What If My Ex Turns Violent During a Divorce?
Divorces are never easy, and a lot of bad blood can come up during proceedings. But no matter what, both sides should try to be as civil and respectable throughout the process. When one member steps out of bounds and becomes physically abusive, then your attorney can step in to provide legal protection in the form of a temporary restraining order and advocate for compensation.
Massachusetts Laws on Abuse
The state of Massachusetts has outlined legal protections and definitions for domestic violence through Mass. General Laws c.209A, which is part of the Abuse Prevention Act. The law defines abuse as any act of physical harm, any threats of physical harm or acts of intimidation that suggest physical harm, and any non-consensual sexual acts. The law applies to both family members, such as a spouse or parent, and members of your household, such as roommates. Even if you are still in the process of getting a divorce, this law can provide protections for soon-to-be ex’s who are victims of domestic violence.
Legal Protection from Domestic Violence
In contrast to harassment laws, the Massachusetts Abuse Prevention Act allows for a broader spectrum of protections for victims of domestic violence, although it is limited to family or household members. If your spouse becomes physical during your divorce, you may request aid from the court to:
- Keep the defendant (your abuser) from abusing you
- Block the defendant from contacting you except for court-appointed reasons
- Keep them from entering your home or workplace for a limited period of time, generally no more than one year
- Grant the victim temporary custody of any underage children, but only if there is evidence that sole custody is in the best interest of the children
In order to achieve these measures, the court may grant an Abuse Prevention Order, which is a type of restraining order specifically designed to help spouses and children who are under threat of physical abuse from a spouse or parent.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, you may download and fill out a domestic violence restraining order and file it at your county family court. Once filed, you will meet with a judge who will decide whether or not you will receive a Temporary (Ex-Parte) Order, which lasts for 10 business days and can be requested from a judge without a hearing to provide temporary protection from an abuser.
You will be required to attend a hearing at the end of those 10 days to make your case – and for your abuser to make a counterargument. If the judge determines that abuse occurred, he or she will grant you a Final (Long-term) Order, which can last for up to one year and has the option to be extended.
At any point during this process, you may contact an attorney and should do so to ensure all the forms are filled out correctly and that your rights are protected during the proceedings. We also encourage you to contact the police to report domestic violence, both for your own protection and to collect evidence, which can include your emotional state when you speak to the police.
Domestic Violence During a Divorce
Some spouses, or soon to be ex-spouses, may not have an obvious history of abuse prior to the divorce, while others have exhibited physical abuse throughout a marriage. In either situation, you deserve to live free of violence and harassment, especially during a divorce.
What was once a civil divorce process is now a contentious one and this can lead to several changes to the proceedings. The state of Massachusetts allows you to file for a divorce based on grounds no-fault, meaning no spouse is to blame for the end of the marriage, or you can file based on fault, which includes domestic violence.
Depending on the circumstances, the “marital state,” the property you share with your spouse, may be divided differently in cases of domestic violence. The court may determine that the abuse you suffered affected your ability to work or the financial state of your household. This, ultimately, would increase the amount of alimony you can receive. This can become more complicated in high-asset divorces, which will require the legal guidance of a knowledgeable attorney to ensure your financial rights are protected.
In addition, you may be granted temporary custody and, if the court determines it is in the best interests of the child, you may receive sole custody. The abusive spouse may be granted limited visitation with a professional. If the violence is pervasive enough, the judge may deny any visitation or revoke the defendant’s parentage rights.
Contacting a Massachusetts Divorce Lawyer
Getting help for domestic violence may appear difficult at first, but Massachusetts’s laws offer a number of protections and legal options for victims. If you are worried about how reporting domestic violence will affect your divorce, please contact a Methuen divorce attorney at the DiBella Law Offices, P.C. Our law firm can explain to your rights, how the divorce proceedings may change, and advocate for your best interests. You do not have to go through this alone. Call us today at (978) 327-5140.