Archive for Sunday, November 5, 2000

Leaving is safest course for wife facing abuse

November 5, 2000


Q:My husband has physically and emotionally harassed me for most of our two-year marriage. He rarely leaves any marks on me because he pulls my hair and twists my arms behind me. I can't keep my mind on my job because of this, and I am afraid to tell anyone about my situation. Thankfully, we have no children, but he is a lawyer and I don't think anyone will believe me if I try to take action or leave him. He tells me that if I leave him, he will get me for desertion. What are my options?

A:Some attribute the fact that six of 10 divorce cases are brought by women to the growing economic independence of women; however, some researchers insist that at least 25 percent of all women who bring divorce actions have been victims of domestic violence and abuse.

When abuse exists, the economic issues are complicated and even overshadowed by a need to avoid further injury. While they recognize the need to leave the marriage, abused women are concerned about their safety after separation and sometimes stay in an abusive marriage too long.

Because family courts throughout the United States are overburdened, to get a quick hearing, there must be a genuine emergency. Since everyone's situation is an "emergency" to him or her, you must convince your lawyer and the court that your situation is urgent. And even though you may have documented the instances of abuse, without physical evidence of domestic violence, it will be very difficult to prove your case because it will be your word against his.

Practically speaking, if you bring a lawsuit based on the facts you describe, in our view, you may well find yourself among the 95 percent of those who settle their cases out of court and negotiate important issues. Since domestic violence is an issue, we suggest it be dealt with in a way that will not lead to future opportunities for more abuse, intimidation, harassment and control. For example, abusive relationships are inappropriate for mediation and marriage counseling.

Our suggestion: Leave your husband, take your share of the furniture, and establish a separate residence. In this way, if your husband comes to your separate residence or harasses you by telephone, you can contact law enforcement and seek protection under the criminal laws designed for that purpose.

The fact that you do not have children should make your decision easier. Your husband cannot make you live with him, and "getting you for desertion" is an empty threat in a two-year marriage where there are not significant economic issues.

Contact a lawyer and work out the details. You may have made a bad decision getting into this marriage, but don't make a second one.

SoloFact: There are three documents every person who separates or divorces needs: a durable power of attorney for financial purposes; a health care power of attorney; and a will, especially if you have children. If you are separated, but not divorced, you cannot cut your spouse out of your will unless there is a written waiver or release in your separation agreement or prenuptial agreement. In most states, a surviving spouse, even if estranged, has the right to take a statutory share (generally one-third) of your estate if the will leaves him or her nothing. Some states have an allowance for not only the surviving spouse, but also surviving children. Since the definition of what is included in your estate varies from state to state, be sure to check it out.

If you have a question or comment for "Flying Solo," mail it to P.O. Box 11704, Columbia, S.C. 29211.

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