Every year, millions of women, men, and children suffer as a result of domestic violence. In fact, violence in the home occurs at least once in two-thirds of all marriages.  Approximately 95% of the victims are women, although men can be victims as well.  These statistics are staggering – even more so when it is considered that the numbers only account for violence that is actually reported.  Unfortunately, many victims either can’t or won’t report when they are abused – and this accounts for far more victims than we will probably ever realize.

It is also tragic to consider the very real fact that children who grow up in an abusive home are likely to become victims of abuse again as adults, or even to repeat behaviors they have witnessed, and become abusers themselves. The good news is that although these statistics are tragic and shocking, they can be changed. The cycle of abuse can end – but you have to choose to end it.

Understandably, this can be a frightening prospect. One common characteristic of abusers is that they are also often very manipulative. It is not at all unusual for abusers to make their victims feel as if they are somehow at fault for the abuse, or as if they are “imagining” it, or as if no one will believe them if they seek help or attempt to leave. The important thing to remember is that none of this is true. Even though you may feel afraid and unsure, you can take the steps that you need to take to divorce an abusive spouse, and begin a brighter, better new chapter of your life.

How Can the Legal System Help Me?

It should be said, before any other advice is given, that the finding safety and security is the most important first step for anyone experiencing domestic violence. This is more critical and more urgent than anything else you can do. Safety and well-being, for yourself and for your children should always be your first concern. If you are able to leave the situation you are in, you should do so as soon as possible. If you cannot stay with family or friends, or in an otherwise safe place that you know of, contact the domestic violence relief agency in your county.  They can give you advice and information on a safe shelter, as well as with respect to other resources and contact that might be helpful during this time.

After you have secured your own safety and the safety of your children, you can begin to consider how best to proceed from a legal perspective. It can certainly be scary and overwhelming to consider the prospect of using the legal system to address your domestic violence issues. Consulting with an attorney who understands the law well, however, can be very reassuring, and can give you hope and clarity about how best to proceed.  

As you consider what help might be available to you under the law, you should know that the law offers both criminal and civil penalties for domestic violence:

  • Criminal: Depending upon the type of abuse, there are several crimes that an abuser might be charged with, including, but not limited to, rape and other sexual offenses, assault, communicating threats, stalking, harassment, and more. Contacting the police regarding the abuse is of critical importance, so that the appropriate criminal charges might be made.
  • Civil: In addition to the criminal remedies available, there are a number of civil remedies, including obtaining a restraining order or an emergency protective order. These orders will typically order an abusive individual to stay away from his or her victim (or face criminal penalties), but may also specify other actions to be taken. Pursuant to the Domestic Violence Act of 1979, these orders give judges the options to provide many protections for victims of abuse including: giving you possession of the home and excluding the other party from the household, evicting your spouse and assisting you in returning to the home, requiring your spouse to provide alternative housing, ordering support payments for you and/or your children, determining possession of personal property, granting temporary child custody and issuing orders to refrain from violence or harassment.  Additionally, there is a “catchall” provision, which allows the court to grant any protective order or approve any consent agreement to bring about a cessation of acts of domestic violence.

Needless to say, you may need to seek both criminal and civil remedies to protect yourself and your children.  If you file a domestic violence complaint, make sure it is complete.  List all facts related to the attack, not just the result.  Be as specific as you can so the court has a clear understanding of the abuse you have suffered.

It should also be noted that a protective order is only good if you follow through.  Copies of the order must be issued to each party as well as to law enforcement in the county where you live.  It is also important to keep in mind that protective orders expire after a certain amount of time, not to exceed a year.  While there is no exception to the expiration, you can request a renewal for up to another year, if you need extra time as you pursue a divorce and otherwise take the necessary steps to prepare yourself and your children for a healthier and happier chapter of your lives.

Considering the Implications of Domestic Violence as You Pursue Divorce

As we have stated, civil remedies like restraining orders only last for so long. Many victims of domestic violence ultimately wish to pursue a divorce. This desire is certainly understandable, and though the divorce process may seem daunting, the truth of the matter is that it often opens the door to a new beginning and a fresh start that is much needed.

It should be noted that the power dynamic in relationships involving domestic violence is often very different then the dynamic in relationships where domestic violence is not present. Many abusive individuals can also be very manipulative. They can be uncooperative and unwilling to give any ground in negotiations, or leave room for compromise even where it is clearly needed.

As a result, popular methods of alternative dispute resolution like mediation, lawyer lead settlement negotiations, or collaborative law often do not work well when domestic violence is a factor. In these situations, it is often best to communicate through attorneys and negotiate at arms-length, even being willing to have your issues determined by a court via traditional litigation if necessary.

To that end, it should be noted that courts almost always frown upon domestic violence. Proof of domestic violence will almost always impact issues of child custody, as courts will not grant custody of children to an abusive spouse. Courts may also take other protective measures, like issuing orders for supervised visitation or prohibiting visitation all together. In extreme cases, they may award no visitation at all.

In addition to affecting obvious issues like child custody, it should also be said that domestic violence can impact a court’s decision with respect to alimony and property division as well. If you are seeking alimony and property as part of your divorce, you should certainly consult with your attorney regarding your financial needs and goals so that the two of you together can create a plan that will best help you to accomplish them.

Seek the Support that You Need – We’re Here for You

It may be a hard and scary process, but the legal system is here to help you as you seek to leave an abusive relationship and begin a bright new chapter.  While beginning any legal process may seem intimidating, the alternative – staying in an abusive relationship indefinitely – could be far worse. Simply taking the first step toward seeking legal help by contacting an attorney who knows and understands the law and how it can be used to positively impact your situation can make a tremendous difference. At the Law Office of Dustin McCrary, we’re here to help you through this situation, and to guide you through the divorce process with clarity and compassion. Call us soon. We look forward to helping you take the first important steps toward a fresh new start.

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