While domestic violence is an evil our present-day culture endeavors to eliminate, American history has not always viewed it that way. The 1868 case of State v. Rhodes illustrates our country’s previous attitude towards spousal abuse.
In this North Carolina criminal case, a man was prosecuted for using a switch to hit his wife three times. The woman’s crime: she said something the defendant didn’t like—something the defendant couldn’t even remember by the time he was indicted.
The trial court found the man not guilty because it believed that men had a right to whip their wives with a switch, provided that the switch was no larger than the man’s thumb. The state appealed to the state’s supreme court.
The Supreme Court agreed with the general philosophy, believing that men should be allowed to impose “corrections” on their wives and if this case were allowed, the courts would be flooded with trifles. The court also believed that it had no place in the domestic arena absent some significant cruelty.
In its opinion the court held, “[w]e will not inflict upon society the greater evil of raising the curtain upon domestic privacy, to punish the lesser evil of trifling violence.”
Accordingly, the defendant was acquitted.
Clearly attitudes about domestic violence have changed. Nonetheless, it continues to thrive. If you are the victim of a domestic violence situation, then seek help from an attorney trained to deal with domestic violence situations.
In order to obtain a divorce, the parties must show that grounds for the divorce exist. Many years ago, a couple would not be able to establish grounds for the divorce absent some kind of fault. Today, every state allows a couple to obtain a divorce even if neither party can be blamed for some heinous act.
A fault-based divorce generally required that the person seeking the divorce prove that the other party had engaged in some action that would justify breaking up the marriage, such as adultery, abandoning the other spouse, extreme physical or mental cruelty, addictions to drugs or alcohol, or insanity.
Although abolished in most states today, some states allowed for defenses to any of the above. For example, if someone demonstrated collusion—such as manufacturing an affair so that the couple could get divorced—then the court would be prohibited from granting a divorce.
Today, every state in the United States allows for divorces without any required showing of fault. However, the parties must still establish grounds for the action. This usually requires that the marriage be “irretrievably broken” or that the parties have “irreconcilable differences.”
Florida has essentially eliminated fault-based grounds for divorce. Today, a divorce will be granted only if the marriage is irretrievably broken or if one of the parties is shown to be mentally incompetent.
Nonetheless, fault may be relevant for other purposes in a divorce proceeding. If you are concerned about the implications of a party’s fault in marriage, you should speak with a qualified family law attorney.