Ex-Wife Ordered to Pay Alimony to Abusive Ex-Husband: Crystal Harris Case

Yes, you read that right.

An ex-wife, Crystal Harris, was ordered last November by Judge Gregory Pollack, a San Diego County Family Court Judge, to pay alimony to her abusive ex-husband who was convicted of sexually assaulting her (forcible oral copulation). Her ex-husband was sentenced to 6 years in prison. According to an alimony order by the judge, Ms. Harris had to pay her ex-husband alimony in the amount of $3000 a month than reduced to $1000 a month for approximately four months while he was awaiting sentencing on the conviction.

What?

As a former San Diego domestic violence prosecutor and a civil law attorney, I have never heard of a judge awarding alimony to an abusive ex-husband anywhere in the country. Doesn’t the order further traumatize and victimize the victim? Offend common decency? Amount to a judicial abuse of discretion? What an “outrage”, replied a New York judge. Aren’t judges supposed to stop the violence, not continue it? San Diego is surely setting a precedent, an embarrassing one. And, now, we need a new law to tell a judge not to issue an alimony order in cases where a spouse has been convicted of a violent sex crime. (AB 1522)  Really, we have to spend taxpayer money and legislators time to tell a judge not to do this? Wow.

Does the judge have an utter lack of understanding or care for the emotional distress and trauma victims of sexually violent crimes endure? And, the judge didn’t terminate alimony in the future. Imagine knowing that some day down the road, say 6 years, you may have to face your abuser again upon his request for alimony. How does that not re-trigger the trauma or cause a victim to re-live the violence, each and every month she writes a check. Wow, that’s justice. Who is the victim here? And, this is at the hands of a judge not the abusive ex-husband.

Furthermore, the judge also bussed-in the convicted ex-husband to be physically present at every court hearing, which is not done by any other family court judge in San Diego County. How does that not traumatize the victim, not to mention the extraordinary expense to taxpayers? Does the judge just not get it or doesn’t care, either way, should he be serving as a judge, especially as a family court judge?

Did the judge even listen to the tape recording the jury heard of the horrific and violent attack?

The judge defends his order as lawful as there is no law prohibiting alimony for sex crimes, only a prohibition for attempted or solicitation of murder. Really, we had to legislate that, too?

However, a history of domestic violence and a criminal conviction of an abusive spouse (which occurred in this case) are factors a judge “shall” (not “may”) consider in awarding or eliminating alimony. (California Family Code Section 4320 et seq.) And, more importantly, there is no law that makes alimony mandatory, it is awarded at the judges discretion applying the factors above and other financial need factors with fairness and equity considerations. Therefore, the judge doesn’t need a law to support his decision not to award alimony. Yet, he hangs his hat on the lack of law to award it.

Why?

The ex-husband’s need for financial support. Really, how does the $1000 a month alimony meet the financial needs of the ex-husband or even meet the standard of living test? So if the award doesn’t meet the financial need, than why the order? And for that matter, why the additional order requiring immediate reunification with the 2 children upon his prison release? What no evaluation or counseling first? The ex-husband is a convicted sex offender who violently assaulted their mother while they were home and their mother fears for her safety to this day. Some discretion.

What about the intent of the law to protect victims from further trauma? If the law allows judges to deny alimony in cases of a domestic violence conviction (say a punch to the head, for instance) because it further traumatizes the victim, than why would awarding alimony in a far more egregious case, like a conviction for a violent sex crime, be permissible and not violate the intent of the law. Maybe, the judge simply got confused.

We hold judges to a higher standard, one of integrity, impartiality, fairness, equity and common sense.  Yet, this alimony order simply offends the intent of the law to protect victims from further abuse, and offends human dignity and common decency. We look to judges to stop the violence not hand out orders that continue to harm the victim.

The judge’s order is appalling, offensive and wrong, morally and otherwise.

Simply my opinion, what say you?

See Crystal Harris’ Story on ABC’s Nightline (4/4/2012),

http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/victim-ordered-pay-attackers-alimony-16076370

Other post you may want to read and share:

No Alimony to Spouses Convicted of Sexual Assault: California Proposed Law AB 1522

Copy of AB 1522 Bill & History (see link or text below)

(Update 1/2/2013: Author’s note: Maybe, we should consider no alimony when convicted of any domestic violence or child abuse/molest offense or do we wait for the violence to escalate? What say you?)

(Update 11/8/2012: The new judge denies husband’s request for Crystal to pay husband’s attorneys fees incurred in Crystal’s appeal of the judgment.)

(Update 9/28/2012: California Governor signs bill into law! One person can make a difference.)

(Update 8/28/2012: Assembly concurred, bill sent to Governor Brown to sign.)

(Update 8/24/2012: AB 1522 is unanimously passed by the Senate. Bill goes to Assembly to vote on changes. Governor to sign or veto bill by 9/30/2012)

(Update 8/21/2012: Senate votes this Thursday 8/23/2012 on AB 1522. Bill expected to pass, than, back to Assembly to vote on bill changes. Governor has until 9/30/2012 to sign or veto bill.)

(Update 7/27/2012: Crystal’s recusal motion granted, Judge Pollack is off the case and the case will be assigned to a new judge.) 

(Update 7/3/2012: Senate Judiciary passes AB 1522 with amendment.)

(Update 6/25/2012: Senate Judiciary to hear and vote on AB 1522 on July 3, 2012 at 9 am Room 112 State Capitol in Sacramento.)

(Update 6/2/2012: AB 1522 to be heard by California State Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2012. Exact date updated when hearing set) 

(Update 5/11/2012: California Court of Appeal affirmed verdict and upheld ex-husband’s felony conviction. http://appellatecases.courtinfo.ca.gov/search/case/mainCaseScreen.cfm?dist=41&doc_id=1970152&doc_no=D059126.)

(Update 4/12/2012: AB 1522 just passed unanimously by the California Assembly. Next stop, State Senate.)

(Update 4/5/2012: AB 1522 is up for full Assembly Vote on 4/12/2012. Let the California Assembly know what you think.)

(Update 3/22/2012: Bill Passed 7 to 1 ( Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski (Dem-Alameda) opposed) by Assembly Judiciary Committee with revisions regarding attorney fees. Bill headed to Assembly floor for vote. Update 3/10/2012: AB 1522 (California Assembly Bill 1522) will be heard by the judiciary committee on March 20, 2012 9-11 am. Go Voice your opinion!).

Assembly Bill No. 1522 Final Version Signed by Governor, becomes law 1/1/2013.

CHAPTER 718

An act to amend Section 4320 of, and to add Section 4324.5 to, the Family

Code, relating to family law.

[Approved by Governor September 28, 2012. Filed with Secretary of State September 28, 2012.]

 

AB 1522, Atkins. Family law: monetary awards.

Existing law provides that, in addition to any other remedy authorized by law, when a spouse is convicted of attempting to murder the other spouse or of soliciting the murder of the other spouse, the injured spouse shall be entitled to 100% of the community property interest in his or her retirement and pension benefits, and a prohibition of specified support or insurance benefits from the injured spouse to the convicted spouse. Existing law defines “injured spouse” for these purposes. Under existing law, a family court is required to consider specified factors in ordering spousal support, including the criminal conviction of an abusive spouse.

This bill would expand the above-described provisions to apply when a spouse is convicted of a specified violent sexual felony against the other spouse, and would require the court to consider the convicted spouse’s criminal conviction for a violent sexual felony in ordering spousal support, as specified. The bill would also require the court to order the attorney’s fees and costs to be paid from the community assets if warranted by economic circumstances. Under the bill, the injured spouse, as defined, would not be required to pay any of the convicted spouse’s attorney’s fees out of his or her separate property. The bill would further, at the request of the injured spouse, define the date of the parties’ legal separation as the date of the incident giving rise to the conviction, or earlier if the court finds that the circumstances justify an earlier date, for community property purposes.

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:

SECTION 1. Section 4320 of the Family Code is amended to read:

4320. In ordering spousal support under this part, the court shall consider all of the following circumstances:

(a) The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, taking into account all of the following:

(1) The marketable skills of the supported party; the job market for those skills; the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.

(2) The extent to which the supported party’s present or future earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment that were incurred during the marriage to permit the supported party to devote time to domestic duties.

(b) The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party.

(c) The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support, taking into account the supporting party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living.

(d) The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage.

(e) The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.

(f) The duration of the marriage.

(g) The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children in the custody of the party.

(h) The age and health of the parties.

(i) Documented evidence of any history of domestic violence, as defined in Section 6211, between the parties, including, but not limited to, consideration of emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party, and consideration of any history of violence against the supporting party by the supported party.

(j) The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.

(k) The balance of the hardships to each party.

(l) The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Except in the case of a marriage of long duration as described in Section 4336, a “reasonable period of time” for purposes of this section generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage. However, nothing in this section is intended to limit the court’s discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time, based on any of the other factors listed in this section, Section 4336, and the circumstances of the parties.

(m) The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse shall be considered in making a reduction or elimination of a spousal support award in accordance with Section 4324.5 or 4325.

(n) Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.

SEC. 2. Section 4324.5 is added to the Family Code, to read:

4324.5. (a) In any proceeding for dissolution of marriage where there is a criminal conviction for a violent sexual felony perpetrated by one spouse against the other spouse and the petition for dissolution is filed before five years following the conviction and any time served in custody, on probation, or on parole, the following shall apply:

Ch. 718 2

(1) An award of spousal support to the convicted spouse from the injured spouse is prohibited.

(2) Where economic circumstances warrant, the court shall order the attorney’s fees and costs incurred by the parties to be paid from the community assets. The injured spouse shall not be required to pay any attorney’s fees of the convicted spouse out of the injured spouse’s separate property.

(3) At the request of the injured spouse, the date of legal separation shall be the date of the incident giving rise to the conviction, or earlier, if the court finds circumstances that justify an earlier date.

(4) The injured spouse shall be entitled to 100 percent of the community property interest in the retirement and pension benefits of the injured spouse.

(b) As used in this section, “violent sexual felony” means those offenses described in paragraphs (3), (4), (5), (11), and (18) of subdivision (c) of Section 667.5 of the Penal Code.

(c) As used in this section, “injured spouse” means the spouse who has been the subject of the violent sexual felony for which the other spouse was convicted.


18 Comments on “Ex-Wife Ordered to Pay Alimony to Abusive Ex-Husband: Crystal Harris Case”

  1. Struggling mom says:

    I am glad to see changes happening in the legislation regarding domestic violence (DV). However, the abusers are now using the courts to gain more parenting time through chronic litigation and federal block grants that are focused on increasing non-custodial parenting time. As the courts are incrementally increasing the NCP’s timeshare, abusers are able to ask for child support orders from their victims. No one should be paying alimony or child support to any abuser! I left my ex over DV, now the San Diego court system gave him an interim order for me to pay him child support when I have our child more time.

    • Thanks for the info. You may want to contact your local representative like Crystal Harris did (Assembly Bill 1522 headed to Senate for a vote July 3, 2012) and advise them of the injustice and the need for a new law to stop the abuse.

  2. Jill Estensen says:

    Thank you Michele & Crystal for your determination to get a broken system fixed! You are the champions for millioins of women who haven’t been able to speak up. You give me hope!

  3. Udeme says:

    Hi all,

    Does anyone have a transcript of this case? I am a third year law student at Howard University, and I want to share this case in a paper and presentation for my Domestic Violence seminar course. After learning the facts of the case, I felt compelled to write about it.

    • Right On! We can all learn a lot from this case. We’ll see what we can do about getting you a transcript. As a former DV prosecutor, if I can help you send me an email or call. Good luck with the DV seminar course.

    • Crystal Harris says:

      Hi,
      Crystal Harris here. Contact me at crystal.j.harris@mssb.com and I will get you whatever transcripts you want. I have them all. Thanks for your interest in this case.

  4. Judy says:

    A similar thing happened to me, here in little po-dunk Gloucester, VA. Judge R. Bruce Long would not even CONSIDER my husband’s convictions for spousal abuse when I was trying to get a divorce from my abuser.

    Since I was the breadwinner in the family (no kids in the home) and even though my abusive husband refused to work, and despite the fact my husband was now living with his mother in another state (in her house with no expenses) the judge awarded the pendente lite monthly award of $2500 to him…. Meaning that, had I complied, I would have had to violate another part of the order (selling the marital home, or something).

    In my case the divorce never got to the final decree, because my husband managed to overdose on a cocktail of prescription drugs. Nevertheless, my experience with “the system” in the divorce court left me with some serious questions about the sanity of those in the position to judge. These were not simply “claims” to enable me to leave an unhappy marriage. These were convictions in which my husband ADMITTED his drug and alcohol addictions and his physical abuse of me. Even when he was with his mother in another state, he was arrested and jailed for assaulting his sister and her husband. The system is not just broken in San Diego, I’m afraid…. it is broken all over!

    My blog on the topic in Gloucester county, VA can be found here.

    http://icantbelievethisiscourt.blogspot.com/2010/05/pendente-lite-spousal-support_08.html

    • Judy, thank you sharing your story. My apologies to you. Hopefully, your story and Crystal’s will inspire other legislators to have the wisdom to pass a law that protects victims of domestic violence and prohibits alimony and benefits to spouses convicted of any violent sexual felony. And, in my opinion, the law should also include any conviction for a domestic violence offense including misdemeanors and felonies. Although the law may distinguish between the severity of violence, the trauma and the indignity to the victim spouse is the same.

  5. […] This is my cousin, Crystal Harris.  I testified at her trial and have been astonished at her strength and resilience. She has even entered a bill with the help of Assembly members into the legislature (which is being sponsored by the San Diego County’s District Attorney office) to help correct this terrible ‘loop hole in the law’ from every victimizing another spouse ever again. This article explains this all perfectly. […]

  6. Crystal Harris says:

    Hi Michele,
    Thank you for a very thorough and accurate post regarding my case. If you only knew the further extent of rulings Judge Pollack made in the nine court appearances made (six of them after Shawn’s incarceration, and yes, he was present for all of them). All of the rulings made on Shawn’s behalf…such as a ruling that our house purchased in 2004 for $775,000 is still worth $745,000 in 2008 (a decline of only 3.8% despite other homes declining 39% in the same area). We had an expert in court testify as to the value of my home, Shawn had no one, Judge made himself the expert and his ruling gave my home “equity” it simply did not have, which awarded Shawn more money in community property.
    Judge Pollack also continually ordered me to do a deposition PRIOR to the criminal trial, even though it was obvious Shawn’s criminal defense was working with his divorce lawyers. We argued to please allow my rights as a rape victim-witness in a criminal case to stay the deposition until after the criminal case was tried, but Pollack would not allow it. We appealed his decision to the 4th District. Luckily the criminal trial got underway before the issue was heard and I never did give my deposition.
    There are other things, too. In the press I focus on the two issues that can be addressed with a simple change in state law.
    I still need help in my Family Law case. It turns out I have to appear before Judge Pollack one more time. I want to appeal the $47,000 in attorney fees, but can’t because our trial somehow turned into a settlement. I want to ask Pollack to set aside the settlement. I also intend to appeal the custody order of immediate re-unification. I’m working with a group called DVLEAP on that. If an attorney is willing to help, please feel free to contact me…..

    • Hang in there Crystal, know that you are making a difference in the lives of many.

      • Sheralyn says:

        Michele, what about reporting these types of thing to the Commission on Judicial Performance? This is, in my opinion, clearly a case of the Judge being incapable of making a dicision, since the ones he made here puts this woman and her child in imminent danger, or forces her into criminal behavior to protect herself and her child. Is this Judge elected; is he hired, or appointed by the Governor? I think his competency to read the law should be questioned…’shall’ does not mean he “must’ rule in favor of the ex-husband. I also know we just had a committee formed a few years back to evaluate some of the problems with statutes in family law…it was called the Elkins Family Law Task Force. What do they say to this ruling? I personally am shocked, and horrified at how this type of ruling sets us back in time to where women and children were considered property. This is scary…and we must not turn away from this type of judicial ‘terrorism.’

  7. I. Adkins says:

    My ex-husband also committed domestic violence against me, although not to the degree that Crystal experienced. And I had the same outcome in my divorce proceedings in the Vista Courthouse (the same courthouse where Ms. Harris’ case was heard). My attorney even brought up Section 4320. You know what the judge said? He said there is no case law on that in California (this was in 2008) and he did not have to apply that statute. This is despite the fact that my ex-husband plead guilty to domestic abuse, and even admitted to it at the Family Court hearing. The court in San Diego DOES NOT CARE. Every month when I write that damn check to my ex, I try to justify it by telling myself that it is payment for my freedom. But I will paying that to him for life, and it is killing me financially. I struggle to pay my bills and to take care of our son. Oh, by the way, he also got off the hook for paying child support. Instead, the judge ordered that I apply for and receive Social Security based on my ex-husband’s “disability.” I had no choice; without it I can’t even consider paying the spousal support. So I get the money from the government and pass it over to the loser ex. Thanks taxpayers, you are paying his obligation to support his child. The whole thing is a nightmare. By the way, I had a neighbor who also had a similar outcome in the Vista courthouse Family Law department. This is just plain wrong.

    • What no case law? A statute is law.
      Didn’t have to apply (follow) the statute (the law)? Section 4320 clearly states re domestic violence, the court “shall” consider, not “may” consider in awarding spousal support.
      In my opinion, it’s appalling that any judge would award alimony in light of a domestic violence conviction or history, especially since granting alimony is discretionary, not mandatory. Judge have the legal right not to award it. Your experience is yet another example of a judge’s failure to protect a victim of domestic violence and utter disregard for the further trauma caused by an alimony order.

      The judge told you to apply for social security rather than award child support???? So much for the law.

      I am sorry to hear about your experience with a San Diego (Vista) Family Court judge. Thank you for telling us about your experience.

  8. 38special says:

    Sheesh, between this absolutely appaling story and the fouled up suicide ruling for Rebecca Zhaou, I’m ashamed of San Diego.
    This judge is clearly sending a message hat he is symapathetic to the criminal and a ruling like this must surely be empowering to him. Couple that biased order with the one for immediate reunification with his kids upon release, the day he is released I’m sure he will feel as bold as the days he smacked his ex wife around. Thanks judge for rewarding a violent scumabg.

  9. Jill Estensen says:

    Sounds like the judge in this case has some sort of BIAS. Does he approve of rape and violence against women & children? What is his record with this type of case? Perhaps the judge needs help. Insanity rules.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 33 other followers