In a typical California divorce case, spousal support is awarded based on the need and ability to pay of the parties. However, if there is a history of domestic violence in a case, the spousal support analysis is not so simple. Embedded within California Family Code and cases is the public policy disfavoring an awarded of spousal support from a victim of domestic violence payable to his or her abuser. In making a decision regarding long term spousal support the court is required to consider all of the factors outlined in Family Code § 4320 including domestic violence. In addition, the family courts can make support and property orders in a proceeding brought under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act.
Family Code § 4320(i) provides that the court shall consider the following circumstances: "Documented evidence of any history of domestic violence, as defined in [Fam. Code §6211], between the parties or perpetrated by either party against either party's child, including, but not limited to, consideration of emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party, and consideration of any history of violence against the supporting party by the supported party." The Family Code also has provisions creating a presumption that a spousal support award should not be made in favor of a person convicted of a crime of domestic violence.
Although the law is clear regarding cases where a finding of domestic violence has been made or where one party has been convicted of a crime of domestic violence, what happens if a spousal support hearing is conducted while a domestic violence case is pending? Recently, a California appellate court held that a court may award spousal support in a proceeding brought under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act prior to reaching a conclusion that domestic violence has occurred. Contrary to cases where an alleged domestic violence abuser is requesting support, this recent case addressed the issue of support due to the alleged victim. Domestic violence hearings can get continued out (for months sometimes) for a variety of reasons. The court reasoned that is should not withhold support for an extended period of time just because the domestic violence issues have not been decided.
Domestic violence cases are always emotionally charged and carry significant implications for both parties. It is always important to discuss your domestic violence case with an experienced family law attorney to ensure that your rights are protected.