Family Law Court – How Women Get Abused Again by the System

I am a family law attorney and have represented both perpetrators and victims of domestic violence.   Depending on which court system your matter is filed in (i.e.: Criminal, Dependency or Family) makes a difference in how both the victim and the perpetrator are treated.

If you are a victim of domestic violence and the perpetrator was arrested and charged with a crime, you should be protected against the abuser by the criminal court system, either by having the perpetrator arrested and/or charged with a crime.  You should also get a restraining order which precludes perpetrator from having any contact with you in person, by phone, e-mail and other electronic media avenues.  The threat of spending additional time in jail usually persuades a batterer not to re-offend during the criminal case.

However, if you file a restraining order in family law court, you don’t get the same protections, and the perpetrator, can and usually will, make accusations against the victim.   In addition, the domestic violence incidents may not carry the same weight as they do in criminal or in dependency court.  There are only a few legal protections in family court and the victim often has to endure additional abuse by the perpetrator in family court.   See for example, the article entitled Key Differences Between the Family Court and Criminal Court Systems written by Women’s Justice Center which can be found at www.justicewomen.com.

What about the women who are in abusive relationships but have never called the police.  These women have no legal documentation of past abuse and most likely have no physical evidence of the abuse unless pictures were taken and witnesses are available to corroborate  Sometimes there are no visible injuries but the abuse occurred.   Often these women are embarrassed and feel a great deal of shame for the abuse and do not want to file charges against their spouse or partner.

Similarly, women who are married to police officers or other men with power, and suffer physical and emotional abuse, see that their spouse is rarely prosecuted.  Even when these women called the police, because of their abuser’s profession, they were able to talk their way out of a fellow officer filing a police report and forwarding the charges to prosecutors.  Often these victims are pressured not to report the abuse because it will ruin the abuser’s career and therefore the financial status of the couple.

Additionally, a lot of women also find themselves in emotionally abusive relationships which are very close to crossing the line into physical abuse.  Some women in dysfunctional and emotionally abusive relationships may think that leaving the abuser will solve the problem.  Little do they know that leaving an abusive and controlling spouse does not end the abuse when the couple has children.  The abuse continues in family court where the abuser can launch his own accusations against the victim.   In these cases, victims leave the abuser and then fight a bruising custody battle in family court.  Allegations of abuse are more common in family law cases and judges rarely see the abuse as seriously as a criminal court judge.  Especially when there are no police reports or restraining orders documenting the prior abuse.

Unfortunately, if you choose to leave an abusive marriage with no documentation of past abuse, you get abused all over again in family court.  You are forced to prove to the court that the other person is abusive and that it is in the best interest of the children that you have sole custody.  If the mother was a stay at home parent and the perpetrator was the bread winner, the father has all the power in the divorce.  These men can make the divorce last years and file motion after motion to reduce spousal and child support.  The abusive spouse again has all the power and can drag the victim through the mud, so to speak.

Currently, in Los Angeles and surrounding counties, judges are not ordering the breadwinners, to pay their spouse’s attorney fees.   This puts the victim in a power struggle all over again and forces the victim to defend themselves from allegations made by the perpetrator.  Even after these couples are divorced and custody has been decided, the abuse continues because the perpetrator may continue to try and control the mother of their children by dragging them back to court to fight ongoing custody and support disputes.

Father’s rights groups and current social beliefs may incorrectly think that women are equal to men in their education and earning capacity, however; as stated in numerous studies and by the government, women on average earn 17% to 30% less than men earn.  Typically, women who work outside the home, also do more tasks in the home than the fathers that work do.

Despite the above, family court treats each party equally even though the parties are not on equal footing financially.  White men still make more than any other segment in this society with minority men behind them and white and minority women on the bottom.  Judges used to order the breadwinner (usually the father) pay the other parties attorney fees.  Now, the courts rarely order one party to pay the other party’s attorney fees unless there is a big discrepancy.  Divorces for middle class couples who are contesting custody and support issues can run anywhere from $50.00 to $100,000 or more.  How is a mother without a career, or a mother who earns less than their spouse, supposed to be on equal footing with a spouse who was the breadwinner and whose wages are his separate property after the date of legal separation?

I am writing about these issues because I have personal experience with some of these issues in my own divorce and I have close friends who have gone through this as well.  I believe the family court system needs to be overhauled and the courts, attorneys and government employees need more education on these issues.

Please contact my office if you need assistance in family, criminal or dependency court.  I can assist you with filing a Restraining Order and in fighting for custody of your children.