The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that one in three women and one in four men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner at some point during their life. In New Jersey, the situation is even worse with 35.8% of women and 27.4% of men in the state experiencing intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner rape, and/or intimate partner stalking during their lifetimes.
Given these statistics, many people will decide to leave an abusive marriage during their lifetime. Understanding how domestic violence may impact your divorce can help you make informed decisions about the next chapter of your life.
One of the most significant ways that domestic violence can impact a divorce is through child custody. New Jersey courts must make decisions regarding child custody based on what is in the best interests of the child. The court must consider various factors when making any child custody decisions, including “the history of domestic violence” and “the safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent.” However, it is important to keep in mind that the court may not assume that a person who has abused their partner will also abuse their child.
If there is a history of domestic violence, the court may be reluctant to grant primary custody to the abusive parent. The court could order that the abusive spouse only be allowed supervised visitation with the child. In extreme cases, the court may block visitation completely.
The court also considers the “parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse.” This means that if you seem unwilling to allow parenting time but cannot prove there has been abuse, the court could use this against you.
Distribution of Property
New Jersey is an equitable distribution state in divorce cases. This means that the court divides property in an equitable, but not necessarily equal, manner. The divorcing couple can reach their own agreement, or the court may be tasked with the responsibility. While the court does not necessarily consider abuse, the equitable distribution law says the court can consider any other factor it finds relevant. Therefore, the court could conceivably consider a history of abuse when allocating property and debts. Additionally, ownership or occupancy rights in certain property may be affected by a restraining order due to domestic violence (discussed below).
New Jersey courts can award alimony in appropriate cases, which may include spousal support during and/or after the divorce. Spousal support is sometimes awarded when the spouses have disparate earning capacities and one spouse needs the financial assistance of the other. Again, the court can consider any factor it deems relevant when making these decisions.
Many divorce cases initially begin when the abused victim petitions the court for a restraining order against the abuser. The primary purpose of this type of restraining order is to keep the abuser away from the victim to prevent further abuse. The physical restraints against the abuser may include prohibiting any contact with the victim and prohibiting the abuser from visiting certain locations where the victim is known to be. In some cases, the court may also order the abusive spouse not to have contact with the children. However, the court would have to find that the spouse posed a threat to the child to make this type of order.
When the abused spouse seeks a restraining order, the court can make additional orders that could affect the family and the divorce, such as:
• Ordering the abusive spouse to move out of the marital home
• Making the abusive spouse maintain payments for the other spouse’s housing, even if the abusive spouse no longer resides there
• Ordering the abusive spouse to pay spousal support or child support
• Deciding temporary custody and visitation arrangements
• Requiring the abusive spouse to attend domestic violence counseling
Even though some of these orders may be temporary in nature, they could still impact the long-term impact of the divorce. Courts often like to maintain the status quo. Therefore, what is at one point a temporary order may later become a permanent order. However, this is not always the case, so it is important that the spouses have qualified legal representation.
Contact a New Jersey Family Lawyer for Help
Divorce is often difficult, but it can be even more so when domestic violence is involved. If a restraining order is in place, spouses will be unable to communicate to sort out divorce issues. This makes it even more important to have a knowledgeable New Jersey family lawyer to help explain your rights and options. Contact us today to speak with a compassionate family lawyer.