Domestic Violence and Divorce

domestic abuse divorce

Steely Dan fans were sad to hear yesterday that co-founder, singer and keyboardist Donald Fagen was arrested for misdemeanor assault. Specifically, the complaint charges that Fagen had an argument with his wife, Libby Titus (also a singer and songwriter), and in the process pushed her so that she made contact with a marble window frame, suffering some minor bruising. Titus also indicated she will file for divorce (the couple have been married since 1993).

In Missouri, as in every state, courts must take allegations of domestic violence seriously. At the same time, courts must not assume that an allegation is in fact true just because a party to divorce makes the allegation; rather, the party making the allegation must prove by a preponderance of the evidence (in a divorce case) that the incident did occur.

Missouri courts must follow specific rules and statutes regarding domestic violence that arise in the course of a divorce. Titus received a temporary order of protection preventing Fagen from having any contact with Titus. The order issued ex parte, meaning without a hearing. Because it was issued ex parte, it is only temporary, until the court has a chance to provide a full hearing on the matter. In Missouri, temporary orders of protection expire within ten days unless a court extends it because a hearing could not be readily scheduled. In a full hearing hearing on an order of protection, both parties and perhaps other witnesses testify and the lawyers for the spouses have a chance to cross-examine all witnesses. At the conclusion of the evidence, the court has the option of dismissing the order of protection or entering a full order of protection, which could last up to a year and may contain additional conditions to protect the complaining party.

Many people might be surprised to see how strict the adult abuse laws are in Missouri. One might be surprised to see that a strong verbal argument with swearing but no threats of violence could still result in an order of protection. The structure of the adult abuse law is to set a standard of conduct for spouses that keeps peace in the home and minimizes any chance of violence, whether physical or emotional.

Looking again to the facts as alleged in the Fagen case, if Fagen and Titus were having an argument, perhaps over her decision to get a divorce, and Fagen accidentally pushed Titus aside and she made contact with the window frame, that might not qualify for an order of protection (it likely would not meet the intent requirement for assault). On the other hand, if Fagen meant to push her, out of anger or otherwise, that is the type of conduct adult abuse laws seek to prevent.

In Missouri, in any divorce case courts must take evidence on allegations of domestic violence and make a finding as to whether such an incident occurred. If the court finds an incident did occur, the court must issue any orders necessary to protect the former spouse and/or any children. Also, a pattern or history of domestic abuse qualifies as marital misconduct that could support an unequal distribution of property in the divorce.

If you have questions about domestic violence and divorce, contact us – we can help.

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