STAYING SAFE IS MOST IMPORTANT AND YOUR TOP PRIORITY
If you are in an emotionally abusive marriage, you are in a vulnerable position due to that abuse, and your divorce will have unique nuances and challenges. But first things first. If you are experiencing emotional abuse from your spouse, please take steps to protect yourself and your children. An excellent starting point is the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which can provide you with resources and help to make sure you stay protected. In addition, you can do these things to stay safe:
o Secure your Home. Make sure all doors and windows lock. Peruse the perimeter of your home – is there any place an abuser could hide without you noticing? If so, remove that obstacle. If you have to l
eave your home in a hurry, could you exit your home and or driveway safely?
o Children: If there are children in the home, make a safety plan with them.
- Instruct them to leave the home if possible when things begin to escalate, and where they can go
- Come up with a code word that you can say when they need to leave the home in case of an emergency — make sure that they know not to tell others what the secret word means
- In the house: Identify a room they can go to when they’re afraid and something they can think about when they’re scared
- Instruct them to stay out of the kitchen, bathroom and other areas where there are items that could be used as weapons
- Teach them that although they want to protect their parent, that they should never intervene
- Help them to make a list of people that they are comfortable talking and expressing themselves to
- Enroll them in a counseling program (local service providers often have children’s programs)
o Pets: Abusers often take their aggression or threats out on the animals, as a way to keep you in line and to warn you that harm will befall you and the animals unless you comply with the abuser’s demands. Make sure to pack a few days’ worth of food for your pet in your safety kit, the collar, leash and vaccine records.
o Pre-Packing: Finally, when packing a bag, consider including keepsakes, journals or other evidence of emotional abuse in your marriage, spare car keys, phone chargers, and other essentials you may need once you leave. It’s important you keep this bag in a place where your abuser wouldn’t look for it, such as at a friend or neighbor’s home, or at your place of work.
ALARMING STATISTICS ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Domestic violence is a serious crime against society. Thousands of persons in New Jersey are regularly emotionally abused in their marriage, beaten, tortured and in some cases even killed by their spouses or cohabitants. A significant number of women who are assaulted are pregnant. Victims of domestic violence come from all social and economic backgrounds and ethnic groups. There is a positive correlation between spousal abuse and child abuse. Children, even when they are not themselves physically assaulted, suffer deep and lasting emotional effects from exposure to domestic violence. Our most vulnerable citizens, the elderly and disabled, are especially at risk because of incidents of abuse and neglect often go unreported.
In the past, acts of domestic violence have received different treatment from similar crimes when they occur in a domestic context. It was against this backdrop that the New Jersey Legislature passed the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act in 1991. Let me share with you some alarming statistics about domestic violence showing that despite the enactment of the law in 1991 this still continues in huge numbers.
- There were 62,055 domestic violence offenses reported by the police in 2014. That’s one incident every 8 minutes and 47 seconds.
- There were 44 murders that occurred in a domestic context.
- Assaults accounted for 43% of the domestic violence acts reported.
- Harassment also accounted for 43% of the acts reported (the most insidious form of abuse because it bears no scars and is invisible).
- The most frequent day for domestic violence occurrences is Sunday between 8pm and midnight.
- Children are present 29% of the time.
- Females are victims 75% of the time.
- 10,840 of the total 62,000 domestic violence complaints were committed by repeat offenders.
- Alcohol and/or drugs were involved in 26% of the reported offenses.
EMOTIONALLY ABUSIVE MARRIAGE: GETTING PROTECTION FROM THE COURT
If you are in an emotionally abusive marriage, to obtain protection from the court from your spouse in New Jersey, you can either go to your local police station, call 911, or go to the family court in the Superior Court of the county in which you live. They will have you fill out a sworn statement about the emotional abuse you are suffering in your marriage. They will put you in touch with a judge who will determine if you qualify for a temporary restraining order. TROs are granted frequently. Final restraining orders are harder to get.
To get a final restraining order in New Jersey, the court must make the following findings:
- You are a protected person under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act:
- Spouse or former spouse;
- Present or former household member;
- Have a child or are pregnant with a child in common with your abuser; or
- Had a dating relationship with your abuser.
- That an act of domestic violence as defined in the Act was committed by your abuser; and
- You need a final restraining order to protect yourself from future acts of harm by your abuser. The court determines the need for protection by looking at any history of domestic violence by your abuser against you.
PROVING EMOTIONAL ABUSE IN DIVORCE
An emotionally abusive marriage would most likely fall under the category of harassment as domestic violence. A person commits an act of harassment if:
- Makes, or causes to be made, a communication or communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm;
- Subjects another to striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so; or
- Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person.
Emotional abuse in a marriage in the form of name-calling, vulgarity, threats of harm, economic isolation, following you from room to room, not letting you leave the room or the house, blocking your car in the driveway, stealing your cell phone, car keys or handbag, etc. all fall under the category of harassment and are protected under the Act.
DIVORCING AN EMOTIONALLY ABUSIVE SPOUSE
In New Jersey, the general rule is that abuse does not alter the economic outcome of your divorce. New Jersey is a no-fault state and therefore acts of emotional abuse in your marriage do not get you more support or more assets. The court will not financially punish your abuser in a divorce, except in rare circumstances. If the abuse you have suffered manifests itself in serious mental illness, PTSD, or other psychological or physical harm, you can in New Jersey sue your spouse in your divorce for personal injuries resulting from that emotional abuse in your marriage. We call these types of personal injury claims, Tevis claims.
If you are experiencing emotional abuse in your marriage and want to divorce, let the attorneys at DeTorres & DeGeorge help you through this process.