How Does Domestic Violence Affect Divorce?

While there are many reasons why a couple may decide to get divorced, one of the more serious ones is the presence of domestic violence in a relationship. While we typically think of domestic violence as physical violence, in reality it can include emotional and mental distress as well.

For example, domestic violence may arise when a partner emotionally isolates a spouse, controls his or her access to money, and limits his or her freedom. Domestic violence can also arise when a partner berates, humiliates, or insults a spouse or gradually wears away at his or her self worth.

All of these forms of domestic violence can eventually lead to divorce where an abused spouse works up the courage to walk away from the marriage. And although the immediate effects of the domestic violence may end at that point, the lingering consequences can play an important role in the divorce process.

Is Domestic Violence a Grounds for Divorce in Cedar Rapids

In some states, a spouse who wishes to get divorced must show a reason, or a grounds, for the divorce. Essentially, there must be a basis to blame the other spouse for the need to get divorced. In Iowa, this type of “fault-based” divorce does not exist.

Iowa is a no-fault divorce state, which means that one party is not required to prove that something bad happened or another partner is to blame in order to get a divorce. Instead, the partner can just allege that there were irreconcilable differences in the marriage such that the marriage cannot be saved.

This means that, for all practical purposes, domestic violence is not grounds for divorce in Iowa because no grounds are required. However, a history of domestic violence is something that courts will consider when evaluating certain aspects of a divorce.

Divorce and Protective Orders

First, where domestic violence is present in a marriage, many spouses may seek both a divorce and a protective order prohibiting an abusive spouse from coming near them. While divorce signifies the end of a marriage, nothing about a divorce specifically requires two spouses to stay away from each other, or orders them not to be in contact.

For this reason, if an ex-spouse who has been abused wants to ensure their safety after requesting a divorce, they may also request a temporary or permanent protective order.  Iowa law specifically provides for protective orders to prohibit domestic abuse. Protective order proceedings are held separately from divorce proceedings. When granted, protective orders can require spouses to keep a certain physical distance from each other – or refrain from interacting with each other throughout the duration of the divorce process.

Unfortunately for some, in order to obtain a protective order, Iowa requires that the abuse rise to the level of actual physical harm or threats of physical harm. Emotional or mental abuse alone is often not sufficient. While many courts in Iowa will understand, depending on the circumstances, that feeling threatened with physical harm often go hand in hand with emotional or mental abuse, the court will look at it from a reasonable person perspective: “Would a reasonable person in your situation be afraid of imminent physical harm?”

Domestic Violence and the Division of Assets and Custody

In most divorces, two of the three main questions to be resolved are how the marital assets should be divided and who should get custody of the kids (if there are any children). The fact that domestic violence occurred in a marriage does not inherently mean that marital assets should be divided any differently than usual. In Iowa, there is a presumption that marital assets should be divided equally unless factors suggest otherwise.

One way that domestic violence may play a role in altering the division of assets is where there has been financial manipulation during a marriage. If a spouse has previously been denied an opportunity to earn an education or obtain work opportunities because of domestic violence, this may affect the division of assets.

In these types of situations, a court may determine that a spouse who has been abused is entitled to support (or a greater amount of support) from the former abuser. This support can allow them to obtain opportunities that they have previously been denied, or give them the ability to get back on their feet after years of being constrained by the former spouse.

Where domestic violence often plays the most significant role in divorce is the consideration of child custody. When evaluating where a child should be placed after a divorce, the courts are charged with determining what is in the best interests of the child. Obviously, this includes considering the child’s safety and well-being.

A history of domestic violence does not automatically preclude joint custody or shared care after a divorce. However, it may be very difficult for a husband who has abused his wife in the past to make a showing that he would be a safe and supportive environment for a child. For this reason, many abusers will find that courts are simply unwilling to give them full-time custody.

In some, more extreme cases, courts may be willing to grant supervised visitation to a parent who has been accused of abusive behavior. Supervised visitation allows the parent the opportunity to spend time with their child and maintain their family relationship – while ensuring that the child cannot be subjected to harm during the visit.

In the most egregious of situations, domestic violence can result in the termination of parental rights for a parent. If the parent has also abused the child, or engaged in such significant violence as to be found guilty of abuse and neglect, a court may determine that the abusive parent is not entitled to any parental rights at all.

Iowa Family Law Attorney Helping You Move on From Domestic Violence

If you have been in a relationship that was abusive and are looking for a way to end your marriage, move on, and start over, you may want to seek out the assistance of a family law attorney who is experienced in domestic violence issues.

The first and most important step is to make sure that you are safe in leaving your marriage. You must take any necessary steps to ensure your safety, and the safety of any children, such as seeking an order of protection. Divorce should never come at the expense of your safety or the safety of your children.

The family law attorney Jonathan D. Schmidt can work with you to help you plan for your safety. He can help to evaluate how a history of domestic violence may affect your divorce, what you can do to ensure the safety of your children after a divorce, and your right to physical and legal custody over them. For more information or to discuss any questions you might have, contact us online or at (319) 774-6078.