Being charged with domestic violence signals the start of a long criminal case ahead. Often, it coincides with the dissolving of a relationship as well.
Even if your spouse doesn’t pursue charges or testify, it is possible to undergo simultaneous state criminal prosecution for domestic violence and civil proceedings for divorce. To put it in understated terms, you might suddenly have a lot on your plate.
Read on to understand how the state views divorce, custody, and spousal maintenance (also known as alimony) in light of domestic violence charges.
Domestic Violence and Divorce in Colorado
Colorado is a “no-fault” divorce state. “At-fault” would mean that one spouse must prove the other did something wrong to merit divorce.
“No-fault” allows divorce for pretty much any reason given. It could be as general as “irreconcilable differences”.
Colorado defines “domestic violence” as violence or threatened violence between intimate partners. Partners don’t have to be married to be considered “intimate”. Of course, the abuser and victim are or were married in situations where the charges interplay with an unfolding divorce.
Domestic violence charges might affect your separation in the following ways.
Contact with the Spouse
Your spouse might request a protective order, temporary or permanent. They may even ask a judge to grant a stay-away order, which eliminates all opportunity for contact.
As you can imagine, divorce communications become much more difficult when you can’t directly contact your spouse/ex-spouse.
You might have to send messages only through lawyers or hire a mediator. Official methods of contact will almost always be more expensive than if you could just pick up the phone to talk out issues.
This becomes especially hairy when children are involved.
The courts do take domestic violence charges into account when divvying out “parental responsibility”, Colorado’s alternative term to sole or joint custody.
The good news: criminal charges aren’t the deciding factor. Colorado generally operates on the belief that it’s healthy for children to spend time with both parents.
The realistic news: time spent with each parent does not have to be equal. The judge may remove primary responsibility from the aggressor in a domestic violence case. This means you may end up only with limited visitation rights.
The graver the charges, usually, the more restricted visitations become. You might only be allowed to see your kids in a supervised way—sometimes at a police station.
Be prepared to jump through hoops and follow rules in order to maintain contact with your children.
Division of Assets
Courts may favor domestic violence victims when assigning assets, like your house, car, and savings account. If they perceive that the victim was deprived of financial gain or stability because of the abuse, they will allot a greater portion of the shared property to them.
As we discussed above, it’s likely that the domestic violence victim will receive more parental responsibility than the aggressor. With that comes the need for alimony from the parent with less responsibility.
A similar slant applies when the court decides on spousal maintenance payments. They will try to balance out how the abuse undercut the spouse’s ability to make money or establish financial independence. Sometimes, the courts will also ask for a higher spousal maintenance payment even if the abuse was not specifically financial or forcing dependency.
As the court determines how your domestic violence charges will shape your divorce, they take certain factors into account:
- The type of domestic abuse – how serious or dangerous are the charges?
- The level of domestic abuse – how long did the violence last?
- Substantial evidence of guilt – how much are the charges supported by facts?
- Impact on victim’s earning capacity – was the victim financially deprived because of abuse, i.e. physically or mentally unable to work?
- The victim’s patience & effort – if the victim tried to wait out the abusive behavior and make the marriage work, this casts them in a positive light in the court’s eyes.
At this point, it’s best to save your financial resources for the road ahead. You may also want to seek counseling to work on anger or other emotional issues that might have enabled abusive behavior. Your decisions will be under the lens of the court as it determines your divorce outcome.
About the Author:
Andrew Bryant is a well-respected Colorado Springs criminal attorney who has been practicing in the area for years. A Colorado native, he returned to the home he loves after graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law. Now, he uses the knowledge he gained as an El Paso County District Attorney to fight tirelessly for his clients’ rights. He is AV-Preeminent rated, has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, and has been named to Best of the Springs lists by The Gazette for years.