any evidence will generally not help the victim. The existence of legitimate proof which shows what kind of abuse was done and how it impacted the victim either physically, mentally, emotionally or economically will have a great impact upon the case. Therefore, it is always recommended to the victims to preserve all evidence and proofs they have related to their domestic violence claim. For example, in domestic violence allegations related to the impact on the mental health of the victim, providing medical reports will benefit the victim.
- Impact on Victim’s Earning Capacity: If the domestic violence negatively impacted the victim’s earning capacity, then the financial aspects of the divorce proceeding will be more favorable to the victim.
- Patience & Efforts of the Victim: If the victim tried to save the marriage by either patiently waiting for such abusive behavior to end or change or to save the reputation of the family, the court may consider this as a relevant factor.
Domestic violence may lead to different civil and criminal charges against the perpetrator, including charges for assault and battery. When these charges either form part of a divorce proceeding or are grounds for such divorce proceedings, then the rights of the parties to the proceeding are impacted. Most importantly, the abuser’s right to child custody and equal distribution of marital assets are negatively impacted in a divorce proceeding having domestic violence allegations.
Marc Martin is the Managing Editor for LiveLawyers.org, a free online legal phone consultation service based in Texas. If he’s not writing or helping out other people get good legal advice, he’s probably out hiking, biking or reading fictional books. www.livelawyers.org