While we typically hear of domestic violence in the context of one party hurting another, a great deal of abusive marriages and partnerships involve abuse from both parties. This dynamic is known as situational violence, or mutual/ equal levels of violence from both sides. This type of intimate partner violence is quite common, since it usually lacks the element of control, or the deliberate need to dominate someone. It is often the result of heated arguments, often between partners with poor impulse control and/or communication skills. However, even couples who are normally calm and reasonable can escalate to situational violence if there are on-going, unresolved issues in their relationship.
This type of violence is especially common among divorcing couples, who are attempting to work through very serious issues such as custody and financial support. While most spouses manage to “snap out of it” and mutually agree to speak to a therapist, communicate through their attorneys, etc., some individuals choose to exploit the situation to their advantage. This problem has been recognized by the New Jersey courts system, through which an abuse victim can seek relief through the civil and/or criminal system. The issue with situational violence, however, is determining who is the actual victim. Furthermore, if there is no clear victim being that the violence was mutual, how should the family courts intervene, if at all?
In most cases, the courts become aware of a situation when one partner files for a restraining order. The filant can be granted a temporary order until the hearing, at which the judge can get a better understanding of the incident after hearing from both parties. This is where a judge may discover that both parties are more or less equally at fault, hence both parties should stay away from each other. It's important to understand this is not a matter of two wrongs canceling each other out. An order from the judge is a legal requirement, meaning that either side could be sanctioned for contacting or communicating with the other party. It's rare that a person is jailed just for contacting the other person, but violating a court order doesn't look if you're in the middle of a divorce or any other legal action.
In spite of the legal remedies, most couples choose not to report incidents of situational violence. If both people got out of hand, no one was seriously hurt, and there has been no prior history of domestic violence, then perhaps it's best to let bygones be bygones. However, it is probably best that both parties communicate largely or solely through their attorneys, at least for the duration of the divorce proceeding. It's also best to discuss your personal situation with an attorney, who can advise you on the possible legal ramifications of filing. This is not to say that you should hesitate to take legal action against an abuser. What action you take, however, should be based on more than one's immediate impulses.