Domestic violence is a dangerous and toxic element to any relationship. When it comes to marriage, unaddressed domestic violence issues don’t have happy endings. While death, injury, protective orders, and imprisonment are the most palpable outcomes; there are several legal impacts that can occur when a violent marriage ends.
Divorce from Bed and Board
Domestic violence can provide a basis for an involuntary legal separation. A divorce from bed and board is not a divorce; it is essentially a court-ordered separation when only one spouse wants the marriage to end. If one spouse can prove that the other engaged in conduct such as “cruel” and “barbarous” treatment that endangers the other’s life, then the spouse can obtain a temporary order from the court. This provides for orders for the safety of the spouse and children, for who can live in the marital residence, for property division and protection, for spousal support, and for child custody.
Post-Separation Support and Alimony
While domestic violence does not factor into the right to obtain an absolute divorce or the division of marital property when a marriage ends, it can significantly impact spousal support. When a married couple separates, a dependent spouse can seek: (1) post-separation support between the separation date and the finalization of the divorce or entry of an alimony order; and (2) alimony for an extended period of time after the divorce is finalized. Marital misconduct is one of the oft-contested factors that a court can consider when deciding the amount and duration of a spousal support award. While there is no magic formula to predict just how much domestic violence will impact an alimony award, marital misconduct is the first factor listed in the North Carolina statute that provides for alimony.
Significantly, courts put great weight on evidence of domestic violence when it comes to child custody decisions. Domestic violence is dangerous to children and exposes them to physical and emotional harm. Judges understand this and consider domestic violence in determining custody schedules for children. . Tasked with determining the best interest of children in custody cases, courts will weigh limiting or restricting the access and rights of a parent the judge believes has committed acts of domestic violence.