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Do Victim’s Rights In A Criminal Case Extend To Divorce Proceedings?

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While many divorce cases are amicable–or at least civil–there are some situations where the relationship has broken down to the point where law enforcement may get involved. If one spouse is abusing, threatening, or even stalking the other spouse, the aggressor may be facing criminal charges. It can also raise some interesting questions under California law.

California Appeals Court Declines to Extend “Massy’s Law” to Civil Matters

A California appeals court recently addressed one such question involving “Marsy’s Law,” a voter-approved 2008 ballot initiative that amended the state’s constitution to incorporate a “Victims’ Bill of Rights.” Marsy’s Law provides that in criminal cases the victim of a crime has certain rights. The question the appellate court in this case, Shlaieh v. The Superior Court of Riverside County, dealt with was whether those same rights applied to civil divorce proceedings.

In this case, a wife filed for divorce from her husband. While the divorce case remained pending, police arrested the husband on charges of “stalking and making criminal threats” against the wife. The wife also obtained a civil restraining order against the husband.

Here is where Marsy’s Law came into play. One provision of that law is that in a criminal proceeding, the victim has the right to “refuse an interview, deposition, or discovery request by the defendant, the defendant’s attorney, or any other person acting on behalf of the defendant.” Citing this protection, the wife objected to the husband’s request to depose her in their divorce case.

The judge overseeing the divorce case agreed that Massy’s Law applied here and denied the husband’s motion to compel the wife’s appearance at the deposition. The husband then filed a petition with the California Fourth District Court of Appeal for a writ of mandate, essentially a legal order overruling the trial judge’s decision.

The Fourth District granted the writ. The appellate court agreed with the husband that the rights guaranteed by Massy’s Law did not apply to civil proceedings. Indeed, the text of the law itself said it functioned as a constitutional amendment to “the laws of California relating to the criminal justice process.” There was “no reference, explicit or implied, to civil proceedings anywhere” in the law.

Ultimately, the Fourth District declined to infer any intent by the voters who passed Massy’s Law to modify the rules governing civil divorce proceedings, especially given that “the principle that a party to a civil action has a right to depose any adverse party in the action is both fundamental to our legal system and longstanding.” As such, the husband in this case was entitled to take his wife’s deposition in their divorce case.

Speak with a Campbell, California, Divorce Attorney Today

Whether your divorce is relatively amicable or involves a more complicated situation, it is always in your best interests to work with an experienced Campbell divorce lawyer to guide you through the process. Contact Hepner & Pagan, LLP, today to schedule a consultation with a member of our team.

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