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Although there are laws in place that are designed to protect victims of domestic violence, millions of Americans still suffer abuse at the hands of loved ones each year. Domestic violence is a factor that is taken into consideration in some divorce cases, but it can be challenging to understand how the law works and how these factors may influence your divorce. Your divorce attorney can explain how domestic violence may affect your case and help you find ways to protect yourself if you are still dealing with a violent or threatening partner. It is also critical to have an attorney represent your interests if you have been accused of domestic violence.

Note: If you are located in the Southeast PA or Northern Delaware, get legal representation from the area’s leading divorce attorneys here.

Types of Divorce in PA

The majority of divorces in Pennsylvania and other states are no-fault, which means that both parties have mutually agreed to separate or one party has waited the required amount of time to divorce without the other party’s consent. Divorce on fault grounds requires one party to show that their spouse committed an act such as abandonment, adultery, cruel and barbarous treatment, bigamy, or other acts. Depending on the specific circumstances, physical and mental abuse may be considered cruel and barbarous treatment, so it can have a significant impact on your divorce if you file on fault grounds.

How Domestic Violence may Affect Division of Marital Property and Alimony

Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state, but this does not mean that assets are always split 50/50. A judge may decide to award a larger share of a marital estate to a spouse who has been a victim of domestic violence, especially if the abuser’s behavior had an impact on the couple’s finances. For example, if an abuser’s actions prevented their spouse from holding a job, the victim may be awarded a larger portion of marital assets. Domestic abuse may also be a factor when determining alimony amounts, particularly if an abused spouse was financially dependent on the other or the abuser caused them financial harm. A spousal support attorney can determine what you may be entitled to and work to ensure you receive a fair settlement and alimony, if applicable.

Domestic Abuse & Child Custody

In matters surrounding child custody, the court’s priority is the child’s best interest. If it can be shown that one spouse was abusive to another, the abuser is usually less likely to obtain custody of the children, even if the children were unaware of the abuse. If your spouse has been abusive, the court may prohibit overnight visits, require supervised visitation, and order that all exchanges of the children are conducted in a public place like a police station. If the abuse is extreme or your spouse also abused the children, a judge may not allow any visitation at all. If you believe your children are at risk, it is vital to have a good child custody lawyer who is well-versed in the law and who will fight to protect your children’s safety. Your lawyer can also help you file for a Protection from Abuse order (PFA) for you and your children if necessary.

Settling a Divorce Out of Court

Proof of domestic abuse can also give you leverage if an abusive spouse wants to keep their behavior from coming to light in a courtroom. A skilled Pennsylvania divorce attorney may be able to negotiate an advantageous settlement without ever having to take your case to trial.

How an Attorney Can Help

If you are divorcing an abusive spouse, it is important to have someone to act as your staunch advocate. A seasoned divorce lawyer can assess your case and advise you on the best course of action to stay safe, develop a strategy to hold your spouse accountable, and protect your rights.

If you are being abused or know someone who needs help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.