Court Says Wife Can’t Get Spousal Support Because of Domestic Violence Conviction – In re Marriage of Priem

A criminal conviction is a serious matter that may not only come with significant fines and even jail time, but also have other far reaching effects. For example, as California’s First District Court of Appeals explains in In re Marriage of Priem, a person convicted of domestic violence may be barred from obtaining spousal support in the event of a later divorce.The couple was married in 1999 and had two children before divorcing more than 10 years later. A trial court ordered Husband to pay Wife more than $14,000 per month in child support as well as a portion of her attorney’s fees. The court declined Wife’s request of spousal support, however, finding that she was not entitled to such support as a result of a history of domestic violence toward Husband. Specifically, the court noted that Wife plead no contest to a misdemeanor for battery committed against a spouse in May 2008.

On appeal, the First District explained that California law “creates a rebuttable presumption that spousal support requests are not to be granted to spouses who have been convicted of domestic violence during the five years preceding the filing of a petition for dissolution.” Essentially, according to the court, the law is designed to ensure that “victims of domestic violence not be required to finance their own abuse.” A reviewing court may consider the other spouse’s domestic violence history as well as any other factors that may weigh against the presumption in contemplating a specific spousal support request.

The Court rejected Wife’s argument that the trial court wrongly denied her support request based on the 2008 battery because she pleaded no contest to this crime.

Under Penal Code section 1016, a no contest plea cannot be considered an admission of the crime in a civil suit stemming from the act on which the plea was based. Criminal defendants plead no contest for a wide variety of reasons, including bargaining with prosecutors, and the law is designed so as to limit any disincentives to making the plea. Here, the Court found that the spousal support proceeding was not based on nor did it “grow out of” the alleged battery in 2008. As a result, the lower court did not err in denying Wife’s support request.

The Court further noted that Wife failed to produce any evidence to rebut the presumption that she was not entitled to support. Husband, on the other hand, offered proof of a pattern of abusive behavior going back to 2000, including several restraining orders imposed against her during this time and a second criminal conviction outside of the five year range. Indeed, Wife admitted that she struggled with anger management difficulties and that she had been physically violent toward Husband. While Wife argued that the history of abuse was mutual between she and her Husband, the First District found substantial evidence supporting the trial court’s decision that she failed to rebut the presumption.

Spousal support is just one of the wide array of legal issues that often arise when a spouse or couple decides to divorce. Fortunately, many of these matters can be resolved outside of contentious court proceedings by opting for alternatives like mediation and collaborative divorce. With offices throughout the Bay Area, California divorce lawyer Lorna Jaynes provides innovative legal tools to resolve family law disputes without the bitterness and acrimony engendered by the adversarial process.

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