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Divorce & Family Violence

What is family violence?

Family violence is also known as domestic violence. It harms adults and/or children. The law says certain violent acts are “family violence” when it happens between members of:

  • a family or household (including an act toward a child of the family or household), or
  • a past or present dating relationship

Note: The law says the “family” in family violence means:    

  • members of the same family (related by blood or by marriage), or
  • spouses or former spouses, or
  • parents of the same child, or
  • foster parent(s) and foster child(ren)

Family violence can take many forms. It is not just physical abuse like hitting or kicking. Some common examples include:

  • threats 
  • stalking
  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • using controlled substances (drugs) in a way that causes injury to a child
  • encouraging or specifically allowing a child to use controlled substances (drugs)

What if I’m afraid for my safety or for the safety of my children?

If there has been violence or you feel that you or the children are not safe, get help right away by calling one of the organizations listed below. You may be able to get free legal help.

  • National Domestic Violence 24 Hour Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
  • Advocates for Victims of Crime (AVOICE) at 1-888-343-4414
  • Texas Advocacy Project at 800-374-HOPE
  • For situations involving sexual assault, you can also call:
  • Legal Aid for Survivors of Sexual Assault at 1-844-303-7233
  • In an emergency, please call 911.

WARNING!  Family violence can get worse when you start the divorce process. Take steps to protect yourself and talk with one of the organizations listed above before filing for divorce.

 

How can family violence affect my divorce?

Family violence is serious. Talk with a lawyer if you or your children have been the victim of family violence. It can affect many issues in your divorce, including:

Waiting periods. Without family violence there is a standard 60-day waiting period for a divorce. 

Emergency relief. You may be able to get a temporary restraining order (TRO) and other emergency protections if family violence has happened. A judge can make orders to help keep you and/or your children safe, such as ordering your spouse to stay away from or not contact you or the children. 

Custody and time with children.  Family violence is very important in custody decisions because it impacts what must be decided: what is in the best interest of the child. Custody decisions include, for example:

  • who has the right to decide where the child lives, 
  • who makes medical, education and other important decisions for the child, and
  • how much time each parent gets with the child (possession).

In order to make custody decisions in a divorce with children, the judge must consider physical or sexual abuse by one party against:

 

  • the party’s spouse, 
  • the child’s parent or 
  • any child

The judge will not name joint managing conservators if a pattern or history of child neglect, or physical or sexual abuse is shown by credible (believable) evidence.  When family violence is shown, it is more likely that the judge will name the non-abusing parent sole managing conservator of the child.  

A judge can also make any orders needed to keep the child safe, such as taking one parent’s right to make decisions for a child away, or ordering supervised access to a child.

 

Division of community property. Community property is divided by the court between two parties according to a “just and right” division. Judges use different factors (including grounds for the divorce, if any, like cruelty or conviction of a felony) to decide what a “just and right” division is. Family violence can impact what a “just and right” division means in your divorce.

 

For more information, read Dividing Property & Debt upon Divorce.


Spousal maintenance. A judge can order that payments (called “spousal maintenance”) be made from a spouse’s future income to another spouse as part of a divorce. Spousal maintenance is limited in time and is only ordered in certain circumstances. Family violence that happened within two years of filing for divorce, or while the divorce case is open, is one reason a judge can order spousal maintenance. In deciding how much spousal maintenance should be paid (and how long it should be paid) a judge also considers:

  • Cruel treatment by one spouse toward the other
  • Any history or pattern of family violence

 

For more information, read Child Custody & Conservatorship

 

Can a protective order help me?

If you or your children have experienced family violence, you may need a protective order. 
In a protective order, a judge can order the other side:

  • not to hurt, threaten, or harass you or your children 
  • to stay away from you, your family, your home, workplace, and children’s day care or school
  • to move out of the home (“kick out order”)
  • not to carry a gun, even with a license

The protective order can also: 

  • set terms and conditions for visitation with the children
  • order the other side to pay child support and medical support

How can a protective order affect my divorce?

  • A protective order can often be part of a divorce, but it is not a substitute for an order of divorce or custody order. 

Find out more in the Protection from Violence or Abuse section of this website.