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How does Senate Bill 1129 affect California’s divorce laws?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Feb 26, 2020 | 0 Comments

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Domestic Violence does not pay

Senate Bill 1129 was signed into law by Gov. Brown in September 2018. The bill applies to divorce proceedings and it has two main impacts on California's divorce laws. These are:

  1. it prohibits spousal support to those spouses convicted of a violent sexual felony or a domestic violence felony, when the acts were committed against the other spouse, and
  2. it drastically limits the availability of spousal support to spouses convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, when the crime was committed against the other spouse.

The bill also places restrictions on the above offenders' ability to receive:

  • attorney's fees in divorce cases, and
  • community interest in their retirement plans.

SB 1129 marks a change in California law. The new law is harsher on those convicted of domestic violence and sex offenses against their spouses. Prior to the bill:

  • spouses were prohibited from receiving spousal support if they committed a violent sexual felony against the other spouse, and
  • spouses were greatly limited in their ability to receive spousal support if they were convicted of an act of domestic violence against the other spouse.

California domestic violence laws define “domestic violence” as abuse committed against an intimate partner.

Examples of an “intimate partner” include:

  • a current or former spouse,
  • a current or former registered domestic partner, and
  • a current or former fiancé(e).

New Laws Under Senate Bill 1129

SB1129 applies in California divorce proceedings. The bill:

  • prohibits spousal support to those spouses convicted of a violent sexual felony or a domestic violence felony, when the acts were committed against the other spouse, and
  • presumes that the availability of spousal support to spouses convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor is prohibited, when the crime was committed against the other spouse.

As to the latter, please note that this presumption can be rebutted by the offender spouse. This means the court can still award spousal support to the offender if he/she can show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the party is entitled to support.

Please also note that the SB 1129 places restrictions on an offender's ability to receive:

  • attorney's fees in divorce cases, and
  • community interest in their retirement plans.

Laws Prior to Senate Bill 1129

SB 1129 marks a change in California law. The new law is harsher on those convicted of domestic violence and sex offenses against their spouses. Prior to the bill:

  • spouses were prohibited from receiving spousal support if they committed a violent sexual felony against the other spouse (the current law now applies this prohibition to those convicted of a domestic violence felony as well), and
  • spouses were greatly limited in their ability to receive spousal support if they were convicted of an act of domestic violence against the other spouse (this applied to both felony and misdemeanor domestic violence charges).

What is domestic violence under California law?

California domestic violence laws define “domestic violence” as abuse committed against an intimate partner.

Examples of an “intimate partner” include:

  • a current or former spouse,
  • a current or former registered domestic partner,
  • a current or former fiancé(e),
  • a current or former live-in romantic partner (a “cohabitant”),
  • a person with whom the accused has, or has had, a child, or
  • someone the accused is seriously dating or has seriously dated in the past.

A person commits “abuse” when he or she intentionally or recklessly uses, or threatens the use of, physical force against an intimate partner.

Common crimes of “domestic violence” in California include battery, abuse, threats, and neglect.

Most crimes of domestic violence in California are “wobbler” offenses. A “wobbler” is a crime that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on:

  • the circumstances of the offense,
  • the seriousness of the alleged victim's injuries (if any), and
  • the defendant's criminal record (if any).

Most California counties impose a minimum jail sentence of 30 days for a domestic violence conviction. This is true even if the charge is a misdemeanor and it is the defendant's first offense.

What was the reasoning behind SB 1129?

Proponents of the new law support it because it helps curb and prevent instances of domestic violence and violent sexual felonies. These goals help protect victims from harm and help children from abusive parents.

Senate Bill 1129 was introduced by Senator Bill Monning. The bill amends Sections 4324.5 and 4325 of the California Family Code.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.

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