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How do domestic violence allegations impact a family law case?

Criminal charges or allegations of any sort can upend your life. But they can be especially damaging when they concern people in your own home. Domestic violence accusations and charges regularly lead to protective orders and often spur divorce and child custody proceedings.

If you are currently facing such a situation, legitimately or falsely, you may be wondering how allegations of domestic abuse might impact your family law proceedings. Each case is different, of course, but some guidelines are provided below.

Allegations or convictions limit divorce options

Although South Dakota does permit fault-based divorce filings, and “extreme cruelty” is one of the acceptable grounds, most divorces will be filed no-fault because it is much less work to do so. However, allegations of domestic violence or a conviction on your record could limit your options in a number of ways. These include:

How custody is awarded: A domestic violence conviction can be especially impactful on how custody is awarded because the court assumes that awarding custody to the abusive parent is not in the best interests of children.  If you are facing an accusation or charge of domestic violence while dealing with divorce or a child custody dispute, it is important to act quickly to potentially mitigate its effects on proceedings. In some cases, it is possible to delay action on an assault charge until a family law issue is resolved.

Ruling out alternatives to litigation: Divorce processes like mediation, collaborative divorce and arbitration can be faster and less expensive than litigation. But they only work when both spouses participate civilly and cooperatively. A judge may not even allow you to try litigation alternatives if they believe that a history of abuse could taint the negotiations.

Using allegations or a conviction as a source of leverage: A litigated divorce creates a public record that others can see. If you’ve been accused of domestic violence, and especially if you’ve been convicted, your spouse’s lawyer may try to use that to their advantage. You may be asked to accept less than your fair share of assets or unfavorable terms in exchange for keeping embarrassing and damaging allegations relatively under wraps.

Fighting false allegations and misinformation

Sadly, it is not unheard of for one spouse to make up domestic violence allegations to gain the upper hand in divorce or custody proceedings. In all cases – and especially these types of cases – it is crucial to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney in addition to a family law attorney. For the sake of your future and your relationship with your children, you need to do all you can to set the record straight and tell your side of the story.