Divorce & Family Law: June 2020 Archives

Appeals Court Vacates Custody Award Due to Domestic Abuse Allegations

In the recent unpublished Memorandum and Order Pursuant to Rule 1:28, Manning v. Manning, the Massachusetts Appeals Court overturned a custody judgment from the Probate and Family Court awarding a couple shared legal and physical custody of their two children due to the lower court judge's failure to make required findings of fact regarding the wife's allegations of domestic abuse by the husband. At the time of their divorce trial, the wife testified that her husband had abused her on numerous occasions during the marriage, including punching her, throwing objects at her, and grabbing her by the neck in front of their child. The trial judge credited the wife's testimony, writing in the judgment that the husband "physically battered and assaulted the [w]ife throughout the entire tenure of the marriage." Despite this finding, however, the judge ordered that the parties should have shared custody of their children, with each parent exercising parenting time for one week at a time.

G.L. Ch. 209A Restraining Orders Must be Based on a Reasonable Fear of Abuse.

For a plaintiff to obtain an abuse prevention order, colloquially known as a "restraining order," against a defendant, the issuing court must make a finding of abuse. For the purposes of 209A, abuse is defined as a) attempting to cause or causing physical harm; b) placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm; or c) causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations. In cases where no attempted or actual physical contact has occurred, the question is generally whether the defendant placed the plaintiff in fear of imminent serious physical harm. Past cases have established that such fear must be reasonable in light of the totality of the circumstances of the parties' relationship.

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