Unfortunately, family violence is too common in our world, and it shows up often in divorces. As divorce professionals, it’s important to understand the different ways it reveals itself, and what can be done to deal with it.
First, it’s important to understand what consists of “family violence” or “domestic violence”. The Texas Family Code defines it this way: an act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself (there is also a category which relates to dating violence, as well as other types of violence towards children).
You can see that this definition of “family violence” is pretty extreme, requiring actual physical harm or serious, credible threats. Family violence which meets this definition occurs in marriages and shows up in divorce. But there is a broader view of family violence, which we see much more often, including verbal, financial, emotional and spiritual abuse (see Genesis Women’s Shelter’s discussion of these at this link: https://www.genesisshelter.org/beherfirststep/). These other types of domestic violence are generally much more hidden from the world than the physical but are often just as damaging to the victims.
When we meet with someone who’s been the victim of family violence, we often find that out in the first call, or first meeting, with our team. Depending on the goals of the client, and the type and severity of the family violence, we recommend various steps to deal with it. First, of course, we want to make sure the client is safe.
This can be as simple as making sure the parties aren’t living in the same residence, and limiting communication completely (or to written communication where appropriate and needed). Or in serious situations, which meet the requirements of the statute, we will seek a Protective Order.
Protective Orders are the strongest protections for the victim (other than incarceration of the perpetrator) but are not always available because of the definition of family violence in the Family Code. After safety, we work with the client to see if the domestic violence impacts other issues in their case, such as custody or access to children and division of the marital estate.
But we’ve learned that we can’t always rely on our client’s spoken answers about safety and actions to take, as a common characteristic of abuse is the victim’s loss of power, loss of will, or skewed perspective on the level of danger to them. Our best ally in this is a therapist for the client (or a support organization, such as Genesis Women’s Shelter), but we often end up playing a good part of that role as well.
And some clients never mention the abuse at all, or not until much further into the divorce when it may come out somewhat by accident. Between our proactive approach to discovering abuse and the help of a good therapist, hopefully, all of our clients are getting the support and protection they need.
Domestic violence (or family violence) is an unfortunately common situation, but with the right legal approach, and a good therapist or support group, it can be dealt with appropriately, and the victim can move toward long-term healing and happiness. That’s what we like to see.