High stress levels and divorce walk hand-in-hand, which can lead to bitterness, animosity and disagreements with your spouse during the process. This is particularly prevalent when you still share a residence, as the close proximity can cause tempers to flare into unexpected confrontations. These conditions create a perfect storm for domestic violence to occur, and it is extremely important to be aware how documented accounts of domestic violence can impact a divorce proceeding.
First of all, it is important to understand the scope of what is considered domestic violence and that the legal definition will vary by state. While physical cruelty is what readily comes to mind, domestic violence includes any abuse that is physical, emotional or psychologically threatening. For example, here is the full definition by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services:
“Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.
Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound someone.
Domestic violence can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. It can happen to couples who are married, living together, or who are dating. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.”
The definition is broad enough to encompass a number of things that commonly occur in pretty much any altercation, so be aware that yelling and name-calling can be considered domestic violence. It has even more bearing if there is evidence of it being a behavioral pattern. Additionally, anything done in the presence of a child enhances the potential of the charge.
Another thing to be wary of in the digital age is venting on social media. If you or your spouse posts a Facebook status along the lines of, “I wish my husband/wife was dead. Lol,” that can be construed as a threat. I’m afraid the “Lol” probably won’t hold much weight in defense, so it is probably best to avoid mentioning anything whatsoever about your divorce on the Internet.
Secondly, it is commonly presumed that men commit domestic violence against women. Despite the societal focus on women as victims, many studies have indicated that men are almost equally victimized; they just don’t report it. This can be for a number of reasons, whether it be to avoid public ridicule, the authorities won’t take them seriously or simple embarrassment, but that doesn’t mean it should go undocumented — particularly when it can have severe implications on your divorce.
Once a domestic violence charge is reported, the person filing can seek an order of protection to possibly kick their spouse out of a shared home or use it to limit interaction with any children. This has an immediate impact on the divorce. The protection order can be brought up as evidence to keep the arrangements permanent, and it severely hampers the credibility of the person affected by casting a negative shadow from the start of the proceedings. It is often impossible to get back into your home once you have been forced out, and the protection order can also impact custody, property division and many other contested aspects of the divorce.
If you are the victim of domestic violence, the most important thing to do is document the incident and follow these steps:
- Call 911 immediately and report what has happened.
- Get away from the situation.
- Let your attorney know what has happened as soon as possible.
- Utilize the resources on the National Domestic Violence Abuse Hotline.
These steps are also essential if you are the aggressor in the situation. Due to the broad definition of domestic abuse and the potential consequences of not acting on allegations, it takes very little evidence for a protective order to be issued. This creates a scenario that can be exploited, so it is important to have both sides of the story officially recorded.
Domestic violence can play a key role in the outcome of any divorce when it becomes a factor. It is in your best interest to know the signs and what to do if you find yourself in an abusive situation.