October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Unfortunately, when guys going through divorce say they are the victims of domestic violence, they are often met with blank stares, suspicion and disbelief.
Oft-quoted statistics would suggest this month is devoted primarily, if not entirely, to drawing attention to violence against women. For example, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. Eighty-five percent of reported domestic violence entails a woman as the victim, and every year, at least 1.3 million women are assaulted by their significant other. Certainly, this violence against women is unacceptable.
However, just a few years ago, the National Centers for Disease Control reported that 40 percent of the victims of severe physical domestic violence were actually men and that statistic is climbing. Moreover, more than one-half of the domestic assaults involving deadly weapons were actually against men.
Men are less likely to report domestic violence whether out of fear of ridicule or a lack of support or the need to "be a man." As a result, agencies lack the data needed to do additional research.
For divorce lawyers in the courtroom, the claim that the husband is the victim is often received as an overstatement designed to garner sympathy for the man and/or place blame on the woman, as a desperate attempt to win a custody battle, as an underhanded way to inject fault in a no-fault divorce case, or worse. And the lack of statistics and studies only frustrates our argument in the courtroom that none of this is true.
Let me be clear. Violence against women should not be tolerated, just as violence against men should not be tolerated. But in my experience and in the opinions of other Cordell & Cordell attorneys, men have a harder case to prove that they are the victims, not the perpetrators.
In order to prove your case -- as well as protect your family -- when domestic violence is an issue in your divorce, consider following these five "musts."
Must #1: Call the police.
Do not wait for things to get physical; assaults include threats intended to put you in fear of imminent harm, and domestic violence includes verbal, emotional and financial conduct as much as physical.
Follow the officers' advice. Do not tell the officers that you do not want your spouse to go to jail -- like many spouses do -- because that will relieve the violent spouse from facing the consequences.
Must #2: Get psychological evaluation for your spouse.
Often, abusers have mental health or substance abuse issues that perpetuate the tendency to be violent. You may also find that your spouse was raised in a household in which violence was acceptable, or at least tolerated.
Understanding the mental health dynamics may help both of you seek out and utilize the best resources to repair your relationship, if it is reparable.
Must #3: Request child custody evaluations.
Similarly, if child custody is disputed, do not hesitate to ask that your family undergo a custody evaluation.
Request an evaluator who is trained in domestic violence treatment -- someone who will not conclude that your claims are overstatements -- and that the evaluation focus on each parent as well as each child's relationship with each parent and how domestic violence does or does not impact that relationship.
Sadly, even when children are not the direct victims of domestic violence, they are the indirect victims and, worse, pawns.
Must #4: Attend separate counseling.
Do not engage in "family counseling" or "joint counseling" until you and your spouse engage in separate counseling successfully.
Family counseling and joint counseling are not helpful. They allow the perpetrator to blame the victim and require the victim to participate in and take responsibility for the perpetrator's problems.
Must #5: Find the courage to speak up.
Victims will only receive help if they speak up. Speak to your family, your friends, your attorney, your church leader, or whoever will listen to you and not judge. Contact your community mental health department for help lines, free and low cost housing, counseling and attorney referrals.
Not reporting domestic violence because of the stigma attached -- in a divorce or otherwise -- is simply not an option when your life, and your child's, is on the line.