Domestic abuse does not lead to easy divorce

The NY Times ran a piece in May that details the harrowing experience of several women who suffered long term abuse in their marriages, yet were met with serious obstacles when trying to get their divorces that resulted in long delays and greater danger.

Domestic violence survivors are met with a number of obstacles when they try to leave their homes and marriages. The financial costs are often too steep for these women to afford, the legal system is complex and difficult to navigate without an attorney, and the spouse seeking the divorce must find their abuser and serve them with divorce papers. Not easy for all the women (especially but not solely) who end up in hiding, often in shelters for battered women. Often their spouses cannot be located, and the process of seeking divorce can stretch out years.

Divorce can be costly, emotionally and financially, for those who are not in abusive relationships. However when someone is, the cost goes way up and too often the victim has no money or other resources of their own to fall back on. The lucky ones have supportive family who can help them out with everything from housing to hiring and retaining a lawyer—but for the poor these resources often don’t exist. Then there are the spouses whose immigration status is shaky. They are at the highest risk due to a fear of getting involved with the legal system.

Lawyer fees can start in $6,000 to $7,000 range, which may as well be a million dollars for a woman with part time work and/or children to care for. If custody and dividing assets are involved, the costs can be much higher. When divorce is delayed the abuser will still have a say if the victim is hospitalized or needs medical treatment or care, decisions regarding the children will also be made by the abuser—and if a victim moves on to a new relationship, any children that result from it are legally considered to be the child of the spouse, regardless of whether they are or not. So long term separation is not a solution.

Some cities and municipalities have organizations that provide fee legal assistance to abused spouses seeking divorce. However there are just not enough lawyers and too often victims do not know where to find these resources. Abusers will also deliberately drag out the divorce, keeping their victims tied to them as the divorce process stalls and drags on. Some just disappear.

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