Domestic violence can directly influence child custody arrangements during divorce, and it may also indirectly affect property division and alimony awards.
In 2014, more than 100,000 reported incidences of domestic violence occurred in Sarasota and other parts of Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Sadly, many of these cases may occur between spouses and ultimately provide reason for one spouse to seek a divorce. Often, these spouses wonder how the abuse may affect their cases. Although each situation is unique, the following aspects of the settlement are ones that domestic violence can frequently influence.
Child custody and visitation arrangements are often a top concern for parents who are leaving abusive marriages. In Florida, judges award legal child custody with the primary goal of supporting the best interests of the child. Although there is a legal presumption that shared parental responsibility is ideal, judges will not order this arrangement if there is evidence that it could adversely affect the child. Such evidence could include:
- A conviction of domestic violence
- Evidence of domestic violence, even in the absence of a conviction
- A history of conduct that could threaten the child’s health or well-being
A judge may award sole parental responsibility on these grounds. However, parents who have been convicted or accused of domestic violence may still be awarded visitation time. In these cases, judges are required to consider the safety of both the child and the abused parent and establish visitation arrangements accordingly.
Florida judges award spousal support to address financial discrepancies after divorce. When determining spousal support awards, a judge can weigh any factor that is relevant to reaching an arrangement that will be equitable. Although judges typically don’t consider so-called fault grounds, including abuse, domestic violence may have various indirect impacts on this part of the settlement.
The variables that judges evaluate when awarding alimony include each spouse’s physical and emotional health, income, earning power, education and employability. If domestic violence or abuse adversely affected any of these things, it could also influence any eventual alimony awards. However, a judge must first assess whether one spouse legitimately needs alimony and whether the other can pay it. If these criteria aren’t met, alimony won’t be awarded, regardless of the circumstances.
Judges in Florida follow equitable distribution laws when dividing marital property. State law requires that property be divided fairly, but not necessarily equally, based on several factors. Family law judges might not directly take domestic violence into account when dividing property, but any secondary effects, including lingering injuries, career disruptions or financial losses, could be weighed.
Securing an appropriate settlement
Domestic violence can introduce various complications into the divorce process, which can make reaching a fair and safe settlement challenging. Given these issues, any spouse who has been a victim of domestic violence should consider seeking the assistance of an attorney who can help protect the spouse’s safety, rights and long-term interests.