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Domestic Violence and Divorce: How Physically Striking a Spouse Changes the Rules

Divorce is an inherently scary decision for many people because it requires starting over and giving up having someone there for support. However, in certain situations, especially those involving domestic violence, the fear takes on a whole new dimension as the person filing for divorce must worry about physical repercussions if the abusive spouse learns of his/her plans. Additionally, it is not uncommon for abusive spouses to limit access to the family’s finances in an effort to the abused from leaving. Courts recognize the necessity of limiting contact between a violent spouse and the victim, as well as the financial strains he/she could be facing. Consequently, domestic violence is not only treated as a criminal matter. There are provisions in the law that allow judges to protect the abused spouse seeking divorce from further manipulation and financial distress during the divorce process. A recent story in the Orlando Sentinel looks at the divorce of a radio host and his ex-wife’s allegations of domestic violence. While he has not been charged with a crime, a court will separately consider these claims as part of the divorce case, which shows that even after a divorce is granted it may be possible to bring domestic violence to the court’s attention.

Child Custody/Visitation

Decisions about child custody and visitation rights are highly affected by domestic violence problems. Florida law specifically instructs courts to restrict or deny custody and access to parents with convictions for domestic violence-related crimes. Usually, the state seeks to encourage ongoing contact between both parents and their children after divorce or separation, and there is a general preference for shared custody in divorce cases. However, if there is a conviction for domestic violence, the law automatically views contact with the parent to be detrimental to the child, and unless the presumption of detriment is successfully countered, courts are authorized to award sole custody and limited or no parenting time in order to protect the child and the other parent from potential harm. In fact, courts can consider evidence of domestic violence in custody and parenting time determinations even without a conviction or a no contact injunction.

Property Division

Florida law on property division in divorce starts from the premise that a couple’s marital assets and liabilities should be equally divided, but the overarching goal is achieve an equitable, or fair, distribution of property. Courts are permitted to deviate from equal division of the marital estate if necessary to achieve a just result. An issue such as domestic violence could certainly sway a court towards giving the abused spouse a greater share of the couple’s assets and assigner a greater share of the liabilities to the abuser. In cases with evidence that a spouse withheld access to marital funds or prevented the abused spouse from working outside the home, unequal property distribution is very likely.

Alimony

Finally, alimony is another issue in divorce where domestic violence could influence whether a court awards spousal support. Just as in property distribution, the court must consider what arrangement is necessary to accomplish a just result. If one spouse was a domestic violence abuser, justice would seem to support giving the abused party alimony if the other spouse has the financial ability to pay. Spouses prevented from working or obtaining an education as a result of domestic abuse would be particularly likely to receive an alimony award.

Consult a Divorce Lawyer

If you are contemplating divorce, especially if domestic violence is an issue, an attorney can advise you on the ways the legal system can protect you from further harm during this process. The Fort Lauderdale law firm of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. understands the challenges you face and can assist you with transitioning into a new stage in life. Contact us to schedule a free consultation.

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