The American Psychological Association published an article at the beginning of April about how COVID-19 may increase domestic violence and child abuse due to the added stress among couples and families. It is unfortunate that during a time of national crisis that being home is not a safe option for some. Experts fear that the social distancing and quarantining could cause the number of violent occurrences to dramatically increase during this unprecedented time. The basis was from a 2019 study that revealed how Hurricane Harvey affected families that had already experienced domestic violence. They found that the stress associated with the disaster led to higher rates of both domestic violence and child abuse during and after the hurricane. Without the strain of a global pandemic, domestic violence affects millions of American households every year. When an abused spouse has the courage to leave an abusive relationship, there are laws that address how abuse can affect court decisions regarding divorce. Fortunately, Arkansas law treats domestic violence as a serious issue in all cases. Under Arkansas law, domestic violence includes any kind of physical abuse, bodily injury, emotional abuse, threats, stalking, or any other kind of harassment. Harassment can occur not only physically, but also via phone calls, mail or social media.
Although Arkansas is an equitable distribution state, meaning all assets and debts will be divided up fairly among a divorcing couple, a spouse’s abusive behavior during a marriage can affect a court’s decision when dividing the marital estate. Judges will sometimes award a larger share of the marital estate to an abused spouse. We especially see this when an abuser has negatively affected a couple’s finances. An abuser can negatively influence finances in a number of ways. For example, frivolous spending without the victim’s knowledge or ability to have a say-so, the abuser preventing the victim from maintaining gainful employment and the abuser making all financial decisions. In many abusive relationships, the abuser has put the victim in a situation to be financial independent upon him or her.
When domestic violence is proven, it not only affects divorce, but also has a dramatic impact on child custody issues. The court’s first concern is the child’s best interests; therefore, abuse can severely restrict custody and visitation. If proven to be necessary, a parent may be denied child custody and visitation privileges completely as Arkansas law empowers the Arkansas Department of Human Services to terminate a parent’s rights if deemed necessary and in the best interest of the child. Of course, terminating parental rights is not the preferred choice and many times doesn’t have to come to that. The courts and/or DHS can also require a parent to undergo drug or abuse counseling if believed to be helpful and beneficial.
Everyone deserves the right to a safe home environment; if you are in an abusive relationship, we encourage you to get help. The state offers many services to help you take the first step to getting out of the relationship safely. Click here for a list of hotlines and resources available to you. Kevin Hickey Law Partners cares for your safety and here to help you get through the divorce process as quickly as possible. We know the last thing you want to do is dredge up all of the hurt in a public courtroom and there are many times we have been able to negotiate a favorable settlement without having to take the case to trial as the abuser often does not want his or her behavior coming to light in a public setting. First and foremost, we want you to consider your safety when leaving an abusive spouse. Many studies have confirmed that a victim may be at greater risk of violence after divorce. We encourage you to contact the hotlines in the link above and have code words in place for your family and children. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, (800) 799-7233.