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Divorce and Domestic Violence: What You Need To Know

It isn’t easy to escape an abusive relationship. If you are a survivor of domestic violence, you need to know how your spouse’s behavior will affect you and your kids after you separate. Having an attorney who understands domestic violence in all its forms can make getting out easier and safer for everyone involved.

What Counts as Domestic Violence in Family Court

If you live with an abusive spouse or partner, you know that domestic violence can take many forms: physical, verbal, financial, and emotional. Many abusers also engage in dominance and control tactics that isolate you from outside support, cut off your access to financial resources, and monitor your movements and conversations. Michigan family courts define domestic violence as when a family or household member:

  • Causes physical harm to another
  • Causes mental harm to another
  • Creates fear of physical or mental harm
  • Forces sexual activity on another through force, threats, or duress
  • Terrorizes, frightens, intimidates, threatens, harasses, or molests another

Domestic Violence and Child Custody

Domestic violence is one of the 12 best interest factors in determining child custody. That means the courts must consider acts of abuse in deciding who should receive custody, whether or not the children were the targets or witnesses of the abuse. A skilled divorce attorney can demonstrate how an abuser’s behavior affected other best interest factors—helping protect you from claims of parental alienation when you took steps to keep your children safe.

When children are involved in domestic violence, you need an attorney who can creatively advocate for everyone’s safety. In all but the most severe cases, the non-custodial parent will receive some parenting time. In domestic violence divorces that parenting time may need special conditions such as:

  • Supervision by a third party
  • No alcohol or drugs
  • Exchanges in public settings
  • Therapy, batterers’ intervention, or parenting classes

Fault as a Factor for Property Distribution

Often, survivors of spousal support walk away from abusive relationships with little income and few assets of their own. Many abusers try to shield assets and prevent their spouses from working to maintain control over them. However, divorce can be an equalizing force. Michigan law requires an “equitable division” of marital property based on several factors – not just who earned money.

Fault is one of those factors. In domestic violence cases, your attorney can help you tell the story of how your spouse kept you from living a full life or used your income for their sole benefit. That way, the judge can factor fault into your final property division.

Will Spousal Abuse Lead to Spousal Support?

In some states, domestic violence victims automatically receive spousal support. In others, fault cannot be considered at all. Michigan falls in the middle. Like in property division, Michigan courts can consider fault as one factor among many in deciding whether to award spousal support. If your partner kept you from working or getting an education, or if spousal abuse left you partially disabled, you may have a good argument for spousal support based on their behavior.

Staying Safe While Separating from an Abuser

The moment you leave an abusive spouse is often the most dangerous. An abuser’s behavior tends to escalate when they feel they are losing control of their life or family. If domestic violence is a factor in your divorce, be sure to let your divorce attorney know right away. They can help you create a safety plan for you and your children, which may include:

  • Personal protection orders
  • Temporary child custody orders that control when and how parenting time happens
  • Coordination with domestic violence shelters and other survivor services
  • Scheduling when and where the abuser receives service of process so you can be safe
  • Temporary spousal support and attorney fee motions to help you pay for your divorce expenses

Get Help Getting Out

At Thacker Sleight, our experienced and empathetic divorce attorneys know how divorce and domestic violence interact. We provide our clients exclusive, highly professional service, acting as their advocates in court. We can help you protect yourself and your children, so you can leave the relationship and begin the healing process. If you are a domestic violence survivor, contact us at 616.888.3810 to schedule a consultation.

Thacker Sleight

grand rapids office  •  616 888 3810
445 cherry street se
grand rapids michigan 49503

grand haven office  •  616 888 3810

saugatuck office  •  269 857 9120

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