domestic violenceWe have all been reading and watching the account of the Arlington, Texas woman who killed her estranged husband this week.  We are just learning that the mother filed for divorce in October and there was a hearing this week over custody of the children.  (See: Domestic dispute led to 2 deaths in Arlington.) The divorce court ruled that the father should have custody of the parties’ children. The mother lost. The mother took matters into her own hands and assured that the children would not be raised by their father.

They won’t be raised by their mother either.  She sits in jail charged with capital murder.

The Tarrant County court records indicate that the divorce was filed by the mother in early October. They were married 8 years and have 4 children ages 18, 8, 6, and 3. The pleadings filed by each party are relatively standard.  Each parent asked for standard shared parenting, although each requested primary custody of the children. Nothing in the pleadings indicates a concern about past domestic violence.

A temporary hearing was held in early December, where the Associate Judge determined that the father should have primary custody of the children, would occupy the marital residence, and have the exclusive right to make decisions about the children’s residence, education, and invasive medical needs. The mother was to see the children according to the Texas Standard Possession schedule. The parties were still sharing the marital residence, but the mother was required to move out by the end of the month.

As a divorce lawyer in Dallas, Texas for 20+ years, I can say with certainty that this scenario is the worst nightmare for any divorce lawyer. Violence is more common in divorce cases than any other type of case.  Emotions are high and some people just can’t take it.  They result to violence against themselves, their spouses, children, or even sometimes the lawyers. Often the violence is hurtful, maybe even scarring, and sometimes it results in death, as it did for the Arlington man.

Statistics show that domestic violence is the reason stated for 1 out of every 5 divorces in the US. Most domestic violence incident reported involve the woman as the victim; men rarely report domestic violence. In a violent relationship, the most dangerous time is the first two weeks after the breakup or filing of the divorce.

If you are in a violent relationship and want out, here are some tips:

  • Create an exit strategy. Make sure you have a safe place to stay for a few weeks after the break up. Stay with a relative or friend that lives in a place the other spouse doesn’t know about.
  • Deliver news about the break up in a public place.  Having witnesses around when the bad news is delivered decreases the likelihood that there will be a violent incident.
  • Be careful going to and from work. Ask security to escort you to your car. Take a different route home or a different form of transportation than usual.
  • Hire a lawyer and get a protective order (the Texas version of an order protecting a person from domestic violence) in place. Protective orders in Texas are enforceable by law enforcement officers.
  • Call 911 if there is an immediate threat to your safety or the safety of the children.

My heart goes out to the children in the Arlington case — may their family be strong for them in this time of heart-wrenching grief.  And, my heart goes out to the lawyers for both parties.  I can’t imagine the struggle they are each going through too.