Accused of Domestic Violence During a Complex Divorce: What You Need to Know
It can feel like being thrown out of the frying pan into the fire. You’re suffering through a particularly messy and contentious divorce, when one day, there’s a knock on your door, and the police are holding a warrant for your arrest on allegations of domestic violence or child abuse. Suddenly, a complex situation has become even more complicated because while you’re fighting for your rights on the custody and property fronts on one side, you’re now facing possible criminal charges and jail time on the other. Not to mention a domestic violence arrest and/or conviction can have a negative impact on your divorce settlement and even your parental rights. What can you do to protect your rights? How should you respond?
There are no easy answers here, especially considering that the laws in California are particularly designed to protect the victims more than they are the defendants. But let’s discuss some of the ramifications of what can happen if you’re accused of domestic violence in the midst of a divorce process, and the best way to respond in that situation.
Why Domestic Violence Accusations May Arise During a Divorce
Of course, the first question that may arise when charges of domestic violence are made when a divorce is in process is: Why now? If your spouse is accusing you of domestic violence, why didn’t they do it before filing for divorce? Why do it after you’ve already separated and are in the process of divorcing?
There could be a number of situations in which domestic violence accusations could arise during the divorce process itself. Let’s explore a few of them.
Escalating Tensions During the Divorce
When a couple is in the process of divorcing, it can be an incredibly stressful and emotional time for both people. They may be dealing with extreme levels of anger, hurt, and resentment that could lead to outbursts or heated arguments between them. It’s not uncommon for one partner to become so angry during these situations that they lash out and say or do something that either crosses the line or could otherwise be construed as domestic violence. This could lead to an accusation or even an arrest.
To Gain an Advantage in the Divorce Process
In some cases, one partner may try to use false allegations of domestic violence as leverage to gain an advantage in divorce proceedings. This is particularly true when it comes to child custody because if one partner is believed to have a history of domestic violence, it could influence the court to limit or deny that spouse’s visitation or custody rights. In other cases, one person may falsely accuse the other of domestic violence as a way to gain leverage in negotiating the divorce settlement–to threaten their child custody rights unless they cooperate on other fronts.
In divorce situations that are particularly contentious, it’s not uncommon for one spouse to accuse the other of domestic violence purely out of spite–just to make their life more difficult. Perhaps they see it as payback for any perceived wrongs, or perhaps they just want to make it harder for their ex to navigate the situation by throwing criminal charges on top of the divorce negotiations.
The Potential for Protective Orders
If you are accused of domestic violence, it could result in a protective order or restraining order being issued against you. This would limit your ability to contact the person who made the accusation–even if they are your spouse going through a divorce with you. You not be able to participate in certain aspects of the divorce process, such as mediation or meetings with attorneys.
It’s important to note that in some cases, the court may also require a batterer’s treatment program or other counseling as part of the protective order before you are allowed to have contact with the alleged victim again.
The Potential Impact on Child Custody Decisions
If you are facing charges of child abuse or domestic violence during a divorce—and especially if you are convicted—this information must be taken into consideration when determining child custody arrangements. California law states that when deciding on custody matters, judges must consider any “evidence” of abuse, including verbal threats, physical incidents (both within and outside the home), emotional abuse (including intimidation and manipulation tactics), sexual abuse or exploitation, substance abuse problems relating to either parent (including alcohol and drugs), violations of existing orders (such as protective orders) against either parent, and potential criminal activity related to either parent (such as arrests). All these factors may influence child custody decisions made by courts in California. Suffice it to say that a criminal conviction for domestic violence will not help your case if you’re fighting for custody or visitation.
How to Protect Yourself from Allegations
When it comes to fighting domestic violence charges, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you’re going through a contentious divorce where you’re concerned your spouse might try to “play the domestic violence card,” here are some tips to protect yourself proactively:
- Limit contact with your spouse if possible. If you must interact, do it in a public place where there is no opportunity for aggression or accusation of aggression–or better yet, in the presence of attorneys.
- Remain civil and professional–even when angry. Refrain from making any statements that could be construed as threatening or menacing. If you feel your anger boiling over, walk away and cool off. Avoid any situation where your actions could be construed as violent.
- Refrain from discussing the divorce in front of children–and especially avoid fighting in front of them. This limits the possibility that you’d be accused of child abuse.
Fighting Domestic Violence Charges in California
Ultimately, you can’t control whether your ex makes an allegation against you. But you can control how you respond to it. Whether there is any legitimacy to the accusations or not, the fact remains that criminal charges can hurt your standing in a divorce, impact your custody rights, and potentially even cost you your freedom. For that reason, you should never take these charges lightly. An experienced domestic violence attorney in Los Angeles can help minimize your risk in many ways, from finding discrepancies in your accuser’s story to negotiating for leniency based on mitigating factors in your case. If you’re facing domestic violence charges, call our offices to schedule an appointment.