Should I press charges for his domestic violence while my divorce is pending?

Posted on Apr 10, 2020 by Katie Carter

There’s no shortage of domestic violence cases. Maybe I was being naïve, but, when I first started to practice family law, I was really amazed at exactly how many there were. I’ve been around for awhile now, and I’m not so easily surprised. There is a lot of domestic violence out there and, if you’re one of the women who has been stuck in an abusive relationship, you probably have a lot of questions – more, even, than the average woman.

Let me say, first and foremost, that I’m not a criminal law attorney, so it’s difficult for me to discuss the merits and demerits of pressing charges, especially as it relates to any consequences that he might face. If that’s the kind of discussion you want to have, I definitely recommend that you talk to a criminal law attorney. It can be helpful to get information about what a criminal conviction might actually mean, and what consequences might be involved – for you and for him.

What I can discuss with you, though, is the potential implications that pressing charges can have on your divorce case. While the two may seem different – and, really, legally, they are – the issues from one often bleed over into another area.

I think the most important thing to do, at the outset, is to identify your priorities. Is divorce the main goal, or is seeing him held accountable for his decisions? If divorce is your goal, is resolving it as quickly, easily, and inexpensively as possible somewhere on your list of objectives? The answers may seem obvious to you, and you may wonder why I’m asking these questions, but you’d be surprised how often women tell me their goals are one thing but then their behavior and choices don’t align at all with those goals.

In Virginia, there are two ways of getting a divorce: either by agreement between the parties, or in court.

It’s cheaper, easier, and quicker to get divorced by agreement, if you can manage it. But divorce by agreement does require some negotiation and collaboration between the parties, so it’s important to handle the situation (and the potentially escalating tensions) delicately.

As you can probably imagine, someone that you have turned over to the police *might* not be all that interested in negotiating a divorce settlement with you on amicable terms.

There’s nothing we can do to force someone to enter into an agreement so, if he won’t agree (even if there’s no reason for it, other than his determination to continue to abuse you and be a general pain in the you-know-what), you’ll have to go to court. That’ll take longer. It’ll cost significantly more. And it’ll almost certainly raise your blood pressure! (Not to mention that, in my experience, the results are generally poorer.)

While his criminal conviction may supply you with grounds for divorce (in Virginia, if one of you is convicted of a felony for which you could serve over a year in prison, it’s grounds for divorce), you don’t need it – without a conviction, you could use cruelty or apprehension of bodily hurt – and, besides, that would mean that you’re in court and not negotiating an agreement. So, again, we’re talking about a longer, more expensive, more stressful divorce that isn’t necessarily structured to get you the best results possible.

Also, it’s hard to work on a divorce when one party is in jail!

Jail complicates matters. It slows things down, and makes it much, much more complicated. Things that are easy for regular people – like service of process and negotiating agreements and setting court dates – is infinitely more challenging when one of the parties is in jail.

I think you’ll find that just because of his incarceration, things take longer and cost more.

Not to mention, he’ll probably be mad about it if it’s you who put him in jail!

NOT pointing the finger; you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. But if you pressed charges and he winds up in jail because of it, you may find that he’s significantly less cooperative than he might otherwise be.

Chances are probably pretty good that he won’t be happy about it. While we don’t really care if he’s happy (he’s an abuser, after all), we DO care whether you’re able to negotiate a quick, cost effective divorce that gets you the best results possible.

He abused me, though. Are you saying that I shouldn’t press charges?

Absolutely not. Whether you press charges or not is something that you should take up with a criminal attorney. I only do family law, so my only goals here are to advise you of what consequences might exist for your divorce if you do press charges.

I’m saying that it’s important to consider your goals, and also the best, most cost effective way to reach them. If you think he’ll be mad (and then not willing to negotiate an agreement with you) because you’ve pressed charges, then I suggest considering waiting to press charges until after you’ve had a chance to get your separation agreement signed.

If seeing him do time for his crime is the most important objective then, by all means, press charges. But I do think it’s worth really thinking about your goals and making a decision based on practical considerations, rather than acting emotionally and making rash decisions that you might come to regret later.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced divorce attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200. You’re in the right place, and you’re asking the right questions!