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Domestic Violence in Divorce & Family Law Disputes

Jan 22, 2021 | Written by: Diana N. Fredericks, Esq. |

Domestic violence is real and can have irreparable consequences.  It is imperative that you and your attorney discuss safety, if it is an issue in your case, and create a preparedness plan.  You must advise your attorney of these issues.  Do not minimize concerns, and listen to your attorney’s advice to get help.  Murder or murder-suicide can be the ultimate consequences.  

There are sometimes risk factors that are apparent before things escalate.  If at any time you feel unsafe or threatened, call the police first.  Do not minimize how you feel; trust your instincts.  Try to remove yourself from the situation as carefully and quickly as possible to prevent a worsening situation for you or your children.

Currently, no comprehensive national database or tracking system exists to systematically document the death toll from murder-suicide in the United States.  Medical studies estimate that between 1,000 and 1,500 deaths per year in the United States are the result of murder-suicide.  MOST MURDER-SUICIDES INVOLVE AN INTIMATE PARTNER:

  • The most prevalent type of murder-suicide was between two intimate partners, with a man killing his wife or girlfriend. Such events are commonly the result of a breakdown in the relationship.
  • The average age difference between the offender and primary victim was 4.3 years. Overall, the age difference ranged from zero to 33 years. (Other studies on fatal violence for spouses have found that there is a greater risk of homicide victimization as the age difference between the husband and wife increases.)
  • In this study, 65 percent of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner. Of these, 95 percent were females killed by their intimate partners. Of these, 92 percent involved a gun.[1]

Sadly, the examples of this type of violence are endless:

  • On June 26, 2007, a professional wrestler strangled his wife, suffocated his 7-year-old son, and then hanged himself.
  • On January 18, 2008, an aunt was taking her niece and nephew to her house for a weekend stay. While en route, she pulled over, took off her clothes and those of her niece and nephew, and carried the children into oncoming traffic. All three were killed.
  • On that same day in New Jersey, an executive vice-president of a bankrupt mortgage company broke his wife's neck and then killed himself by jumping off a bridge[2].
  • In December 2019, a man murdered his wife and daughter before killing himself.[3] The couple was in the middle of a divorce. 
  • On December 30, 2020, a well-known Connecticut divorce lawyer killed his wife and then killed himself, according to authorities.[4]
  • On January 12, 2021, a mother leapt off of a NYC skyscraper with her five-year-old daughter, killing them both.[5]

Of course, the facts of each above example are different.  Each case is distinctive, and while these may be extreme, it is critical to know what to look for, to advise your divorce attorney, friends, family, and most importantly, the police if you are in fear, and to act imminently.

Signs of Abuse

Below are some signs of abuse, things to look for if you suspect abuse, and actions to take.

If you are afraid of your partner, that’s a big red flag. You may be scared to say what you think, to bring up certain topics, or to say no to sex. No matter the reason, fear has no place in a healthy relationship.  Keep that in mind as you think about these signs[6]:

Your partner bullies, threatens, or controls you:

  • Accuses you of having an affair
  • Blames you for abuse
  • Criticizes you
  • Tells you what to wear and how you should look
  • Threatens to kill you or someone close to you
  • Throws things or punches walls when angry
  • Yells at you and makes you feel small

Your partner controls your money:

  • Keeps cash and credit cards from you
  • Puts you on an allowance and makes you explain every dollar you spend
  • Keeps you from working whatever job you want
  • Steals money from you or your friends
  • Won’t let you have money for basic needs like food and clothes

Your partner cuts you off from family and friends:

  • Keeps close tabs on where you go and whom you go with
  • Makes you ask for an OK to see friends and family
  • Embarrasses you in front of others, and it makes you want to avoid people

Your partner physically abuses you:

  • Abandons you in a place you don’t know
  • Attacks you with weapons
  • Keeps you from eating, sleeping, or getting medical care
  • Locks you in or out of your house
  • Punches, pushes, kicks, bites, pulls hair

Your partner sexually abuses you:

  • Forces you to have sex
  • Makes you dress in a sexual way
  • Makes you feel like you owe him/her sex
  • Tries to give you an STD
  • Won’t use condoms or other birth control

Signs Someone You Know is Being Abused

Keep an eye out for things like:

  • Excuses for injuries
  • Personality changes, like low self-esteem in someone who was always confident
  • Constantly checking in with their partner
  • Never having money on hand
  • Overly worried about pleasing their partner
  • Skipping out on work, school, or social outings for no clear reason
  • Wearing clothes that don’t fit the season, like long sleeves in summer to cover bruises

If you are in a situation where you fear you may become a victim of domestic violence, make sure you have an emergency escape plan:

  • Hide a set of car keys.
  • Pack a bag with keys, extra clothes, important papers, money, and medicines. You might keep it at a friend’s house.
  • Have a plan for calling the police in an emergency. You might have a code word so your kids, family, friends, or co-workers know you’re in danger.
  • Know where you’ll go and how you’ll get there.

If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to All calls are toll-free and confidential.







Diana Fredericks, Esq.

Diana Fredericks, Esq., is a partner with Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC and devotes her practice solely to family law matters.  She is a Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and was named to the NJ Super Lawyers Rising Stars list in the practice of family law by Thomson Reuters in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, and to the New Leaders of the Bar list by the New Jersey Law Journal in 2015.  Contact Ms. Fredericks for a consultation at 908-735-5161 or via email.

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Any statements made herein are solely for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon or construed as legal advice.