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When Divorce Gets Violent

David Scott, P.A. Aug. 20, 2022

We all know that divorce is no easy thing. Leaving someone that you may have been with for years – that you may have had children with – often involves intense emotions and drama. And when the procedure is stretched out over a long period of time, it just gets worse. In some cases, divorce can even turn violent.

In early July of this year, Karen McMahan, 65, of Florida, filed for divorce from her husband of 25 years, James McMahan, 67. When James saw the divorce papers, and that she had put $230,000 of the couple’s joint CD in a separate account (to ensure it would be safe during divorce proceedings), he became violent.

James drew a gun on Karen while threatening to kill her, her daughter, and himself. He said he would rather die than see Karen take some of his money. And that was just the beginning. Over the course of one long, frightening night, James took her into a forest and shot next to her, hit her in the head with the gun, grabbed her throat, and engaged in other instances of physical violence.

Finally, though, Karen was able to escape and tell authorities about the situation. James now faces numerous criminal charges, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, kidnapping, and domestic battery by strangulation. 

Hiring an Attorney Before Filing for Divorce Offers Protection

Now, it is obviously incredibly rare for a divorce to be as traumatizing or dramatic as the McMahans’ was. But you should always consult a lawyer before making any legal or financial moves involving marital property, and make sure that you are protected not just financially, but also physically.

Karen actually did the former – she consulted with a lawyer to go over her financial and legal options before moving forward with the divorce. She even had the attorney help her transfer the CD to a different account to protect her financial security.

But she underestimated her husband’s reaction, and because of this neglected to create any kind of legal protection to keep her and her daughter safe. What should she have done? Gotten a protection order first.

How Protection Orders Work in Divorce

The first thing many people think about when they start to seriously consider divorce is how they will survive financially. This is certainly what happened to Karen McMahan.

But you should never ignore the emotions that divorce can dredge up. People who are normally stable, upstanding citizens may become bitter, angry, and combative. And if your spouse already has a potentially violent temperament, you absolutely need to approach the situation with caution.

Protection orders (often called restraining orders) are filed by individuals who believe they are in immediate danger of violence. If a judge grants a protection order, the offender may be barred from contacting or visiting the individual. The offender may also lose visiting rights or the right to live in his or her home, if it is deemed appropriate by a judge.

Violating a protection order is a 1st degree misdemeanor in Florida, and could mean up to one year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. If you are worried about the safety of you and your children during divorce proceedings, a protection order may be your best option.

If you are planning on filing for divorce, give us a call today. During a free consultation, we will review your case and help you figure out your next steps, whether it involves financial decisions or taking legal action against your spouse. Our goal is always to help your divorce go as smoothly as possible and keep everyone involved safe and healthy.