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Wisconsin Family Law Articles

Domestic Violence and Divorce

According to a report published by End Abuse Wisconsin, in 2016, 73 people died in this state due to domestic violence. A disproportionate number of these kinds of assaultive incidences occur between spouses, and in many cases, will be the primary reason for divorce. Violence between spouses often follows a cycle of abuse followed by reconciliation, a pattern which can be difficult to escape. When someone in this situation wants to leave their marriage, contemplating divorce and taking the initial steps can be overwhelming and frightening. However, knowing how the pattern of domestic violence may affect your divorce is a good way to begin understanding your options.

Safety of the Household

When there is ongoing violence in a relationship, the first issue which must be addressed is your safety and the safety of others in the home.  If you believe you or your children are in immediate danger, you should not wait to make a Safety Plan.  The time to seek help is now.  It may be necessary to obtain a restraining order to keep the violent party from being near you. There are also community resources which are available to individuals who need assistance in getting away from an abusive spouse to remain safe.

Custody and Decision-Making

When there is physical abuse between marital partners, its destructive impact reaches every part of a family. Children residing in a home with domestic violence experience emotional trauma even when they do not witness the physical abuse. A parent’s physical violence is usually accompanied by verbal abuse, and their volatile behavior causes everyone in the family to live in fear of invoking further rage and brutality. This hostile atmosphere puts children in a place of constant anxiety as they wait for their violent parent to lash out at them or their other parent.

While Wisconsin law supports parenting plans which allow both parents to maximize contact with their children and have equal decision-making, the child’s best interest will always come first. Consequently, when children are part of a divorce, the court is going to exercise extreme caution in allowing a child to be exposed to a violent parent or situation. When deciding whether child placement with a particular parent is in a child’s best interest, the court can and will specifically examine whether the parent has engaged in a pattern or serious incident of interspousal battery or domestic abuse. Depending on the circumstance, the court could decide to name one parent as the primary placement parent and assign them all decision-making authority for the child. The court could also order that the violent parent not have contact with their child and former partner or require that all visits be supervised until the abuser gets proper treatment.

Property Division and Alimony

Wisconsin is a community property state meaning that most marital assets and debts will be divided equally.  The law also allows the court to order that one party pay the other spousal maintenance (alimony) in certain situations. When there is evidence of domestic abuse, the court may consider this fact when deciding matters related to both property division and alimony. For instance, if the evidence shows one spouse kept the other from household funds or employment, or their abusive conduct harmed the other in a manner which prevented them from being able to work, this information could factor into the court’s assessment of how to fairly divide property and whether to award spousal maintenance.


Contact Us

When you are living with violence in your relationship, deciding to leave the situation has broad implications which can be difficult to comprehend and process. Additionally, depending on your situation, filing for divorce could have dangerous and immediate consequences for you and your family. If domestic abuse is an issue in your marriage and you are considering divorce, we can help you access appropriate resources and consider your options. Call today to set up a time to talk about your situation.

Contact our family law office to learn more about Wisconsin divorce law. Get legal advice from Karyn Youso, the family law attorney and mediator with over 27 years of experience.