Domestic Violence and Its Impact on a California Spousal Support Case

dollarsA Palm Springs wife, who who pled guilty to attacking her estranged husband with a deadly weapon, was turned away by both a Southern California trial court and the Fourth District Court of Appeal in her attempt to secure an award of spousal support. The original crime’s sensationalistic and graphic facts drew coverage from the news media, but the less publicized recent support case is a noteworthy one in terms of illustrating the impact of domestic violence on future spousal support litigation.

The wife, Virginia Valdez, separated from her husband, Cesar Valdez, Jr., in August 2011 after nearly 32 years of marriage. While technically separated, the couple apparently remained in contact because, four months later, the wife committed an act of domestic violence on the husband. Specifically, during an intimate encounter, the wife excused herself, left the room, and, upon returning, attempted to chop off the husband’s genitals with a pair of heavy-duty scissors. The wife was ultimately convicted on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon.

A few months after the wife’s guilty plea, she was back in court. This time, she was pursuing an award of spousal support as part of the couple’s divorce case. The trial court rejected the wife’s claim. Family Code Section 4325 governs situations in which one spouse commits domestic violence, and the abuser subsequently pursues a claim demanding that the victim pay spousal support to her. The statute says that, if one spouse commits an act of domestic violence that occurred within five years of the divorce filing, the law creates a rebuttable presumption that the abuser should not receive any spousal support, even if an award would have been “otherwise awardable.” The wife promptly appealed, arguing that the trial court, in turning away the support claim, made an error of legal interpretation when it decided that the crime to which she pled guilty constituted domestic violence.

The appeals court did not agree with the wife, though, instead upholding the trial court’s decision. The wife was correct that the crime — assault with a deadly weapon — is not necessarily a domestic violence crime. The key, though, as the appeals court explained, was not whether the wife’s crime was a domestic violence crime under the code, but instead whether the underlying act was one of domestic violence. In this case, the wife admitted in court that she inflicted bodily harm on her husband. California law defines domestic violence as abuse committed against “a spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, or person with whom the suspect has had a child or is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship.” By the definitions created within California law, the wife’s scissors attack on her husband clearly amounted to domestic violence, and the trial court was well within its discretion to reject the spousal support claim.

For your spousal support case, an experienced California attorney can provide you with valuable assistance, including advice, advocacy, and a discussion of the various strategies available to you (and the benefits and drawbacks of each). The skilled San Diego spousal support attorneys at Doppelt & Forney have many years of experience assisting clients throughout Southern California, including in San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista, with their spousal support and other divorce-related cases. For a free consultation, reach out to Doppelt & Forney through our website or call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

More blog posts:

California Appeals Court Upholds Decision Denying Wife Retroactive Support Despite Expert Testimony, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, Aug. 2, 2016

California Court Denies Husband’s Motion for Spousal Support, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 8, 2016