Annapolis Divorce Lawyer

How Domestic Violence Can Impact a Divorce Case

patrickcrawford | May 25, 2020

When domestic violence occurs in your home, your priority should be to ensure the safety of you and your children. However, this type of event can also lead you to file for divorce against an abusive spouse. Many people in this situation wonder how domestic violence might impact the divorce process, and what their rights might be under Maryland divorce laws. The following is an overview of domestic violence and how it can affect a divorce case. To discuss your specific situation, contact an experienced Annapolis divorce attorney as soon as possible.

What Constitutes Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence refers to certain unlawful and potentially harmful conduct against someone with whom you have a certain relationship. The following acts can be considered to be domestic violence:

  • Assault, which is any conduct that causes harm to another person or puts them in fear of immediate harm
  • Sexual offenses, including rape, or attempted sexual offenses
  • False imprisonment, which involves holding someone in a certain place against their will
  • Stalking, which is a pattern of behavior that involves pursuing someone or putting them in fear of harm

Any of the above criminal acts are considered to be domestic violence when the offender and victim are:

  • Current or former spouses
  • Current or former romantic partners
  • Parents of the same child 
  • Other family members
  • Household members

Criminal law does not distinguish between domestic violence or violence against strangers, with the exception of possible child abuse charges if the victim was a child. However, the distinction is important if the victim wants to obtain a protective order or is planning to file for divorce.

Protective Orders

You are eligible to apply for a protective order against a domestic abuser as long as you can demonstrate one of the above relationships. The protective order request is a separate case from any criminal charges against an abuser, and it is important to have the right legal representation during this process.

While you might be able to obtain an emergency order without a court hearing, the court will schedule a hearing to determine whether a long-term order should be in place. The accused abuser will have the chance to defend against the order during this hearing. If a protective order is granted, it can restrict the offender from coming into contact with you and possibly your children, as well as possibly ordering them to move, issuing temporary child custody, and additional restrictions.

While protective orders can legally protect you, they cannot physically stop an abuser from violating the order. In many cases, after someone obtains a protective order against a spouse, they will want to file for divorce to best protect themselves.

Grounds for Divorce in Maryland

If you want an absolute divorce that legally ends your marriage in Maryland, you must meet certain requirements. These include either citing specific fault-based grounds for divorce or, if you want a no-fault divorce, living separate and apart for one year prior to filing. Fault-based grounds can be more difficult, as you must prove the misconduct alleged in the divorce petition. There is no proof of misconduct needed for no-fault divorce, but many people who suffered domestic violence do not want to wait an entire year to meet the separation requirement and file. 

Fault-based grounds for divorce include:

  • Adultery
  • Desertion
  • Cruelty or vicious conduct
  • Certain criminal convictions and prison sentences
  • Insanity

A pattern of domestic violence – or a single instance of serious violence – can constitute cruel treatment for the purposes of divorce. If you cite cruelty as grounds for divorce, there is no waiting period to file, though you do have to prove your allegations of cruel treatment. 

In the past, Maryland divorce courts could not accept the issuance of a protective order as proof of cruelty in a divorce case. This made proving domestic violence much more difficult for spouses filing for divorce. In recent years, however, the state legislature passed a new law that allowed you to use a protective order as proof of domestic violence in your marriage, which will prove cruelty as grounds for divorce. This means that if you have a protective order, you should be able to file for divorce right away and prove your fault-based grounds. 

Domestic Violence and Child Custody

Aside from your own safety, your priority in a divorce case should be the safety and well-being of your children. Divorce cases involving children will require a child custody determination, which sets out how parents will share time with their children and decisions regarding their upbringing. 

If you believe that your child would be in danger if they spent time living with your spouse, it is imperative that you have an experienced child custody attorney presenting your case. Judges will only award sole custody in drastic situations, and many factors are considered. You might be able to get sole custody if you can prove one or more of the following:

  • There was a pattern of domestic violence, and the risks still persist
  • The violence was aimed at your child or occurred in front of your child
  • Your child’s physical or psychological well-being would be at risk if your spouse gets custody rights

Sometimes, the court might award supervised visits with your children or might withhold visitation rights altogether. An attorney can assess your situation and the possibility of getting sole custody if you are concerned about your child’s safety. 

Alimony and Property Division

When determining what type of alimony or property division is fair and equitable in a divorce case, judges can consider many factors, and domestic violence is one of them. When it comes to property division, violence might not play a major role unless your spouse engaged in property destruction. If your protective order gives you sole access to your home, the judge might take that into consideration when deciding who gets to remain living in the house in the divorce. 

When it comes to alimony/spousal support, some states prohibit domestic abusers from receiving support. These states believe it is wrong to order a victim to pay support to an abuser. However, Maryland does not have this type of law yet, and judges will simply consider domestic violence as one of many factors when awarding alimony or not. You should have the assistance of an experienced lawyer who knows how to deal with domestic violence as an issue in your divorce case. 

Speak with an Annapolis Divorce Lawyer You Can Trust

Experiencing domestic violence is a traumatic experience, and it can lead to concerns and fears for your future safety and that of your children. Going through the divorce process with a domestic abuser can only make the situation much more complicated and stressful. On the other hand, divorcing someone who has falsely accused you of domestic violence is also a difficult situation. 

If you have a divorce case following domestic violence, it is critical that you have an experienced Annapolis divorce attorney on your side. At the Law Office of Patrick Crawford, we represent clients facing complex divorce cases, and we know how to protect your interests in your unique situation. Call (410) 216-7905 or contact us online to speak with a divorce lawyer who can protect your rights under Maryland law.