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Domestic Violence

Divorcing an Abusive Spouse in Florida

Protecting Domestic Violence Victims

Unfortunately, thousands of women (and some men) will remain in an abusive marriage for fear of violent reprisals from their spouses. Even though the state of Florida takes a hard stance against domestic violence, the grip that abusers have on their victims often freezes them into inaction.

At Owenby Law, P.A., a significant portion of our clients have confided in us that they are currently being abused or have been abused in the past. Many of my clients are unwilling or feel that they are unable to prosecute their attackers, so when they are seeking a divorce, they must proceed cautiously.

If you or your spouse is in the military, the circumstances may be different than what is mentioned below. However, the attorneys at Owenby Law, P.A. have experience handling cases involving military divorce as well.

Wish to file for divorce? Call (904) 770-3141 for a free and confidential consultation.

What is Domestic Violence?

In Florida, domestic violence refers to abusive behaviors committed by one family or household member against another. It encompasses a wide range of abusive behaviors, including physical violence, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and financial abuse. The state of Florida has specific laws and regulations in place to address and combat domestic violence.

Common forms of domestic violence in Florida include:

  • Physical Abuse: This involves any form of physical harm or violence inflicted upon a family or household member. It can include hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, choking, or using weapons to cause bodily harm.
  • Emotional Abuse: Emotional abuse is characterized by behaviors that aim to control, manipulate, or intimidate the victim psychologically. It can involve verbal threats, insults, constant criticism, humiliation, intimidation, and isolation from friends and family.
  • Sexual Abuse: Sexual abuse within a domestic context involves any non-consensual sexual activity or coercion inflicted upon a family or household member. This can include rape, sexual assault, unwanted sexual advances, and other forms of sexual coercion.
  • Financial Abuse: Financial abuse occurs when one partner controls or exploits the financial resources of the other to maintain power and control in the relationship. It can involve withholding money, preventing access to finances, forcing the victim to hand over control of financial assets, or sabotaging the victim's ability to work or access resources.
  • Stalking: Stalking involves repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, or surveillance directed towards a family or household member. This can include following the victim, making threatening or harassing phone calls, sending unwanted gifts or letters, or monitoring the victim's activities.
  • Psychological Abuse: Psychological abuse involves behaviors aimed at undermining the victim's self-esteem, self-worth, and mental well-being. This can include gaslighting (manipulating the victim into questioning their own reality), playing mind games, and using threats or intimidation to control the victim.

How Domestic Violence Can Affect Family Court Proceedings

Domestic violence can have significant implications for family law disputes in Florida. Here are some ways it can impact various aspects of family law:

  • Child Custody and Visitation: In cases where domestic violence is present, the court's primary concern is the safety and well-being of any children involved. Evidence of domestic violence can be a critical factor in determining child custody and visitation arrangements. The court may be reluctant to grant custody or unsupervised visitation to a parent with a history of domestic violence, as it could pose a risk to the child's safety. In some cases, the court may order supervised visitation or require the abusive parent to complete anger management or parenting classes before granting them any visitation rights.
  • Parental Rights: In extreme cases of domestic violence, the court may terminate the parental rights of the abusive parent if it is deemed to be in the best interests of the child. This typically occurs in situations where the abuse is severe, ongoing, and poses a significant risk to the child's safety and well-being.
  • Spousal Support: Domestic violence can also impact spousal support (alimony) awards in divorce cases. In Florida, courts consider various factors when determining spousal support, including the financial resources of each spouse and the standard of living established during the marriage. However, if one spouse has a history of domestic violence against the other, the court may be less likely to award spousal support to the abusive spouse, especially if the abuse contributed to the breakdown of the marriage.
  • Property Division: Florida follows equitable distribution laws when dividing marital property in divorce cases. However, if domestic violence played a role in the marriage, the court may take this into account when dividing assets and liabilities. For example, if one spouse used marital assets to fund their abusive behavior, the court may award a greater share of the marital property to the victimized spouse as compensation.
  • Protective Orders: In cases of domestic violence, the victimized spouse or family member may seek a protective order (restraining order) from the court to prohibit the abusive party from contacting or coming near them. These orders can also address issues such as child custody, visitation, and financial support. Violating a protective order can result in serious legal consequences for the abuser, including fines, jail time, and further restrictions on parental rights.

Leaving an Abuser? Take Necessary Precautions.

No two divorces are alike, and when you involve the presence of an abuser, the situation becomes even more unpredictable. The following list is not legal advice and if you are in an abusive relationship, it is strongly recommended that you call the police.

You should consider taking the following precautions:

  • Don't break the news in person – While this may seem cold, it is much safer dealing with an abusive spouse from a distance. If a telephone call is really not an option, have a friend in the house or standing nearby to act as a deterrent to your spouse.
  • Prepare an exit safety plan BEFORE discussing the divorce – If you think that there's a possibility that your abusive spouse will be angered by your decision to leave—and this is almost always the case—it's not a good idea to remain in the home after you break the news. If possible, have a place to go, like your parent's or a friend's house.
  • Make a police report – Keep case numbers. Police reports can be used as documented evidence in divorce and child custody proceedings. Even if you have to file the report surreptitiously and don't want to file arrest charges, contact your local police department and ask for an incident report.
  • Get a restraining order – Your spouse does not have to be charged in order for you to qualify for a temporary domestic violence injunction. Many of my clients have nowhere to move once they've announced their decision to divorce their spouses. A restraining order forces the respondent to vacate the residence, which solves the immediate residency problem.

It is also highly recommendable that you confide in a Jacksonville domestic violence lawyer. Everything you tell your lawyer is protected by the attorney-client privilege. It is in your best interest to be open and honest with the professional you've retained for his or her legal knowledge.

A divorce lawyer can't force you to disclose information to the police or to press charges. Don't be embarrassed to tell your attorney about abuses that have been committed against you. He or she will probably have a unique perspective.

Please contact us at (904) 770-3141 to learn how our firm can help you.

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