Victim's Rights in a Divorce with Domestic Violence

Marcelina Hardy, MSEd, BCC
bruised woman

Victim's rights in a divorce with domestic violence may not always be clear. It is wise to find a divorce lawyer that is experienced in helping domestic violence victims. An attorney's expertise will ensure you remain safe and get what you deserve in a divorce settlement.

A Victim's Rights in a Divorce with Domestic Violence

Each state differs slightly on victim's rights in a divorce with domestic violence, but for the most part most states view spousal abuse in the same way and follow similar protocols on how to handle this situation in court.

Establishing a Protective Order

Together with your lawyer, you will present information to the judge that shows your spouse is a threat to you. Remember, domestic violence is not only physical abuse; it also includes emotional and sexual abuse. Discuss with your lawyer some of the incidents you have experienced with your spouse and take action so you have something to show the judge during the petition for the Protective Order. With a Protective Order, your abuser cannot have contact with you, you are entitled to live in your home (if you feel that it is safe) and you have temporary custody of the children.

Do Not Agree to Mediation for Domestic Violence Divorce Cases

Mediation is for couples who are able to come to an agreement about their divorce settlement. Your abuser may push for mediation instead of court because it costs less and he or she can probably bully you into giving up things you are entitled to in the settlement. Most lawyers will give you the same advice on mediation because of the possibility of further abuse from your spouse. It is especially important to go to the courts if you have children due to custody issues.

Custody of Children in Domestic Violence Cases

In many cases, the judge will award full custody of the children to the victim. There needs to be enough evidence that the abuser may harm the children or you when you have to meet up to drop the children off with each other. Your spouse may not have ever abused your children, but the threat of him or her harming you may be enough to sway the judge's decision to award you full custody.

Protecting Yourself Before, During, and After Divorce Proceedings

It is important not to downplay your spouse's rage or actions. Many spouses, who have never displayed abuse before a divorce, become violent out of frustration. When you know that your spouse is already capable of harming you, you need to protect yourself.

  • Find shelter

If you fear for your safety when you break the news that you are leaving or things have become worse during the proceedings, you should find a shelter and not tell your spouse where you are going. There are many battered women shelters available across the country that protect women from their batterers by giving them a safe and secluded place to live.

  • Restraining Order or Protective Order

Set up a petition to get an order against your spouse so he or she has to stay a specified distance away from you. This order is important when appearing in front of a judge to justify the reason for your divorce is domestic violence.

Dealing with Money Issues

Many domestic violence victims do not have enough money to pay for a lawyer because their abuser took control of the household finances. Do not be discouraged and feel that you are doomed to stay in this abusive marriage. Many divorce lawyers will help domestic abuse victims by representing them free of charge (pro bono) or at a reduced rate. Finding reduced cost legal help is possible; here are some suggestions on how you can find it in your area.

Simply choose your state, click on 'Lawyer Referral' and choose the bar association close to where you live. Some may ask you for a fee for the referral, click on a link that allows you to contact the association so you can explain your situation. You can also contact most of them by phone if you need immediate help.

  • Search your phonebook

Look under legal help, legal aid, or lawyer and start dialing. When looking, ask right away if the attorney has experience in dealing with domestic abuse cases.

You are Not Stuck

You may feel stuck in your marriage because either you fear for your life or your spouse has drained you of all of your energy to leave. Don't give up. You have the rest of your life ahead of you and the abuse you go through does not have to continue. Protect yourself and get away from this situation as safely as possible.

Victim's Rights in a Divorce with Domestic Violence