For a long time, California was the only state with legislation meant to disqualify domestic abusers from receiving alimony from their victims. Some jurisdictions across the country would leave in the court’s discretion the decision to discuss marital misbehavior, up to even domestic violence. Sometimes any discussion of it would have been prohibited. In 1991, New Jersey passed the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, meant to reform divorce procedures and ensure a sense of fairness with regard to who receives alimony and under what circumstances. The doctrine of unconscionability, more traditionally used in contract cases, has been used in New Jersey to give effect to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.
To learn how so, please keep reading this article. If you find yourself being subjected to domestic violence, consider contacting a Union County domestic violence attorney today. We can help you weigh the different factors in your way, and we will do everything we can to get you to a better place.
Prevention of Domestic Violence Act
The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act was enacted as a way to protect victims of abuse in domestic relationships. Previous proposals with similar intent—such as Assembly Bill A399 modifying N.J.S.A.2A:34-2—had not been successful, until the 2014 amendments. These amendments made it clear that the court could and should deny alimony to a spouse who had committed bad acts like attempted murder or serious bodily injury.
The Doctrine of Unconscionability and Domestic Violence
Independently, the doctrine of unconscionability has typically been used in contract law. The New Jersey legislature as well as family courts, however, have pointed to unconscionability as well as the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act to refuse to enforce divorce settlements that would result in highly unfair situations, such as a convicted abuser requesting alimony from their abuse victim.
Divorce, and particularly spousal support, can be a contentious process even in the best of times. New Jersey gives judges wide discretion when weighing the different factors at stake in a divorce. Often, then, family court judges in New Jersey decide that the crime of domestic violence means the guilty party relinquishes their right to alimony.
Using the doctrine of unconscionability, judges in New Jersey may determine that an abuse victim financially supporting their abusive spouse represents an unreasonable and one-sided benefit to one party in an attempt to concretize the other party’s subjugation.