A wonderful woman came into my office last week, a victim of abuse who had been cornered and stuck in her marriage for far too long. Her spouse was emotionally and psychologically abusive, was controlling every aspect of her life. Tracking her car. Refusing her access to the marital finances and income. Limiting her time with family, friends, and community support. Threatening that if she ever left him she would never see the minor children again. Etc.
Sadly tactics like this are more frequent than you would think.
In my experience it doesn’t actually matter which party has a stronger claim to secure placement and custody of the minor children based on the facts; simply being threatened with the loss of one’s children is often sufficient to dissuade that someone from filing a divorce action. For example, an alcoholic husband with a deeply troubling criminal history who works second shift six days per week can successfully lobby his wife – who has committed / sacrificed her entire personal and professional life to these children and has no real skeletons in her closet – not to file for divorce because “he will take the children from her”. And often she doesn’t. Not for a long while, anyway.
I have found that a spouse who has suffered a lengthy history of domestic abuse will not walk into a courtroom if there is the slightest chance that she leaves without custody of the kids. An abused spouse believes it is her responsibility to protect the children from the abuse she suffers, and in that way if the abuser keeps the children she has separated herself from being the shield between abuser and children. In her eyes, she would have failed. So the nightmare goes.
This woman very clearly needed a divorce. However, because her husband made sure that she did not work and had no access to the marital funds (by keeping her name off of the bank accounts and restricting the credit line on her credit / debit cards) she literally could not afford an attorney. She needed the service but she couldn’t afford it.
This is part of the plan for these abusers. They know that if their wife never works that she will be financially dependent on his income and be less likely to leave and strike out on their own.
Thankfully, the Family Court is prepared to deal with this situation.
What I like to do in this context is to file the divorce on behalf of the beleaguered wife and also file a “Motion for Temporary Orders / Allowances” which requests that the judge Order that abusive Husband pay for Wife’s legal fees (at least on a temporary basis).
This strategy has at least two real benefits for the client.
1). While Husband is paying for Wife’s legal fees he will be less likely to engage in any legal nonsense and will be motivated to come to an expedited, fair resolution. He will not file discovery or unnecessary Motions if he is going to pay his Wife’s attorney to answer / argue the same.
2). Since Wife is not spending what little money she has access to on her attorney she can begin to build a financial future for herself so that her transition to independence is a little bit easier. An ugly divorce such as this one can take over a year, so if Wife is able to stash away even a little money each money during the proceedings it is helpful.
The judge will consider Husband’s net income and demands, the size and liquidity of the marital assets, as well as the conduct of both parties before ruling on a Motion such as this. The judge will also have to consider whether or not Wife’s attorney’s fees are reasonable.
Keep this strategy in your back pocket for the unique situations in which you may not be able to help otherwise.