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Special considerations for divorcing spouses facing domestic violence

The end of a marriage is rarely easy for any of the parties involved. Each spouse must deal with financial stress, his or her own emotions regarding the relationship and, in some cases, the needs of the couple's children.

When one spouse deals with these feelings in a threatening or violent way, it can make divorce scarier for the whole family. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an opportunity to fight back against domestic violence. A few essential steps can help victims of domestic violence protect their interests and their family when a divorce turns rocky.

Call the police

Domestic violence includes not only physical violence, but also threats intended to scare the victim, emotional abuse and financial misconduct intended to harm or weaken the victim financially. If any of these occur, contact the police immediately. Listen to the responding officers and learn what you can do to protect yourself and your legal rights.

Seek help for your spouse

Encourage your spouse to speak to a counselor or address any substance abuse problems if you can do so without putting yourself in harm's way. Often abusers have violent pasts or mental health issues that contribute to a cycle of violent behavior and understanding these can help you put a stop to the cycle.

Request custody evaluations

If your divorce includes a disagreement over child custody, ask that your family undergo an evaluation with a trained professional. They will speak with you, your spouse and your children to evaluate how domestic violence has or has not affected each parent's relationship with the children.

Seek counseling separately

Speak to a counselor without your spouse and request that they do the same before attempting joint or family counseling. Attending counseling together can create a dynamic in which the victims of domestic violence must take responsibility for the abuser's problems. If you are a victim of domestic violence it is important to remember that what happened is in no way your fault.

Speak up

There are resources available to support victims of domestic violence but they are only available if you speak up and seek help. Talk to a friend, counselor, attorney or family member who can give you support. While domestic violence can instill a feeling of shame or fear of stigma, keeping silent is not an option when your safety is at risk.

Source: The Huffington Post, "The Five Musts For Dealing With Domestic Violence In Your Divorce," Joseph E. Cordell, Oct. 10, 2012

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