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How spousal abuse impacts Texas divorces

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One of the first things to know about spousal abuse is that it's grounds for divorce in Texas. If you're someone who is being abused in a marriage, and you want to get out of the marriage, the Texas Family Code allows you to do that.

Chapter 71 specifically defines family violence, which includes "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 a threat that reasonably places a person in fear of that. And in Chapter 6 of the Texas Family Code, "cruelty" is among the grounds for divorce listed.

There are other grounds for divorce, such as adultery, where it may be harder to prove that the action took place. Yet, both adultery and cruelty fall under the category of "fault," and in Texas divorces where this is fault - based on what the Texas Supreme Court has ruled - a judge may divide an estate factoring in that fault.

That could mean, depending on the judge and the situation, a split of 70/30 or 60/40 rather than 50/50. A key 1981 ruling on the issue considered what could have resulted from the continuation of the marriage in dividing the estate. Earning capacities, how much separate property they have, and fault can also factor in.

Another important consideration in these divorces - one we've considered before on this blog - is how it impacts spousal maintenance. Though spousal maintenance is generally associated with marriages lasting 10 years or more, it can apply to marriages of any length of time if family violence is involved and the obligor spouse has been convicted or received deferred adjudication for a crime involving family violence during the divorce proceeding or two years prior to filing..

Spousal maintenance, of course, is intended to transition a person from a marriage to self-support, and a judge will always consider the plan a person has to get there in awarding spousal maintenance. But people in marriages with family violence present need to go into their divorces knowing that 10-year threshold doesn't apply.

With respect to children, judges will typically award joint managing conservator status to each parent in a divorce. It is possible, depending on the level of family violence present in the marriage, to award one parent sole managing conservator status. That's a big step for a judge to make though, as it brings an unequal distribution of rights and duties along with it. It's an even bigger leap to deny a parent his or her parental rights. It may be more likely for a parent with a history of family violence to have supervised visitation as opposed to no access at all.

If a person experiencing spousal abuse is contemplating divorce, it should also include a plan that tries to keep everyone involved safe as the divorce process is initiated. At the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance, we've worked with a number of people who experience family violence, and have helped them put plans in place to help them stay safe. We take these cases very seriously, and we're committed to helping families get past these dire situations as a fierce but compassionate law firm.

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