Fairfax, VA (Law Firm Newswire) April 2, 2015 – A woman from the Richmond area was recently ordered to pay spousal support to her husband, a man who had attacked her with a hammer and who was later convicted of a felony.
Her experience prompted a bill in the Virginia House of Delegates that suggested prohibiting courts from awarding alimony to a spouse who has been convicted of domestic violence.
But that measure died in a House of Delegates committee on February 10.
Del. Christopher Peace, R-Mechanicsville, sponsored House Bill 2105, which died in the House Courts of Justice Committee. The woman, who has chosen to disguise her identity because she fears for her safety, was shocked that she would have to pay spousal support in the divorce from her husband that was finalized in January 2013. She contacted Peace, who proposed the legislation.
“It is understandable to feel shocked that a court would order a victim of domestic violence to pay alimony to an abusive ex-spouse,” said Lisa McDevitt, a prominent attorney in Vienna, Virginia, whose firm specializes in family law. “Virginia courts do have some discretion in determining whether a spouse seeking alimony is barred from getting it. But other factors, like the relative economic circumstances of the parties, play a big role in a final ruling.”
The woman’s domestic violence charges stem from an incident in August 2011. Her-then husband was on disability and consistently at home full-time. The woman, who normally supported the two, was recuperating at home from major surgery. One night, he trapped her in their bedroom, nailing exits closed and smashing her phone and laptop with a hammer. Hours later, he took her on a harrowing car ride before stopping on a dirt road, getting out of the car, and swinging the hammer toward her head. But he did not hit her, and the man abruptly got back into the car and drove home, ending the incident as suddenly as it began.
The woman’s soon-to-be-ex was charged with domestic assault and battery and with abduction. In October of 2011, he pleaded guilty to the domestic assault and battery charge, and began serving his prison sentence for it. The judge set aside the verdict on the felony abduction charge.
Not long after his first incarceration, the man filed for emergency spousal support. It was granted to him.
The woman filed for divorce while her estranged husband was in prison in 2011, but the divorce was not finalized until early 2013. The man's emergency spousal support ruling was upheld in the final divorce agreement.
After his release from prison, the man was convicted of violating his ex-wife's protective order on multiple occasions. As a result, he was required to face the felony abduction charge that had been set aside before. He pleaded guilty to that offense in October 2013.
While Del. Peace’s bill was tabled on January 21, 2015 and ultimately died because of the deadline for clearing a bill’s house of origin, the woman hopes that measure will be introduced again.
“The courts in Virginia are guided in their actions and decisions by the Virginia Code, and in this specific case, by Section 20-107.1, which governs spousal support,” McDevitt said. “Any change in how spousal support may or may not be awarded in cases involving domestic violence will have to be addressed through the enactment of legislation amending these laws.”
Lisa Lane McDevitt
2155 Bonaventure Drive
Vienna, VA 22181