Proposed Change to Divorce Law for Abused Spouses

Deciding to file for divorce is not an easy decision, and many people put a lot of thought into taking that step and communicating their intention to their partner. This emotional process is greatly compounded in situations where one spouse is abusive toward the other, and the abused spouse may have great fears about the abuser discovering plans to divorce. This is especially true if the couple has children or has recently moved to another state. One lawmaker in Florida is hoping to ease the burden on abused spouses by introducing a bill that would eliminate the residency requirement for divorces in Florida filed by spouses experiencing domestic violence. A review of the current residency requirements and an overview of the proposed legislation will be discussed below.

Current Residency Law and Domestic Violence in Divorce

Under the present law, anyone wishing to file for divorce in Florida must live in the state for at least six months prior to filing a petition for dissolution. The other spouse, however, does not have to be a Florida resident to proceed with a divorce in this state.

Right now, domestic violence, in the context of divorce, impacts decisions by the court on child custody, child visitation, child support, alimony and property division. Additionally, abused spouses can request a restraining order from a court by filing a Petition for Protection Against Domestic Violence. It is not uncommon for these petitions to be heard by a judge within several hours of filing, and if a protection order is issued before the alleged abusing spouse receives notification of a divorce filing, the abusing spouse could be out of the household before he/she knows about the divorce. Once an order is issued, the sheriff is responsible for serving the protection on the person named in the protection order, and that person is now prohibited from staying in the family home or having contact with the other spouse.

Proposed Amendment for Abused Spouses

The proposed bill would waive residency requirements for victims of domestic abuse, and the person asserting domestic violence would need to specifically claim to be a present or past victim of domestic violence or under threat of domestic violence by the spouse or other family member. Additionally, the petitioner can claim to suffer from emotional abuse from the spouse or allege the spouse refuses to pay child support or spousal support if a divorce action is initiated.

The bill also includes the definition for the terms “domestic violence” and “emotional abuse” to be used during the application of this provision. “Domestic violence” refers to any of the following offenses:

  • assault;
  • aggravated assault;
  • battery;
  • aggravated battery;
  • sexual assault;
  • sexual battery;
  • stalking;
  • aggravated stalking;
  • kidnapping;
  • false imprisonment; or
  • any other offenses causing bodily injury or death to a family member by another family member.

“Emotional abuse” refers to any of the following:

  • yelling;
  • bullying;
  • intimidating;
  • insulting;
  • humiliating;
  • blaming;
  • shaming;
  • isolating; or
  • controlling or withholding money.
Contact an Attorney

If you contemplating divorce that includes domestic violence issues, it is important to speak with an attorney at the beginning so the process most advantageous to your situation is followed. Serving communities in Fort Lauderdale and Boynton Beach, Stok Kon + Braverman, offer legal representation in a variety of divorce-related matters. Contact us to schedule a consultation.