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.

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 30+ years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 30+ years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW for multiple years. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.