Domestic Violence in Divorce

Divorce has always been a stressful and devastating event in the life of a family. The situation may be aggravated if one of the spouses suffers from abuse. Domestic violence, being defined as the aggressive behavior of one family member toward others, is considered one of the most serious factors for seeking a divorce.

The spousal abuse meaning is indeed versatile as it’s not only about physical violence. Since abuse can take various forms, it may be difficult to realize that you are a victim and come to a decision to seek divorce with domestic violence. If you are pondering over divorcing an abusive husband, read this article to find out how to do it safely and what rights you have as an affected party.

Types of Domestic Violence

There is a misconception that domestic violence is solely about husbands hitting their wives or kids. In fact, it is a much more complicated notion with various implications. Psychologists distinguish the following forms of domestic violence in marriage:

  • Emotional abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse

If you feel like something is not right in your family, we hope this information will help you to understand whether you suffer from this or that form of domestic violence and make the right decision as for seeking a divorce.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is a form of domestic violence that does not presuppose physical harm but rather verbal insults, threats, intimidation, and other actions aimed at harming the victim’s mental health and putting their well-being in danger. Gaslighting, scapegoating, isolation, guilt-tripping, stalking – all of these are considered emotional violence that makes the life of the affected spouse unbearable.

Moreover, emotional abuse is frequently accompanied by physical assault. So, if you are constantly humiliated by your spouse, you need to take precautions before this abuse takes physical form.

Emotional abuse and divorce are often interrelated. Statistics show that almost half of men and women in the United States suffer from this form of intimate partner violence. Eventually, this kind of abuse becomes a factor that prompts them to file for divorce.

In many US states, the courts consider cases of emotional abuse in divorce settlement. However, proving emotional mental abuse in court is an essential condition. If you are able to prove the series of emotional violence, you can expect positive divorce outcomes. Besides, emotional abuse is illegal in California and some other states and can be punished by law. Before filing for a divorce, you need to be sure that you are ready to provide digital evidence or witnesses’ testimonials of violence.

However, it should also be noted that in states like Illinois and Mississippi, physical assault is mostly taken into account as the factor that can influence the final judgment, while emotional abuse in divorce may not be acknowledged at all unless it has a rather serious form.

Financial Abuse

Economic violence refers to situations in which the financial freedom and independence of one spouse are limited by the other. Very often, abusers try to gain their power by over-controlling all the family finances. Sometimes, such a behavior leaves the other spouse thinking, “What is financial abuse? What if it exists in my family?”

Moreover, financial abuse in marriage is often accompanied by other types of domestic violence. If you suspect that you may be financially abused, here are the main signs that can help you to figure it out:

  • You do not have any access to your family bank account or even your own account.
  • You must report any spending you’ve made to your spouse.
  • Your spouse does not let you start working or insists on leaving the current workplace.
  • Your spouse constantly tells you off for spending money “the wrong way.”
  • You have noticed that your spouse systematically hides all the family assets from you.

In fact, your history of financial abuse may have a serious impact on the divorce proceedings. If you are able to provide the court with the evidence, you may even expect to receive the alimony from your spouse. Moreover, when determining the type of custody, the judge may also take the fact of abuse into account and make a decision in your favor.

That is why if you’ve become a victim of spousal financial abuse, it is advisable to seek the support of a lawyer before going to court. You may also need to involve a forensic accountant to investigate whether your spouse hides the assets from you or not. If you do not have funds for hiring an attorney, you may seek free legal aid that aims to help victims of abuse across the United States.

Physical Abuse

Physical violence includes hitting, choking, confinement, denying food or forcible feeding, as well as many other actions that jeopardize the physical well-being of a person. Whether these actions are performed by a wife or husband, physical abuse is extremely dangerous and may have devastating consequences for all the family members.

Physical abuse is the most frequent form of domestic violence. Every 3rd woman and 4th man in the United States has reported being a victim of physical violence by the intimate partner.

In all the US states, the fact that you have suffered a series of physical abuse from husband or wife often influences the final divorce proceedings. Some states even have laws against physical violence, so the abuser may eventually be prosecuted. Overall, family history of abuse may affect the decisions on property division, alimony allocation, as well as child custody and support.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual violence refers to any coercive sexual act of one spouse towards another. When people talk about spouse harassment during divorce, they rarely mention the sexual one since many believe that being in marriage means that both partners have already given their consent to sexual relationships.

In fact, rape and other sexual deviations occur quite frequently in a marriage. According to The U.S. Bureau of Justice, about 20% of rape cases were committed by an intimate partner. Since sexual abuse is a common problem, it often leads to a decision to file for a divorce.

In 1993, marital rape became illegal across the United States. However, in 30 states, the courts have their own vision of what constitutes marital rape, while 20 states and the District of Columbia do not allow any exemptions from rape prosecution. Overall, the US courts take sexual abuse allegations very seriously and consider it an important factor when granting a decision.

If you have become a victim of sexual abuse, it is advisable to seek help from a lawyer who will instruct you on the laws of your state and what actions you need to take next.

How Can Domestic Violence Affect Divorce?

Many individuals who have been victimized by their spouses often ask their lawyers, “Does domestic violence affect divorce settlement?” In fact, proven cases of abuse do affect the outcomes of a marriage dissolution. However, it often depends on the type of experienced abuse, the state laws, and whether it is a no-fault or fault-based state.

As a rule, with the fact of domestic violence, divorce settlements are made in favor of the affected spouse. Proven cases of abuse can seriously affect court decisions concerning such important matters as child custody and support, alimony, as well as property division.

Finally, it is important to mention that any court will take into account cases of abuse only if the abused spouse provides sufficient evidence. So, how to prove domestic violence in divorce? Substantial proof of domestic abuse includes:

  • medical and police reports;
  • witnesses’ testimonials;
  • photo or video materials;
  • personal written records, etc.

Unfortunately, oral evidence may appear to be insufficient for the judge in the majority of cases. Therefore, you must be sure that you are ready to provide some proof in order to increase your chances of obtaining positive divorce outcomes.

Custody Battles during Divorce

Child custody battles during divorce are always prolonged and devastating for all the parties involved. If the family has a history of abuse, it may get even more difficult and extended in time. All the US courts make their custody decisions taking into account the best interests of the child, and the judges never overlook cases of abuse.

Even if the abuse was aimed at the spouse exclusively, but children became witnesses of family violence, the court still regards it as abuse against kids as well. In case children were abused directly, the situation gets even more serious since the abuser’s parenting rights will be sufficiently limited if not taken away altogether.

Child Custody and Parenting Time

In a normal case scenario, parents tend to get along in custody questions and create custody agreement where they allocate the time spent with the child as they see fit. However, with family violence cases, such matters must be decided only with the involvement of a court and lawyers.

If the affected party provides enough evidence of family abuse, the spouse accused of violence may lose all custody and visitation rights. On the other hand, the court may still grant visitation rights to the abuser only if they deem it safe for children. In this case, certain safety measures will be applied.

For example, the child may be forbidden to spend the night in the non-custodial parent’s household, or visitation may be supervised. However, each family case is unique and is decided, taking into account many factors as well as the laws of the state. Nevertheless, the court will never make a decision that contradicts the child’s best interests.

If you believe that your kids’ well-being may be in danger, you may request an emergency restraining order to protect children from an abusive parent. Such orders are usually issued in a few days.

Sometimes, the abusive parent may undertake extreme measures in an attempt to see the children. If your spouse has taken your kids despite a restraining order, you should immediately report parental kidnapping. The parent who has resorted to such actions will most likely be deprived of the parenting rights and may be prosecuted.

Spousal Support

The question of spousal support is important in a family with a certain level of income inequality. It’s especially serious in families where one of the spouses suffers from financial abuse and does not have access to the family budget or even their own finances.

For this reason, family violence is one of the factors that are taken into account by the judges when they award alimony. The amount and the length of payment are decided individually for each divorce case. However, it is important to mention that US courts never award the abusing spouse to pay alimony as a solely punitive measure.

Finally, if the cases of abuse are proven, the affected spouse will not be ordered to pay alimony to the abuser in some states, even if the income of the latter is sufficiently smaller.

Property Division

Just like in the case of alimony, domestic abuse can have a serious impact on the legal process of property division. In some states, family violence is one of the factors that are considered when dividing property and assets.

However, it is mainly possible in states with equitable distribution laws, which presupposes that all marital property is divided between spouses fairly but not necessarily equally. It means that the court may award the affected spouse a bigger share of property and assets than the abusing one.

Even though the spouses in community property states tend to receive an equal amount of property, the abused party still has a chance to get more than 50% if the court deems it fair. Such an outcome is possible if the victimized spouse has provided a sufficient amount of reliable evidence.

Protecting Yourself

Now that you know the answer to the question “Can you get a divorce for domestic violence?”, it is time to consider the ways of protecting yourself and your children from your abusive spouse until your marriage is dissolved.

  • Find a safe place to stay. If you have nowhere to go, there are many domestic violence shelters across the country.
  • Make sure you have a list of people you can contact in case of an emergency.
  • If you stay at the family house and your spouse does not have authorized access to it, make sure that you have changed the locks.
  • Keep all the important documents and records in a safe place, where only you or people you trust can find them.
  • If you are afraid for your children or your own well-being, request an emergency restraining order. In case your spouse violates it, they may face serious consequences, from reduced parenting or spousal support rights to fines and even jail.

If you are undergoing such awful events in your life, remember that it is not your fault, and you are not alone with your problem. Please note that you can always call the National Domestic Violence Hotline via 1−800−799−SAFE(7233), TTY 1−800−787−3224, or (206) 518-9361. It is also advisable to cooperate with a lawyer who will help you to request a protective order and guide you through all the steps of a divorce.