Horvitz & Levy helped a victim of domestic violence get another chance at a more fair spousal support award.
This appeal arose from a marital dissolution case in which the wife alleged that she suffered extensive abuse by her husband. To resolve a dispute regarding child custody and visitation, she entered into an agreement that required her to drop her pending Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO) against him. The agreement’s express language prohibited her from mentioning any prior acts of domestic violence in future DVRO requests.
During the dissolution proceedings, while spousal support was being determined, the wife alleged that she was unable to work as a result of the emotional distress she suffers due to her husband’s abuse. The trial court interpreted the parties’ agreement as barring reference to past acts of domestic violence in all proceedings, and therefore excluded the domestic violence evidence and subsequently held that there was no evidence to support the wife’s claim. The court also deemed her testimony not credible because she was actively involved in the case and “appeared in control of herself and her emotions.”
Horvitz & Levy represented the wife on appeal on a pro bono basis and convinced the Court of Appeal to vacate the spousal support award. The Court of Appeal agreed that not only was the trial court’s interpretation of the parties’ agreement erroneous, but also the subsequent exclusion of domestic violence evidence was prejudicial. The Court of Appeal explained that the trial court should consider evidence of domestic violence when calculating spousal support awards, and that absent that evidence the trial court could not have properly evaluated our client’s credibility. The Court of Appeal remanded the case back to the trial court for reconsideration of the amount of spousal support.