Things You Should Know about Family Violence

Walters Gilbreath, PLLC

I call Domestic Violence the “Atom Bomb” of family law. The State of Texas is extremely serious about deterring and punishing family violence. This is reflected in the law in many places.

First, domestic violence is not just punching someone in the face. And the definition of ‘family’ keeps expanding – it now includes dating relationships, for example. Unlike a criminal case which requires the very high “beyond a reasonable doubt” guilt standard, in a domestic violence matter it is only “the preponderance of the evidence”. That is the difference between being 99% and 51% sure. So, it is much easier to be found to have committed family violence than it is to be convicted of the same thing in a criminal court.

If found to have committed violence, the punishments in your custody matter are severe. Courts are supposed to appoint the victim as Sole Managing Conservator. The perpetrator is supposed to only have limited visitation. It can also affect Property Division in a divorce.

I have also found that Courts will err on the side of finding domestic violence and imposing restrictions (Protective Orders and other types of orders). There are plenty of examples of someone flying off the handle and hurting or killing someone, and so Courts feel compelled to be sure about safety.

However, in family law litigation this desire by the Courts to avoid any serious harm can have problematic effects on your case. If you are found to have committed family violence, however minor, you may have gotten yourself into a hole that you cannot climb out of.

I recall one case in particular that I handled where the wife made an almost comical claim about domestic violence having been committed by my client. She basically accused him of pulling a laptop computer out of her hands. That is it. The Court found that he had committed domestic violence, but did not place any restrictions on his visitation. But it cost him his custody battle, I think.

It seems to me that litigants in family law matters are increasingly using questionable domestic violence claims to gain an advantage. That is not too surprising, since it is such an effective weapon.

If you are the victim of it, then you should definitely make the claim in Court. If you are wrongly accused of it, then you have to mount an aggressive defense. It would rarely be wise to agree to a finding of domestic violence that you committed if it is not true.

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