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If you have become the victim of abuse during your marriage, escaping that relationship can feel daunting -- or even impossible. However, the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act gives abuse survivors a tool to shield themselves and their children. Find out how a restraining order can protect you during divorce.
Domestic violence between spouses and other partners is sadly common. Across the country, more than 10 million people suffer from domestic abuse every year. Here in Pennsylvania, 123 people died from domestic violence last year. Within an abusive relationship, the nature and severity of the abuse tends to escalate over time. That can motivate domestic violence survivors to escape the relationship.
Leaving an abusive relationship can be difficult and sometimes dangerous. On average, a victim of abuse tries to leave 7 times before they are successful. The risk of further escalating violence and continued abuse can force you to go back, or wait until the storm blows over so you can finally leave. When the abuser is your spouse, that means filing for divorce.
When divorce involves issues of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, you and your family law attorney may be able to use the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act to shield you during the transition. By obtaining a restraining order in anticipation of your divorce complaint, you and your children can be protected against escalating danger.
The Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act allows the victim of abuse to file a petition to shield themselves and their children from continued stalking or aggression. The Act is broad enough to cover survivors of:
If you are able to prove your allegations of abuse, you can receive a protection order that:
These restraining orders are especially useful for survivors seeking a divorce from their abusers, because they can be entered quickly -- even before your abuser learns that you filed the petition. They can also include instructions for law enforcement officers to help you retrieve your belongings from the home, which can help you safely separate from your spouse. However, even if the order is entered on an “ex parte” basis, your spouse will be notified of the order and given an opportunity to dispute the need for a continuing restraining order.
The benefits of obtaining a restraining order continue after filing your divorce complaint.
However, if your protective order includes support obligations it also puts you on a deadline. You and your divorce attorney have two weeks to file a request for support with the court. This is often accomplished at the same time as your divorce petition, so it is wise to speak with your lawyer ahead of time to make sure to coordinate your timing.
Survivors of domestic abuse may also face special challenges obtaining a divorce on their own terms. Most Pennsylvania couples proceed based on mutual consent to divorce or a 2-year separation. However, when you are escaping a domestic violence situation, you may not be able to wait. A restraining order and the judge’s findings about your allegations of abuse can help you prove the grounds for a fault divorce under Pennsylvania law, either by showing your spouse has endangered your life or health through cruelty or forced you to endure intolerable and burdensome indignities.
Restraining orders and the history of domestic violence that supports them can have a direct effect on your claims for child custody within a divorce. Pennsylvania law directs judges to consider that history and its effect on the child when deciding issues related to a child’s care and well-being. A protective order can also help shield you from claims that you have tried to turn your child against your spouse or have been uncooperative with your spouse to make decisions about your child’s care. The Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act also describes additional limits on a judge’s ability to grant custody and unsupervised visitation to a defendant under a restraining order.
Depending on the form the domestic abuse against you takes, it can also affect your ability to obtain spousal support (alimony) during and after your divorce. If your spouse has harmed you financially, denying you the ability to work or access marital funds, the court may consider this and other forms of abuse in deciding whether to award spousal support, how much you should be paid, and how long that support should continue.
Leaving a domestic violence relationship is never easy and often brings with it a real risk of physical danger. You need an experienced advocate and attorney to stand by your side and get you the protection you need before, during, and after the divorce is entered. At Berman & Associates, our experienced family law attorneys can help you use the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act and resulting restraining orders to make your separation easier. We welcome you to contact us to speak with us about how we can help with your domestic violence divorce.
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