Ending a marriage can be difficult enough in itself. But if you are seeking a Texas divorce due to family violence the stakes can be considerably higher. In these situations, you are concerned about more than just getting a fair divorce; you also are concerned about your physical safety. The good news is that the law is on your side, and you do have options. So here are some key things to know about a Texas divorce due to family violence.
What is Family Violence?
In a marriage involving family violence, it is not unusual for the abusive spouse to maintain that you are not being abused. The person may insist that you are exaggerating, or that the abuse is a normal part of a marriage.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is an excellent resource for information on abusive relationships. They define domestic violence as “a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.” Here are just a few examples of domestic abuse:
- Hitting you, grabbing you, or destroying your belongings
- Making threats, including by phone, email, or other means
- Intimidating you with weapons
- Pressuring you to do sexual acts you do not want to do
- Trying to isolate you from other people
- Threatening to hurt or take away the children or your pets
The key thing to remember is that no one deserves to be treated this way. Family violence is always wrong, period.
What to Do Before You File for a Texas Divorce Due to Family Violence
In a “typical” divorce, you tell your spouse you want a divorce. Then you hire a family law attorney and file a petition for divorce. The legal process begins, and eventually, you get divorced.
In a divorce involving domestic violence, everything changes. Experts will tell you: The most dangerous time in an abusive marriage is when you are leaving it. Therefore, your first step must be to make a plan to leave the marriage safely. This includes not only you but your children, your pets—anyone who you think may be put in danger by your decision.
If you do talk with a divorce lawyer, be sure to tell that person right away that you are in a marriage involving family violence. The attorney can advise you on steps you can immediately to minimize the risk to you and your family. After all, you cannot discount the possibility that your spouse knows you are at the lawyer’s office.
Filing for a Texas Divorce Due to Family Violence
In Texas, you don’t need a “good reason” to get divorced. You can simply maintain that the marriage is no longer supportable, and the court will usually grant your request. This is why Texas is a “no-fault” divorce state.
However, if you are divorcing your spouse due to domestic abuse, it is not a no-fault divorce. You will need to provide evidence of the violence. This can include police reports, medical records, or photographs. If other people observed the abuse, they may be able to serve as witnesses. A trusted attorney can help you in identifying and gathering this information.
TIP: If you are considering getting a Texas divorce due to family violence, try to keep a log documenting the abuse. This will help your case in court. However, be sure to keep the log secret from your spouse.
Your Spouse Will Be Notified that You Are Filing for Divorce
A Texas divorce begins with filing a divorce petition. Once your attorney has filed the petition, your spouse will be “served papers.” This means your spouse will receive a copy of the divorce petition, along with any other documents you have filed.
If you are requesting divorce due to family violence, the documents will state this. This is another reason why you want to be in a safe place before you file for divorce. As we have said, leaving an abuser can be very dangerous. Do not underestimate how your spouse may react to news of the divorce.
In a Divorce Involving Family Violence, You Can Get a Temporary Restraining Order or Protective Order
If you have reason to be concerned for your safety, you can request a Protective Order or Temporary Restraining Order. A protective order states that your spouse stops abusive behavior. This can include harassment, stalking, and making threats. The order also can protect your family members or others living in your household.
A restraining order states that one individual cannot make contact with another, and may include specific actions that are prohibited. A temporary restraining order lasts for 14 days or until your temporary orders hearing, whichever comes first.
One big difference is that police do not have the authority to enforce a restraining order. However, they can enforce a protective order. If your spouse has been arrested for domestic violence, you may be able to request an Emergency Protective Order, which goes into effect immediately.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Texas Divorce Due to Family Violence?
Texas law requires that couples wait 60 days before the divorce is finalized. This is considered a “cooling off” period, so that the spouses can make sure they want to go through with ending the marriage.
However, the law provides an exception for a divorce involving domestic abuse. Your attorney can file a motion asking the judge to waive this 60-day waiting period due to family violence. This option has restrictions. In order to be eligible for an expedited (quick) divorce, your spouse must have been convicted of a charge due to family violence.
How Does a Texas Divorce Due to Family Violence Affect Child Custody?
A divorce due to domestic abuse can have a big impact on the court’s rulings on child custody. This is another reason why you want to be sure to share this information with your divorce lawyer.
In Texas, judges make custody decisions based on what they think is in the best interests of the children. In a case involving domestic violence, the judge is likely to allow your spouse to have only supervised visits with the kids.
However, if the violence has recently occurred, your spouse may not even be allowed this opportunity. He or she may have to wait an extended time before being allowed to see the children.
If You are Divorcing Someone Who Has Been Abusive, We Strongly Encourage You to Hire an Attorney
You probably already knew that you do not have to hire an attorney to get a divorce. In some situations, you can save some money but after seeing the problems that don’t get resolved in DIY divorces we cannot recommend that path.
In a case involving family violence, DIY is not a good choice. For one, as we have seen, these cases can be complicated and drag out longer than necessary. It can be very helpful to have an experienced family law attorney on your side—especially if you think you may need an immediate protective order.
Another benefit is that there is strength in numbers. If you are leaving someone who has been abusive, you want as many people on your side as possible. This can include your family, your friends, law enforcement, and a skilled attorney.
But perhaps the biggest benefit of hiring a family law attorney is that he or she can act as a buffer. Your lawyer will be the one communicating with your spouse about the divorce. If he or she hires a lawyer as well, then the two of them will work together directly on your case. And it’s possible that you will never have to speak or interact with your abusive spouse throughout the process. It is very hard to put a value on having this peace of mind.
In a Divorce Due to Family Violence, Hire an Experienced Fort Worth Law Firm
If you are divorcing someone who has been abusive, you already have a lot on your mind. Let the award-winning Fort Worth family law attorneys at Sabelhaus and Lynch law firm help you prepare your case. We have years of legal experience in Texas family law, serving clients throughout the Fort Worth area and dealing with cases involving domestic violence. For a no-cost, 30-minute case consultation, contact us today or call 817-668-5879.
Tarrant County Domestic Violence Hotline: 877-701-7233 (SAFE)
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233
Overview of domestic violence and abuse
Link to Tarrant County information on Protective Orders (tarrantcounty.com), 817-884-1623
SafeHaven website: SafeHaventc.org.