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The lingering effects of domestic violence in divorce cases

Emotions often run high during a divorce, and the first year of separation can be particularly difficult and dangerous for estranged spouses who have been the victims of domestic violence and abuse. This is the period when decisions are made about important matters like child custody and visitation, and the lingering effects of family violence can have a profound impact on how abused victims approach these issues according to research from the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois.

The research, which can be found in the Journal of Family Psychology, looked into two distinct types of domestic violence. Coercive violence is what most people would think of when the subject of spousal abuse is raised, and it usually occurs when arguments over money or infidelity get heated and become violent. Controlling violence is more insidious in nature, and the parties guilty of it generally keep tight reins over the family finances and strictly regulate social contacts.

The research team found that the victims of coercive violence fared much better in the year following a divorce than those who had been dominated and controlled. People who are prone to violence tend to become less aggressive when removed from volatile family situations, but those who thrive on asserting control over their loved ones can become increasingly desperate and hostile when they are no longer able to do so. According to the researchers, these issues are particularly important when children are involved and parents are negotiating custody and visitation arrangements.

Attorneys with family law experience will have likely encountered divorcing spouses who have been the victims of domestic violence. Attorneys in these situations may petition the courts for orders of protection to keep their clients safe, and they could also encourage them to join a victims' support group or seek counseling.

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