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How a judge assesses evidence in divorce that involves domestic abuse

One of the more straightforward responsibilities that a judge has is to review the evidence submitted, decide what will be included in the official record and then render a decision based on the evidence admitted. When we are considering a situation where you have been abused by your spouse, there is the potential for your spouse to use this standard against you in order to keep allegations of your abuse under wraps.

Abusive spouses can convince abused spouses that nobody is going to believe him or her. Ultimately family law cases come down to a consideration of the evidence presented by both parties. If your evidence of the ongoing abuse is testimony from witnesses, your spouse may just as easily be able to find witnesses to agree with their side of the story- that no abuse is occurring. That a judge may get involved with a back and forth war of words between the parties and their witnesses is a bad set up for you as the victim-spouse.

Fortunately, most judges understand the nature of how evidence is presented in a trial or hearing and how that can help an abusive spouse and hurt the abused spouse.

As we have discussed in prior blog posts on this subject, abusive spouses will try to influence the judge through their testimony as well. If you have a judge that understands these competing issues and can see through them, it is possible for you to get the protection for you and your children that you need.

What if your spouse alleges that you committed acts of violence against him or her?

A common method that abusive spouses will utilize in hearings or trials in order to take the pressure off of them is to attempt to deflect attention onto you as the non-abusive spouse. Do not be surprised if your spouse attempts to argue that you also engaged in domestic violence.

This may come as a surprise, especially if you are a woman who has never lifted a finger against your husband throughout your entire marriage. Believe me- I have seen towering, huge men assert that their wives are, in fact, the abuser in the relationship. They will do so with a straight face and a convincing story. Do not allow a potential situation like this to hold you back from making your own, valid claims of abuse against your spouse.

Judges need to have a keen eye for this type of behavior in order to ensure that it does not impact their final decision making in your case. A judge will do their best to figure out if any of the acts of violence that have been alleged are part of a larger pattern of emotional or physical abuse. Also, even if your spouse tells a credible story about you acting aggressively towards him or her, a judge can look to see if that physical act was a response to ongoing abuse by your spouse against you.

Overall, the judge will need to determine just how controlling the abuse has been towards you and your child. If it is clear that your spouse is using abuse to control you and your child and that it has been occurring for an extended period of time then a judge can make a fair decision in your case.

In many cases, you may be able to tell a judge of repeated instances of violence that you have suffered through at the hands of your spouse. If all your spouse can come up with are some scratches suffered when you were attempting to fend him or her off of you then you should not worry about any allegations that you were the aggressor in the relationship.

How a judge will ensure that you and your spouse are able to co-exist together in the courtroom

In my experience as a family law attorney, I can tell you that spouses like yourself that have been the victims of domestic abuse want nothing more than to never deal with their spouse or to see him/her ever again. While this is an understandable sentiment, the fact remains that as long as there is a contested divorce that is ongoing you will need to come into at least indirect contact with your spouse.

If your case makes its way before a judge you will be standing and sitting nearby your spouse, as difficult as it may be. Clients have asked me before how to conduct themselves in these situations. I will tell them to act normally as possible, and that the judge will do their best to ensure a healthy environment in the courtroom.

For starters, attorneys are always instructed by judges to treat one another with respect- this means opposing counsel and the opposing party. Do not expect your attorney to verbally attack your spouse. Expect your attorney to be stern, tough and adamant about representing you and your rights but do not expect your attorney to put on a cape and act like a literal superhero. That is not their role. Their role is to represent you and your interests and to be professional while doing so. You can accomplish your goals without stepping over the line.

Your spouse and their attorney will not be able to bully you, or your attorney. Judges are very keen to the idea that often times the party with domestic violence allegations will come out “swinging” in an attempt to deflect and take attention away from their bad behavior. This strategy will typically not work and can backfire on abusive spouses.

If your spouse is sarcastic or disrespectful to you, odds are that he or she will be that way towards your attorney and court personnel, also. Attorneys spend time coaching clients on how to conduct themselves in a courtroom as part of the preparation for hearings or trials. However, if your spouse feels like he or she has the right to abuse you it is possible that he or she also feels like they can talk to people however they want to as well. Judges will usually nip this in the bud quickly and not allow foolishness like this to occur with any regularity.

When a hearing has concluded

In order to ensure the safety of both parties to a case, I will usually chat with one of our clients in the courtroom after the judge and the opposing party has left. This way we can allow the opposing party to leave the area first so that the two parties do not have to see or speak to one another.

This practice of mine is doubly important if there is a history of abuse between the parties. I will do whatever I can to ensure you are kept out of immediate harm’s way. Doing this also allows you as the client to ask me questions about the hearing and to discuss any issues that you had with the judge’s ruling. Once your questions have been answered we will walk out of the courtroom together.

Temporary and Emergency Orders- tomorrow’s blog post topics

Family law attorneys meet with clients with some frequency who have terrible stories of their children or themselves having suffered abuse by a spouse. In those situations, a temporary orders hearing will need to be set up as quickly as possible, or in extreme circumstances, an emergency hearing may need to be sought. We will discuss these topics in tomorrow’s blog post in greater detail.

If you have any immediate questions about divorce, domestic violence or any other subject in Texas family law please contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. Our licensed family law attorneys are eager to meet with you in a free of charge consultation where your questions can be addressed and answered.

These consultations are available six days a week and can go a long ways towards reassuring you about your situation and helping you to develop a game-plan to begin achieving your goals.

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