In this case, our client, Jennifer Hatley, requested a DVRO against and spousal support from her estranged husband, James Southard. Despite Jennifer alleging a pattern of coercive control, including financial control, emotional and verbal abuse, taking her car and phone, and even some physical abuse, the trial court denied Jennifer’s DVRO request. The court also refused to let Jennifer testify to sexual abuse, which she alleged only in a supplemental declaration without giving details. Finally, the court failed to rule on Jennifer’s request for spousal support, effectively denying it; Jennifer, representing herself at trial, did not know to press the issue.
The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision and sent it back for a new hearing on both the support request and the DVRO, concluding Jennifer’s allegations, if true, would meet the “broad” DVPA definition of abuse, especially as amended by 2020’s Senate Bill 1141, which clarified that DVPA abuse includes, among other things, coercive control. The trial court also must consider Jennifer’s allegations of sexual abuse, as those were properly raised in her supplemental declaration. Plus, the Court confirmed, even if a DVRO is denied, trial courts still have to rule on a support request. Finally, the Court recognized that if Jennifer again represents herself, the trial court would have to take a more active role in making sure she can properly present her case. FVAP co-counseled this case with Morrison Foerster, with amicus support from California Women’s Law Center and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, who successfully requested publication.
The court’s published opinion can be found here.