What Impact Does Domestic Violence Have on a Divorce Case?

People get divorced for a variety of reasons, including financial problems, communications issues, and infidelity. While it may be possible for some couples to work through some of these issues, either through marriage counseling or individual therapy sessions, there are other issues that can cause irreparable damage to a marriage. When a spouse’s physical or emotional safety is threatened by an abusive partner and the abusive spouse’s actions meet the state’s definition of domestic violence, the abused spouse may file for divorce. These cases can be complicated, particularly when there are children involved and the abused spouse is concerned about the safety of the children as well as their own safety. If you have been the survivor of domestic violence, and you have questions or concerns about the effect domestic violence will have on your divorce, you are urged to contact a highly skilled divorce lawyer as soon as possible.

What Is Considered Domestic Violence in New Jersey?

It is important to understand that even if a spouse has not physically injured the other spouse, their actions may be considered domestic abuse according to New Jersey state law. While acts of physical violence like hitting, punching, kicking, or shoving are obvious examples of domestic violence, threats, verbal attacks, withholding economic assistance, and intimidation are also considered domestic violence if they are severe enough, and the survivor believes that the verbal attacks are likely to become physical. The following are examples of acts that are prohibited by New Jersey domestic violence laws:

  • False imprisonment: This involves physically restraining or threatening to restrain someone in order to interfere with their freedom of movement.
  • Harassment: This involves using offensive language that is meant to cause annoyance or alarm, contacting someone at extremely inconvenient hours, communicating anonymously or otherwise engaging in behavior that is meant to harass.
  • Terroristic threats: When one spouse threatens to kill their spouse with the intention of causing extreme fear or death, this is an example of domestic violence.
  • Stalking: This involves maintaining visual or physical proximity on a regular basis with the intent to intimidate or cause fear.
  • Cyber harassment: This involves using social media to harass or threaten one’s spouse or damage their reputation by posting lewd or sexually explicit statements about them.
  • Criminal sexual contact: This involves intentional, non-consensual touching of private body parts with the intention of humiliating or degrading the other person.

How Does Domestic Abuse Affect the Divorce Process?

Domestic violence obviously has a significant impact on the person who is the survivor of the abuse. Allegations of domestic violence also have a profound impact on the divorce proceedings, and the outcome of key issues like spousal support, parenting and child support. The court generally considers a parent who has been accused or convicted of domestic violence to be a safety risk to the children. Depending on the severity of the situation, parent visitation may be limited or denied entirely. This may also impact the amount of spousal support you are eligible to receive.

What Type of Divorce Should I Pursue If Domestic Violence Is Involved?

In New Jersey, couples have the option of filing a no-fault divorce or a fault-based divorce. If you are the survivor of domestic violence, you may want to consider filing a fault-based divorce citing “extreme cruelty” as the grounds. Other legally recognized grounds for a fault-based divorce include adultery, a felony conviction, abandonment, and substance abuse. If you are citing domestic abuse as the grounds for your divorce, you will need to prove your claim of abuse by collecting evidence, including telephone records, police records, copies of a restraining order, photos of injuries, and witness testimonies that you can present in court. In some cases, you may be required to testify or file an affidavit swearing that you were the survivor of spousal abuse.

Keep in mind that a fault-based divorce of can become bitter and contentious, particularly if your spouse already tends to become angry and abusive. You will also have to share details about your marriage that may be painful and difficult. In addition to the emotional impact this can have on you and your children, a fault-based divorce tends to be more time-consuming and expensive than no-fault divorces. If your goal is to get out of the marriage as quickly as possible, an uncontested no-fault divorce may be a better option.

How Does Domestic Violence Affect Alimony and Child Custody?

Spousal abuse will likely impact how a judge will determine alimony, child support, and the distribution of marital property. The court will also consider domestic violence when determining custody and child support.

While every state has laws in place that allow the courts to consider spousal abuse when deciding child custody, judges will always consider what is in the child’s best interest when deciding child custody. If there is a history of abuse, the courts may limit the abusive parent’s custodial rights. If you fear for your child’s safety, there are additional protective measures that can be taken to ensure that you and your child are safe. A judge may require all visitations or exchanges of the children occur in a public place, and that a social worker or other licensed professional supervise all visitation periods. 

Should I File a Temporary Restraining Order Against My Spouse?

If you are the survivor of domestic violence, there are immediate steps you can take to protect yourself from your spouse’s abusive behavior. One of the first things you should do if domestic violence has occurred in your home is to collect as much evidence as possible, including telephone messages, emails, letters, photographs of your injuries and medical records that provide details about the extent of your injuries. If you are concerned that your spouse will continue the abusive behavior, you are urged to contact your local police department and request that an emergency temporary restraining order (TRO) be issued against your spouse. This will legally forbid the alleged abuser from coming to your home, place of work, your children’s school, or any other location that your spouse knows you might be.

The TRO prohibits your abuser from contacting you by phone, text message, email or in person. The abuser will be notified about the details of the TRO, including the distance he or she must keep from you and your children, a schedule for visitation, and whether he or she must provide financial support until the restraining order has been removed or the divorce has been finalized. If the situation warrants it, a permanent restraining order may be issued to ensure that the abuser is kept away from you and your children. A dedicated divorce lawyer can assist you with this process and address any other questions or concerns you have about how domestic violence can affect the outcome of your divorce.

Freehold Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Protect the Legal Rights of Survivors of Domestic Violence

If you have been the survivor of domestic violence, contact the Freehold divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville, Morristown, and Freehold, we serve clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.