Domestic violence is an issue that often arises in many divorce cases, either before the divorce even starts or during the divorce proceedings. Unfortunately, when one spouse is being abused by the other, that can make a complicated and difficult process even more so for the parties. Before an attorney can access the impact the domestic violence might have on the divorce case, they need to determine what domestic violence is occurring.
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Illinois Law on Domestic Violence
Illinois law defines domestic violence as an abusive act perpetrated against a family member or anyone living in the abuser’s house. Besides physical violence, domestic violence can also include interference with personal liberties, harassment, and deliberate deprivation. The abuse can be physical, like hitting or punching, but also verbal/emotional, like constant screaming, yelling and swearing, or stalking, gaslighting, teasing, etc. The abuse can also be sexual, where the abuser will force their partner or spouse to engage in sexual activity against their will or force them to continue sexual acts even after they withdrew their consent.
Divorce When Domestic Violence Is Involved
Illinois is a no-fault state when it comes to filing for divorce. That means that when you file your petition for divorce, the only reason for the divorce you can allege is irreconcilable differences. A court can also not use the fact that there is domestic violence to decide if one spouse gets more or less property in the divorce. However, if the domestic violence included financial abuse by the spouse, the Court may consider that in determining if the spouse being abused requires more financial support.
Domestic Violence When Children are Involved
The impact of domestic violence in a divorce is often felt the most when there are children involved. If there is an order of protection in place already against the abusive spouse, with the children as protected parties, often the Court will need an outside party, like a Guardian ad Litem, or “GAL”, appointed to advocate for what is in the best interests of the children and to investigate the alleged abuse against them. The GAL can also recommend to the Court what, if any, parenting time or role the abusive spouse will have in the child or children’s lives.
If there is no order of protection in place, a GAL can still be appointed to investigate and make a recommendation to the Court as to what the parenting time schedule should be and who should make decisions for the minor children. Most likely, the abuser and the abused spouse will be unable to make decisions together for the children due to the abusive relationship. The GAL and the Court will have to access how the parents will communicate and how they can both be parents to the children without much contact between them.
Technology Apps Help Communication When Domestic Violence Issues
There are certain apps that the Court uses for parents who cannot communicate or who have domestic violence issues. These are called Talking Parents and Our Family Wizard. These allow the parents to communicate without worrying that:
- (1) one parent might delete messages (they are not able to with these apps) to manipulate the messages that are sent,
- (2) that the other parent might harass them via this communication as the attorneys in the case, usually have access to the accounts and can view the messages, and
- (3) that they have to exchange any information in person or over the phone. Abusers often text or call their spouse or ex-spouse repeatedly to try to harass them, with a communication app that hopefully eliminates that harassing behavior.
The parenting time schedule for the parties with the children should also be prepared with the domestic violence issue in mind, especially if there is an order of protection in place. Parenting exchanges, if they have to take place with both parties there, should be completed at a public place, and possibly a police station so that there are cameras and the spouse who was the victim of the abuse feels secure and safe. An order of protection can be modified to allow this minimal contact in person at a police station to be able to exchange the children. However, sometimes it’s not the best for the children to see that the exchanges are occurring at a police station, and other arrangements might need to be made. The parenting time schedule could be drafted in such a way that all drop-offs and pick-ups occur at school or after school, or even after activities or daycare. This would ensure there is minimal to no contact between the parents during exchanges.
Filing for Divorce When Domestic Violence Is a Factor
If you are planning to file for divorce and you are a victim of domestic violence and/or you have an Order of Protection in place against your abuser protecting yourself, your children, or both, make sure you talk to a divorce attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced on the subject, like those at Anderson and Boback, to help guide you through this difficult time in your life.