How a Change in Domestic Violence Law Is Impacting Hollywood Divorces
In September 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed several bills intended to enhance protections for survivors of abuse. One of them, which was enacted in part because of an increase in isolation-related domestic violence amid the pandemic, allows a party to request a restraining order in response to not only things like assault, battery, destruction of property and harassment but also if someone is destroying “the mental or emotional calm of the other party.”
One group taking issue with the new standard, however, is Hollywood divorce lawyers. To be clear, the attorneys THR spoke with agree that nonphysical abuse and coercive control are very real problems. Within the confines of Hollywood divorces, though, they feel the broad language of the well-intentioned standard allows it to be misused in a post-#MeToo environment where public allegations against high-profile figures spread like wildfire.
“Clearly there’s a reason we have domestic violence statutes. They’re intended to protect people who have been truly victimized,” says Kristina Royce, one of Hollywood’s go-to divorce attorneys. “With the #MeToo movement being as vigilant as it is, people are getting fired or demoted even if there are allegations with no support. And because the [new] standard is so low, it’s an opportunity for people to use domestic violence as leverage. It is a perfect storm.”
Though not a direct result of the #MeToo reckoning, the heightened concerns about optics that followed it and this recent redefining of domestic violence are making negotiations tougher for divorce lawyers in contentious splits involving famous spouses.
Royce says she’s already seen it weaponized in custody battles. California generally favors a 50-50 split, but a domestic violence claim could help the alleged victim secure sole custody. One of Royce’s clients, a director, was threatened with a false claim, she says. “The #MeToo movement put him on a heightened alert,” says Royce. “He doesn’t want to fight it because it would be publicized. Even though it’s all false, he feels he has to succumb.”
Threatening an ex-spouse’s professional reputation can backfire with regard to spousal support, however. “Not only are you taking this nuclear and you’re never going to have a good co-parenting relationship with your spouse, but if you hurt their career, how are you going to get support?” asks Royce.
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"How a Change in Domestic Violence Law Is Impacting Hollywood Divorces," by Ashley Cullins was published in The Hollywood Reporter on October 4, 2022.