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Financial Abuse, Domestic Violence, & Divorce in California

Domestic violence is defined broadly in California to include far more than mere physical abuse. While intentionally or recklessly causing — or attempting to cause — bodily injury is a common form of domestic violence, it is one of many forms of abuse under California law. 

Verbal abuse can be considered domestic violence in California as well, often characterized as harassment, threats, bullying, excessive phone calls or electronic messages, or even indirect contact such as using another person or persons to make verbally abusive contact on behalf of the abuser. 

Emotional abuse, while once difficult to define, has been codified in the California Family Code to include a detailed expression of what it means to disturb the peace of another person. To disturb another’s peace is to destroy their mental or emotional calm. This form of abuse can be employed directly or indirectly and by and through any means (phone calls, text messages, online accounts, or other electronic technologies). 

An important threshold to determine whether a person qualifies to apply for a domestic violence restraining order is clearly defining the relationship between the abuser and the abused. Qualifying relationships include spouses and former spouses, cohabitants and former cohabitants, individuals who share a child or children together, and individuals who are or were in a romantic relationship.


Domestic Abuse Includes Financial Abuse

One common form of abuse that falls within the concept of “disturbance of the peace” mentioned above is coercive control. The California Family Code defines “coercive control” as “a pattern of behavior that in purpose or effect unreasonably interferes with a person’s free will and personal liberty.” 

The Family Code takes it a step further by providing several examples of “coercive control,” one of which refers to a form of abuse often alleged but, up until January 1, 2022, did not have a place in the Code. Now, it does: “controlling, regulating, or monitoring the other party’s movements, communications, daily behavior, finances, economic resources, or access to services.” 

In effect, to control, regulate, or monitor one’s finances is to use that person’s money or finances without their knowledge or consent in order to gain power and control in the relationship. This is why it is called coercive control. 

In other words, California law now provides a definition for financial abuse that could qualify as domestic violence and warrant protection. Some examples of financial abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • Removing one’s name from a joint bank or credit account
  • Canceling one’s access to health insurance
  • Cancelation of automatic payments towards essential services
  • Transferring funds out of a joint account so as to keep them away from the other party to that party’s detriment
  • Regulating and controlling one’s access or level of access to funds within the marriage or relationship.

Money is an extremely powerful tool that abusive parties can use against another to control them. 

The Shocking Statistics on Financial and Domestic Abuse in California

Nationwide, nearly 10 million adults experience some form of domestic violence every year. In California alone, 34.9% of women and 31.1% of men experience physical and/or sexual violence and stalking in their lifetimes. This is higher than the national average. 

Forty-six percent of the national reported incidents of domestic violence involved weapons and 75% of the reported victims had minor children at home.  

Alarmingly, nearly 99% of all domestic abuse cases include financial abuse and more than half of domestic violence survivors incur more than $10,000 per year of coerced or fraudulent debt.


Tips for Navigating Financial and Domestic Abuse During Divorce

Victims of domestic violence — especially financial abuse — may find it difficult to even identify and recognize they are a victim, much less know where to start taking action to prevent it. 

One way to get out from underneath a financially abusive spouse — and reclaim your freedom and autonomy to earn and spend money at your own discretion instead of someone else’s — is to file for divorce

California is a community property state, meaning everything earned or acquired during the marriage is generally presumed to be subject to an equal division upon divorce. However, keep in mind that divorce is not an instantaneous process.

In fact, there is a mandatory six-month waiting period between when one files the initial petition for divorce and the point at which judgment in the case is entered and the marriage is officially dissolved. Beyond that, divorce can be an even longer process if the parties cannot agree on how to dispose of the community estate and establish spousal support.

The divorce process can be made even longer and more arduous when there are minor children involved, triggering the need to establish a parenting plan and a child support order. 

Matters are made exponentially more difficult when a financial abuser is involved in a divorce process. So, when divorce is imminent or even underway and the abusive party still does not stop the abusive conduct, further action is warranted. 

Domestic Violence Temporary Restraining Order

To seek more immediate relief from a financial or domestic abuser, one may file an application for a Domestic Violence Temporary Restraining Order. Typically granted on an Ex Parte (without the Court hearing from the other side) basis, an abused party may allege certain facts of abuse and domestic violence in order for the Court to temporarily grant the restraining order. The Court will then schedule a hearing — typically within three weeks of the granted temporary order — to determine whether the Court should make the temporary order permanent (meaning up to five years). 

Important orders granted under a restraining order include 1) a “stay-away” order preventing the restrained party from coming within 100 yards of the protected party, their home, job, vehicle, school, and more; 2) a “no-contact” order that prevents the restraining party from contacting the protected party, directly or indirectly, by any means; and 3) can even order the restrained party to be removed from a shared residence. 

Now, a restraining order can also offer more specific relief to those suffering from financial abuse: the order may include 1) granting of exclusive use, control, and possession of certain property: 2) an order not to tamper in any way with health insurance or other types of insurance; 3) a property restraint that prevents the restrained party from transferring, borrowing against, selling, hiding, or getting rid of any property; and 4) an order for the restrained party to make payments towards certain debts or bills. 


How Financial and Domestic Abuse Can Impact Your Divorce

If a Court makes a finding of domestic violence in a divorce case in California, it can have significant implications for both the overall process and how the community estate is disposed, how spousal support is handled, and — if there are minor children of the marriage — how child custody and visitation disputes are ultimately resolved.

Financial abuse and domestic violence can have far-reaching impacts felt in all aspects of a divorce case: 

  • Spousal Support: The Court must consider a finding of domestic abuse when determining spousal support. So, if the spouse who would typically receive spousal support absent abuse has a finding of domestic violence made against them, it could affect how much spousal support is ordered and the length of time in which it is due and payable. If domestic abuse results in a criminal conviction, then an award of spousal support to that convicted spouse from the abused party is prohibited.
  • Child Custody/Visitation: If a finding of domestic violence is made, then an automatic presumption is triggered that any sort of sole or joint legal or physical custody awarded to the restrained party is detrimental to the best interests of the child — even if the abuse did not involve the children. 
  • Division of Marital Property: If domestic abuse results in a criminal conviction, then the abused party shall be entitled to 100 percent of the community property interest in the retirement and pension benefits of the abused party. 
  • Attorney Fees and Costs: Should the protected party prevail in requesting a restraining order, then the Court shall order the restrained party to pay the attorney’s fees and costs for the protected party. 
  • Firearms: If a Court makes orders for a restraining order, then the restrained party shall not own, possess, purchase, or receive a firearm or ammunition while the order is in effect. 

Find Peace from Financial & Domestic Abuse with Divorce

Domestic violence — and especially financial abuse — is far more common than one may think, especially in California. Domestic violence is defined to apply between romantic partners, spouses, dating relationships, and cohabiting partners, both current and former.

The codification of abuse includes coercive control, an example of which is financial abuse. The ramifications of domestic violence are felt in nearly every corner of a divorce or parentage action, affecting issues of support, custody, and the overall disposition of the community estate.

Navigating the above-outlined methods of separating from a financial or domestic abuser alone can be an understandably daunting task. It is best practice to secure the legal counsel of a competent, experienced family law attorney with a deep knowledge and understanding of the intricacies of domestic violence in the state of California.

At Cage & Miles, our team is dedicated to advocating on your behalf and obtaining the protection you deserve under California law to be free from domestic and financial abuse. Schedule a consultation with one of our Family Law attorneys today by calling us at 858-258-5766.

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