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Domestic Violence and Divorce


    What is Domestic Violence?

    Domestic violence is not just hitting. Abuse can take many forms. It may include things like:

    • Physical assault
    • Sexual assault
    • Emotional abuse
    • Isolation
    • Control of money
    • Threats
    • Stalking
    • Intimidation

    Abusers use these behaviors to try to gain and keep power and control over another person.

    Safety Concerns

    Warning! Domestic violence can get worse when a relationship ends. It is important for you to take steps to be safe before you start a divorce. Your local domestic violence agency can help. To find your local agency, search Community Services. You can also contact the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.

    How Can A Domestic Violence Agency Help Me?

    You do not have to go to a shelter to get help.

    Domestic violence agencies can help you think about your safety and support options during your divorce. These options could include:

    • Making a safety plan
    • Having a counselor-advocate attend court hearings with you
    • Finding a safe place to stay
    • Helping you get a Personal Protection Order ( PPO)
    • Helping you keep your location confidential

    Personal Protection Orders

    If you are married to someone who has hurt you or threatened to hurt you, you may want to ask a judge for a PPO. You can use our Do-It-Yourself Personal Protection Order (PPO) to do this. You can ask a judge to forbid your spouse from doing specific things like:

    • Coming to your home
    • Hurting you
    • Threatening you
    • Contacting you

    A PPO isn’t a substitute for a child custody decision in a divorce or custody case. But your PPO may limit contact between your spouse and your children if the facts in your case support it. This could apply if your spouse has threatened or abused your children, or if your spouse’s contact with the children puts you at risk of harm.

    To learn more about PPOs, read Overview of Personal Protection Orders or the Guide to Protection Order Toolkits. For specific information about getting a PPO against your spouse, read Domestic Relationship Personal Protection Orders.

    How Can Domestic Violence Affect My Divorce?

    Domestic violence is serious. It can affect many issues in your divorce, like custody, parenting time, and property division. If your spouse has been verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive to you, you should consider talking to a lawyer.

    Your local legal aid office or other lawyer in your area may be able to help you. To find legal help in your area, use Find a Lawyer. Your local domestic violence agency may also be able to help you find a lawyer.

    Custody and Parenting Time

    Domestic violence can impact custody and parenting time decisions in your divorce. Domestic violence is one factor the judge must consider when making custody and parenting time decisions. This is true even if the violence wasn't to the children and even if the children didn't see the violence. It is important to let the judge know about the violence and what you're afraid of.

    Keep in mind that even an abusive spouse may still get parenting time or some form of custody. Michigan law assumes that it is best for children to have a close relationship with both parents. Your children are likely to be bonded with your spouse even if he or she has been violent towards you.

    Think about what type of parenting time is best under all of the circumstances. Sometimes a judge will order parenting time supervised by a neutral third party. This could be a grandparent, other relative, friend, or court-appointed supervisor.

    Parenting time may also be safer for you if you exchange your children in a public place. Some communities have supervised visitation centers that may supervise visits or exchanges.

    If your spouse has custody or parenting time based on a valid court order, you must follow the order unless the judge changes it or another court order (like a PPO) forbids it.

    Parental Kidnapping

    If your spouse has been violent or threatening, you may be concerned that he or she will take or keep your children without your permission. Maybe your spouse has threatened to take your children or has kept them from you before.

    In most cases, it is not kidnapping for a parent to take or keep their child. A parent can only be charged with kidnapping if they do this in violation of a valid custody order. If you do not have a court order giving you custody, your spouse cannot be charged with parental kidnapping. The same is true for you.

    If you take your children to a domestic violence shelter or elsewhere, even against a valid custody order, you have a defense against parental kidnapping if you were protecting them from an immediate threat of physical or mental harm.

    If you are afraid your spouse will take or keep your children without your permission, you might be able to get an emergency or temporary custody order in your divorce case. If you are concerned your spouse might take your children out of the country, you may be able to get the court to hold your children’s passports. Visit the U.S. Department of State website to learn more about what you can do in this situation.

    If you are concerned about your spouse taking, keeping, or hiding your children from you, you may want to consider talking to a lawyer who specializes in divorce and custody matters. Your local legal services office may be able to help you. Your county bar association may also have a lawyer referral service. Lawyer referral services can help you find the right type of lawyer for your case and may include a free initial consultation. To find a lawyer in your area, use Find a Lawyer. Your local domestic violence agency may also be able to help you find a lawyer.

    Property Division

    Your marital property will be divided as part of your divorce. Many controlling or abusive people control money and property in a marriage. If you think your spouse owns things you don’t know about, or that your spouse may try to hide or get rid of property, you should consider hiring a lawyer. A lawyer may be able to find hidden assets through a legal process called discovery. A lawyer can also help you get temporary orders to stop your spouse from getting rid of property during your divorce.


    Mediation is a process where a neutral person (the mediator) meets with both spouses to help them settle issues in their divorce. Mediation may be used in your divorce to help you and your spouse agree on property division, child custody, parenting time, and other issues. However, if your spouse has been abusive, mediation may not be a good idea.

    Mediation can be helpful when both parties are able to ask for what they want without being afraid or intimidated. If one person is used to being in control and making all the decisions, mediation usually doesn’t work well. Abusive people often use threats, fear, and control to get their way. This goes against the goal of reaching an agreement that is fair to both of you. Mediation may be a bad idea if you are representing yourself in your divorce.