California law allows a family court judge to deny or reduce spousal support payments in a divorce case when the spouse requesting or receiving the support has been convicted of domestic violence against the other spouse during the last five years. The law, set out in Section 4325 of the California Court of Appeals, was enacted in January 2004. The state’s Second District Court of Appeals recently explained that the law can nevertheless be applied retroactively to cover domestic abuse convictions before the statute went into effect.
Husband filed for divorce from Wife in July 2002. He alleged at the time that Wife had physically and verbally abused him roughly 200 times over the course of their marriage, including by punching him, threatening him with knives, and trying to push him down a flight of stairs. Wife was charged with a crime following an incident in 2000, in which Husband said he awoke to find her yelling at him and brandishing two knives. Wife proceeded to stab holes into the waterbed in which Husband had been sleeping, according to a police report, and Husband was cut in a struggle for the knives.
Husband and Wife entered into an agreement in 2004, under which they settled various property distribution issues and in which Husband agreed to pay Wife monthly spousal support. The appeals court later recounted that Wife continued to pepper Husband with profane and threatening text messages following their divorce, and she also harassed Husband’s fiancé. She violated restraining orders obtained by both Husband and the fiancé, according to the Court.
When Wife filed a motion seeking to increase the spousal support payments in 2011, Husband responded by asking a trial court to terminate the support payments under Section 4325. Although Wife’s’ 2000 arrest and conviction happened about before the law was enacted, the trial court said the law could be applied retroactively. The trial judge ordered that the support payments be terminated.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Second District held that Section 4325 should be applied retroactively in this case. “The general rule is that newly enacted Family Code sections apply retroactively,” the Court explained. Despite due process concerns raised by Wife, the Court said retroactive application serves significant state interests: public policies against domestic violence and in favor of equitable distribution in divorce cases. “There is nothing unfair about relieving a victim of domestic violence of an obligation that he provide financial support to his abuser,” the Court concluded.
Domestic abuse is a serious issue that occasionally arises in divorce cases. Courts, however, quite often erroneously determine both the fact and/or the severity of such abuse. For that reason, in some divorce cases where abuse is alleged but the parties are still able to sit down together to negotiate the terms of their divorce in a mediation or collaborative process, they can discuss to what extent there has been abuse, how it has harmed the family and the relationship, and how it may or may not factor into the decisions about property and support. These solutions, navigated and created by the parties themselves, are often superior to a court imposed solution. If you have been the victim of abuse or are considering seeking a divorce, it is important to seek the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney. With offices throughout the Bay Area, California divorce lawyer Lorna Jaynes approaches divorce cases as a problem to be solved, not a battle to be won. She handles each case personally, taking the time to understand each individual client’s needs and interests and explaining the various options for resolving these matters. Call us at (510) 795-6304 or contact us online to set up an appointment.
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