Should someone who has been convicted of a violent sex crime against their spouse be entitled to spousal support if the couple divorces? This is the question raised by a recent proposal in the California legislature.
“Victims should never be forced to owe their rapists for the right to divorce them,” said San Diego Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, who co-sponsored the bill.
Under current law, spousal support (alimony) is already prohibited in cases involving attempted murder of a spouse or the solicitation of murder. Assembly Bill 1522, which unanimously passed the Assembly in April and is now before the Senate, would add convictions for violent sex felonies to the items that would disqualify a divorcing spouse from receiving spousal support.
The bill was inspired by a Carlsbad woman who had been sexually assaulted by her husband but was nonetheless ordered to pay him spousal support — even after he had been charged with and ultimately convicted of the crime.
He was sentenced to six years in prison, and yet his ex-wife, a stockbroker, was ordered to pay $47,000 toward his divorce-related legal fees. The spousal support order has been suspended until the man is released from prison, but she is still obligated to pay the legal bills.
“I understand these specific types of criminals, their ploys of intimidation and the ongoing manipulation of their victims,” said San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It’s about power. It’s about control.”
On the other hand, the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists, a nonprofit organization of about 500 family law attorneys in the state, opposes the measure. A representative of the group argued that changing the law would set a bad precedent by undermining the jurisdiction of the family law courts.
The Judiciary Committee approved the measure, which will now move to the Senate floor for a vote.
Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune, “Bill calls for end to payments to abusive spouses,” Michael Gardner, July 6, 2012