How Can Domestic Violence Affect Spousal Support?

After a particularly difficult marital separation involving allegations of domestic violence, an intense legal process may ensue to settle matters such as child custody and spousal support. California’s divorce laws will affect these proceedings, especially the fact that it is a no-fault divorce state. If you and your spouse are going through a divorce that involves a history of domestic violence, here’s what to know about the legal process in California.

California as a No-Fault Divorce State

States are either fault or no-fault (or a mix of the two) when it comes to divorces statutes. In California, all divorces are no-fault. As a no-fault divorce state, this means that one spouse does not have to prove the other did something wrong to qualify for a dissolution of marriage. It is not necessary, for example, to prove one needs a divorce because the other spouse is abusive. Instead, the couple can cite no-fault reasons such as “irreconcilable differences” or separation for a certain period.

No-fault rules not only mean a couple can divorce without one spouse’s fault, but also that the courts will not consider fault when deciding on the stipulations of a divorce. It will not matter if one spouse had an affair, had a substance addiction, or has a history of domestic violence – the courts will distribute marital property the same way no matter what. One glaring exception, however, is how the courts decide on spousal support in California. If domestic violence was present during the marriage, this fact can impact a spousal support order rather significantly.

How Do the Courts Decide Spousal Support Payments?

Spousal support orders serve to provide the spouse with lesser means with financial benefits so that he or she can retain the same quality of life he/she enjoyed during the marriage. The courts may award spousal support if a disparity exists between the educations, work experiences, careers, or incomes between the two spouses – especially if the disparity is there because one spouse gave up career or education opportunities to stay home and care for children within the marriage. Spousal support evens the playing field between both parties.

When deciding on a spousal support agreement, the court must consider a variety of factors according to California Family Code Section 4320. This statute offers a list of circumstances the courts must consider, including the supported party’s marketable skills, education, training, present or future earning capacity, contributions he/she made to the other spouse, and the needs and assets of each party. The courts will also consider the length of the marriage and the ages and health of both spouses. Section 4320(i) is the specific provision that touches on domestic violence and spousal support.

According to the law, the courts must consider documented evidence of a history of domestic violence between the two parties or from one party against the other party’s child. Domestic violence can include physical harm as well as emotional distress. This section of the law also creates a way for one party to argue against awarding spousal support to an abusive spouse. In other words, if the victim can provide enough evidence of domestic violence, he or she can convince the courts not to award spousal support to the abusive party.

How to Navigate Your Divorce Case

Spousal support is already a difficult part of many divorce cases in California. Domestic violence charges or even allegations can complicate the matter further. Work with a Sacramento divorce lawyer on complex cases involving support issues and criminal histories. A lawyer can help you argue for or against spousal support in a case involving domestic violence, depending on your stance. Since domestic violence can significantly affect spousal support awards, having a lawyer by your side is critical.