Divorce can be a difficult time for anyone, but for someone who has been in an emotionally of physically abusive relationship it can be particularly challenging. Just the act of leaving can feel like a huge step. However, many abusers will not agree to a marriage dissolution.

Domestic violence can happen in any relationship, but women are more likely to be abused in New Jersey. In the latest statewide Domestic Violence Report, covering data from 2016, 74 percent of reported cases were against women.

For anyone who is considering divorce and believes it will be contested by an abusive spouse, there are options. New Jersey statute § 2A:34-2 states that extreme cruelty is grounds for divorce, which is defined as “any physical or mental cruelty which endangers the safety or health of the plaintiff or makes it improper or unreasonable to expect the plaintiff to continue to cohabit with the defendant.”

Cruelty in domestic violence

What does cruelty look like, exactly? The Domestic Abuse Intervention Project created the Power and Control Wheel, which is used by domestic violence organizations nationwide to help define the myriad of abuse tactics.  Many of these are mental and psychological tools, and they include:

  • Threatening or coercing a spouse
  • Intimidating a spouse with looks or gestures
  • Making a spouse feel like they are crazy
  • Using guilt or jealousy to justify actions
  • Minimizing abusive actions or shifting the responsibility of those actions to the spouse
  • Threatening to take children away or using children to guilt
  • Making the decisions without their spouse or using traditional gender roles to control the relationship

You have the right to walk away

If your spouse’s behavior feels familiar when reviewing the Power and Control Wheel, you may be able to seek a divorce under the grounds of extreme cruelty. An attorney who is knowledgeable in domestic violence cases can help gather the evidence needed to establish cruelty and provide resources for leaving the marriage safely.