Domestic Violence, Children and Divorce
Telling a spouse about the desire to get divorced is one of the most difficult conversations one is likely to have. Conceding the relationship is no longer working or will work in the future is hard to admit, but is better for both parties in the long run. As tough as this situation is, if there are issues of domestic violence, this decision becomes monumentally more complicated. Often, victims of domestic violence must hide plans to divorce and leave surreptitiously to avoid dangerous confrontations with an abuser. The state recognizes the complex matters domestic violence introduces into the divorce process, and wants to support victims in order to encourage them to leave these unsafe circumstances. As a result, divorce law contains a number of provisions aimed at helping domestic violence victims escape from an abusive spouse, and keep them away permanently. Florida has a number of advocacy and assistance programs for domestic violence victims that provide a safe place to receive medical treatment and counseling. Commonly, using these services is the first step in a victim’s road to divorce, and one program that recently made the news is the Victim Empowerment Program at Florida International University that offers students, faculty and staff support, including advocacy services for court proceedings.
Family law judges often refer parties with minor children seeking divorce to required mediation. The motivation behind these orders is to make the parties try one last time to keep the marriage together for the sake of the children. However, victims of domestic violence, due to understandable fear of retaliation, are likely to agree to all of the abuser’s demands. Consequently, when parties file for divorce, the petition must include information about any pending, current or past domestic violence proceedings so the judge knows to forego mediation. Further, if a party with domestic violence issues is ordered to attend mediation, he/she needs to inform the mediator about this history so safeguards can be used to limit the abuser’s ability to influence and/or attack the party.
Child Custody/Parenting Time
The effect of observing domestic violence by a child can be profound, and in an effort to at least reduce, and ideally eliminate, the fallout of growing up with an abusive parent, all custody and parenting time decisions are impacted if this violence is present. Florida law presumes parents will share custody and responsibility for a child unless shared responsibility would be detrimental to the child. Convictions for domestic violence are automatically considered detrimental, and the convicted parent must then present evidence to overcome this presumption. If the parent fails, the court will give sole custody to the other parent, and limited to no parenting time to the convicted parent, depending on the harm presented to the other parent and child. Evidence of domestic violence without a conviction is still enough for a court to consider whether shared custody is in the child’s best interest, but the detriment to the child is not assumed.
The most effective way to protect oneself from further abuse is to obtain a restraining order. A restraining order will make it illegal for the abusive spouse to contact or live with the victim. Further, divorce cases under these circumstances are treated somewhat differently to limit the contact the spouses have with one another, and how much information the abuser has about the whereabouts of the victim and his/her children.
Divorce is a trying process that often depletes a person on multiple levels. A divorce attorney can take away some of this stress by handling the complex court proceedings, and importantly, advise you on your legal rights and interests. The Tampa law firm of Bubley & Bubley, P.A. handles all aspects of divorce and is ready to help you make this important step. Contact us for a free consultation.