Can Domestic Violence Affect a Divorce?

Domestic Violence

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, more than 12 million women and men experience domestic violence on average every year in the United States. That number amounts to 24 people suffering stalking or physical violence every minute. Violence from an intimate partner affects a person emotionally, mentally, and physically, and it also complicates the divorce process.

Most people associate domestic violence with hitting, pushing, and other physical violence inflicted by one intimate partner on another. However, domestic violence actually encompasses a wide range of actions that are designed to instill fear or pain on another.

Domestic abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, and even financial. Here is an overview of the many different actions that may constitute domestic abuse under various domestic violence laws:

  • Control: Telling a partner where they can go, keeping tabs on them, limiting interaction with others, and stalking.
  • Economic Abuse: Using money to control another person, withholding money, preventing a partner from earning income through employment, and making them ask others for money.
  • Emotional Abuse: Making another feel unworthy, inadequate, putting them down, and gaslighting.
  • Manipulation of Children: Using the children as pawns to hurt a partner, sending messages through children, and preventing a partner from seeing their children.
  • Physical Abuse: Beating, punching, and other violent actions used to inflict pain on another person.
  • Property Damage: Damaging a partner’s personal property.
  • Sexual Abuse: Forcing sexual activity against one’s will, and using sex as a means of controlling another person.

It is important to note that even when domestic abuse does not get physical, the damage to a person’s psyche is just as significant. All forms of partner abuse are insidious and can impact a victim’s mental, physical, and emotional health years after the abuse has stopped.

How is Domestic Violence Defined in New Jersey?

New Jersey’s domestic violence law specifically defines domestic violence as one or more of the following:

  • Cyber harassment
  • Criminal sexual contact
  • False imprisonment
  • Harassment
  • Physical abuse
  • Stalking
  • Terroristic threats
  • Trespass

In New Jersey, individuals seeking a divorce have the choice to file a no-fault divorce or a divorce based on fault. Domestic violence is a grounds for divorce in the state because of extreme cruelty. Extreme cruelty is one of the grounds for at-fault divorce and generally would include emotional and/or physical abuse.

How Does Domestic Violence Impact Divorce Proceedings?

To make an informed and wise decision, it is important to understand how certain divorce issues may be impacted if one files for divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty.

Marital Assets

It is a common misconception that if one partner is abusive, the division of marital assets will go in the victim’s favor; however, that is not the case. Domestic abuse does not usually influence how the courts divide joint property in a divorce. In the majority of no-fault and fault-based divorces, assets are divided equitably and calculated based on a variety of factors, including the earning potential, educational level, and economic needs.

Domestic violence only impacts the division of the marital estate if the abusive partner negatively impacted the couple’s finances in some way, like preventing the other partner from attending school to get a degree or getting a job. In that case, the judge might award the domestic violence victim a larger portion of the marital estate.

Alimony

The same is true for alimony. Unless the abuser kept their victim from getting an education or a job to earn income, domestic violence is not likely to influence how the court determines alimony. Since every jurisdiction treats domestic violence differently regarding alimony, it is always best to discuss one’s situation with a well-versed lawyer.

Child Custody

Domestic violence in any form is likely to have an impact on child custody matters in New Jersey. This makes sense because divorce law is guided by the principle that the child’s best interests always take precedence above all else.

Even when children are not the direct victims, they are undeniably affected by exposure to domestic violence in the family and in the home. An abusive spouse is unlikely to get legal or physical custody of the children. Courts can take measures to protect children from emotionally or physically abusive parents, requiring supervised visitation and prohibiting overnight visits.

In more extreme cases of domestic violence, the courts will terminate an abusive parent’s visitation or parental rights permanently.

How Do I Prove Spousal Abuse?

It is common for abusers to hide their abuse. They leave marks on their victims where they know they will not show. Domestic abusers can be so secretive that the victim’s friends and family may not have any idea about the abuse.

Documenting abuse in all its forms is incredibly important, not just for the divorce, but for possible criminal charges. Victims should keep threatening messages, posts, and voicemails. Victims should also take photos of bruises, cuts, and broken bones.

Where can I Get Help if I am a Victim of Spousal Violence?

No one should be subjected to domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline advises victims to make a safety plan. That safety plan consists of a set of actions designed to lower the risk of being harmed by a partner.

By answering a series of questions on the National Domestic Violence Hotline website, users can create a printable safety plan with easily identifiable steps to take if they feel unsafe. The website and its accompanying hotline are staffed around the clock for immediate assistance.

Statistics show that domestic violence often escalates right before the victim tries to leave. Someone thinking of leaving should proceed with caution, share their plan with a loved one, and contact the police right away.

How Do I File a Temporary Restraining Order?

Some abuse victims simply do not have the time to make a safety plan. A temporary restraining order (TRO) is the first step to legal protection from an abusive spouse, former spouse, or household member.

To file for a TRO, apply in person to the Domestic Violence Unit of the Family Division. A lawyer can assist with this process. If the court is closed after hours, on the weekend, or on a holiday, an individual can get an order of protection at the local police department.

In most cases, a restraining order does the following:

  • Prohibits the abuser from contacting the victim by any means.
  • May require the abuse to leave a shared residence, even if it is in their name.
  • May grant custody of the children to the victim, mandating supervised visits for the parent accused of abuse.
  • Often requires the abuser to attend domestic violence and/or substance abuse counseling.
  • May require the abuser to pay any costs resulting from the abuse, such as hospital bills and court fees.

Since a TRO is temporary, the victim and the abuser are required to attend a court hearing after approximately 10 days. In court, both parties explain their sides of the situation. At the end, the judge decides if the TRO continues or if they will issue a final order of protection. If the abuser disregards any restraining order, call the police immediately.

The most important step for anyone suffering partner abuse is to find safety. Contact the police in an emergency, reach out to a domestic violence counselor for guidance, and contact a lawyer for clarity regarding abuse, divorce, and child custody in New Jersey.

Morristown Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Fight for the Rights of Victims of Domestic Violence Seeking Divorce

It is always important to ensure the safety of yourself and your children. If you are going through domestic violence and you need help with your divorce as well, speak to a Morristown divorce lawyer at Lyons & Associates, P.C. We will take a compassionate and determined approach in your divorce case and advocate for you. Call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.