How a Spouse’s Domestic Violence May Affect Divorce Strategy

Spouses domestic violence

One in three families in Michigan are affected by domestic violence and, on average, there are around 100 murders annually related to domestic violence.

There is a national domestic violence epidemic that affects millions of Americans every year and it can be a primary catalyst for many partners to leave their abuser or to file for divorce. But while we know the devastating effects such behavior can have on families and relationships, how does domestic violence divorce cases?

Filing For Divorce

Filing for divorce in Michigan is a fairly straightforward process. Michigan is a ‘no-fault’ state which means that no evidence needs to be presented to support the divorce filing.

The requirements for filing are fairly straightforward, with the applicant having to prove residency for at least 180 days before filing and for 10 days in the county where they file for divorce.

If your partner lives in a different state, as may be the case if a person is fleeing physical abuse or other forms of domestic violence, then you can still file in Michigan though the other party will be given longer to respond.

The minimum period after which a divorce is granted is 60 days where no children are involved and six months when there are children.

The point that needs to be emphasized here is that domestic violence does not usually influence the actual divorce process. But it can have a major impact on other elements such as child custody and access, division of assets, and any support settlement.

Child Custody

When making a child custody decision, the judge looks at a list of factors known as the ‘best interests of the child’. The 11th of these factors is the one that is relevant here:
(k) Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.

The existence of domestic violence will certainly affect the child custody order. Depending on the circumstances, the judge may also order supervised visitation.

Division of Marital Estate

While normally, Michigan courts divide marital property equitably in the event of a divorce, domestic violence in the relationship will make them look closer. They will consider if the abuse affected the victim, including such elements as the abuse preventing them from working or if marital assets were withheld.

They may also consider whether the abuse was the primary reason for the marriage ending. If they decide there is strong evidence in the victim’s favor, they may award a greater portion of the marital estate to the victim.


As with the marital estate, the judge considers aspects of the effects of domestic violence when deciding on spousal support.


Lump-sum settlements are rare in Michigan. As these are usually offered by one partner, this would only be affected by a history of domestic violence as to what the support element is as awarded by the judge.

Consider Your Safety When Leaving an Abusive Spouse

  • The primary thing to focus on if you are leaving an abusive spouse is your safety. You can worry about legal aspects and divorce later, but your safety must always come first.
  • Change any patterns of behavior your partner knows about such as appointments or classes.
  • If you have children, let them know the situation and have a friend accompany you to collect them.
  • If you have moved house, ask any relevant authorities to keep that information confidential.
  • Inform the children’s school and make them aware that there may be trouble. Advise them that only you or another trustworthy person will pick them up.
  • Change your phone number and ask friends and family not to share it.
  • Change any internet or social media passwords. You may also want to consider temporarily deleting social media accounts.
  • Explain the situation to your children and ask them not to disclose your address.

Domestic Violence and Allegations

Domestic violence is not a family dispute, it is a crime. If you have suffered any form of abuse, talk to the police or contact an organization in your area which helps and offers advice.

family dispute

Protecting the Family

Even if the abuser has not previously perpetrated any sort of domestic violence against children, that pattern of behavior can change. Engage with organizations such as Michigan Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence (MCEDSV) or other services.

Family Lawyer Assistance in Domestic Abuse

Our divorce lawyers are experts in all aspects of family law. If you are a victim of abuse, speak to your attorney so they can advise you on all elements of your case. They can give you the best legal advice on different subjects, including applying for child support while your case is pending.

Victim’s Rights in a Divorce with Domestic Violence

It is important to know where you stand if your divorce includes allegations of domestic violence. You can look online at how the laws affect and protect you.

Establishing a Protective Order

If you are experiencing violence, or threats of violence, you can apply for a Personal Protection Order (PPO). There are three types, but the one relevant to this situation is a Domestic PPO. There is a range of prohibitions that can be placed on the abuser, and you can ask for specific actions, but the judge will make the final decision.

Do Not Agree to Mediation for Domestic Violence Divorce Cases

Many studies agree that mediation is inappropriate in divorce cases where there is a history of domestic violence, abuse of children, or other power imbalances.

Custody of Children in Domestic Violence Cases

Despite Michigan being a no-fault state for divorce, a history of domestic violence will have a definite effect on a judge’s decision regarding custody of the children.

Protecting Yourself Before, During, and After Divorce Proceedings

The safety of you and any children is of paramount importance. Speak to organizations such as the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence (MCEDSV) for advice and support. If you believe you or your children to be at a real risk of violence, contact the police immediately.

Find Shelter

Sadly, the threat of violence before, during, or after a divorce is a very real danger. On average, around 100 women a year are murdered in Michigan as a result of domestic violence. If you need to find safe refuge from violence or threats of violence, Michigan offers a useful directory of services that can help across the state.

Restraining Order or Protective Order

A restraining order or Personal Protection Order (PPO) can put certain safeguards and barriers in place to protect you. If you feel you need one of these orders, speak to your divorce attorney and ask them to apply on your behalf.

Family and Domestic Violence Affects All Kinds of Families

While many links have been shown between poverty and domestic violence, it is still something that can affect millions of families regardless of income levels. Like many forms of sexual violence, domestic violence is primarily about power and control. But low incomes and unemployment can be a major catalyst in patterns of violence beginning.

Forms of Family and Domestic Violence: Not All Violence Leaves Marks

Domestic abuse is not just about physical violence, it can take several forms. The Department of Justice defines domestic violence as:

“…a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.”

There are 5 recognized types of abuse:

  • Physical. This includes any type of physical assault including punching, shoving, biting, etc. It can also include coercing a partner to use drugs or alcohol or denying them access to medical care.
  • Sexual. Forcing or attempting to force a partner into any type of sexual behavior without consent.
  • Emotional. This can include verbally attacking your partner, undermining their self-esteem, damaging relationships between your partner and their children or other individuals.
  • Economic. Making your partner economically dependent on you through complete control of all finances.
  • Psychological. This can include placing your partner in a state of fear through threats of harm to them, yourself, or others. Violence towards or destruction of pets or possessions. Forcing your partner into a complete state of isolation.

Recognizing Violence and Abuse and Leaving

It is important to recognize that partner abuse can take the form of more than physical violence. It is also crucial to realize that while women make up the majority of victims, men can also be a victim of abuse, as can any person in an LGBTQ relationship.

Telling a victim just to leave their abuser is simplistic and does not recognize the fact that many victims feel trapped in the cycle of abuse. If you do feel ready to leave the relationship, seek support and advice from family, support groups, or an attorney.

Divorce Strategy for Family and Domestic Violence Victims

In cases where there is domestic abuse, our law firm may suggest different strategies from a normal divorce. Our first advice will be to direct you to organizations that can support you and help find you shelter. If there is imminent risk or danger, then our board-certified attorney may suggest seeking a Personal Protection Order to put strategies in place to reduce risk.

Being Wrongly Accused of Domestic Violence

If you have been accused of domestic abuse and believe the charges are false, consult with an attorney immediately.

Final Word

The Michigan Premier Law team has extensive experience in handling family law and divorce cases. We handle all family law cases with high levels of compassion and empathy. We understand that discussing details about any form of spousal abuse can be difficult and distressing, and our professional family lawyers will be patient and understanding.

If you have experienced domestic abuse, or are experiencing it now, please contact us for a free consultation. We can not only advise you on the legal aspects of your case but also signpost you to any relevant services which can offer support. If you would like to book a complimentary case evaluation, call us today at 248-688-0045.

About Steven Smith

Steve is a former criminal justice worker. With degrees in psychology and social work, he spent most of his life helping those with addiction issues before switching to criminal justice. He was responsible for writing court reports and advising judges on sentencing. He also supervised offenders, including sex offenders, in the community and carried out risk assessments and probation appraisals. He now lives in SE Asia and is working on his 5th novel.