Family Law Watch: Domestic Violence and Divorce: Lessons From the Ray Rice Scandal

Sports fans and the public alike were in shock last month when video went viral of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his wife, Janay Palmer, leaving her unconscious and dragging her out of a public elevator. Rightly or wrongly, Janay Palmer is choosing to stand by Ray Rice. There are, however, many victims of domestic abuse who choose to take legal action to escape a very difficult situation. In California, obtaining a domestic violence restraining order is one such option. But what role does domestic violence play in a divorce? Does it make a difference, and will it affect the outcome of your divorce?

California is a no-fault state. In a no-fault state, a spouse seeking a divorce has no obligation to prove that the other spouse did anything wrong. For example, if your spouse is unfaithful to you, the court will not take this into consideration, because the court is not interested in why the marriage deteriorated. Cheating, however, may become relevant if it somehow affects the well-being of your children or puts them in danger.

On the other hand, if your spouse is a domestic violence perpetrator, this could affect your divorce. Like cheating, if domestic violence places your children in danger, the court may intervene since the court has a responsibility to look out for your children’s best interests. Under Family Code Section 4320, the court also has the discretion to consider documented evidence of any history of domestic violence when ordering spousal support and may eliminate or reduce spousal support as a result of a criminal conviction. See Family Code Section 4320(i) and (m). See also In re Marriage of Freitas, 209 Cal. App. 4th 1059 (Trial court did not abuse its discretion in terminating a domestic violence perpetrator’s temporary spousal support award).

For those who are planning to file for divorce where there is a history of domestic violence, it’s important to speak with legal counsel to ensure that your individual rights are protected during the divorce process.