What Is Battered Woman Syndrome?
Battered woman syndrome – sometimes called "battered woman's syndrome" or "battered wife syndrome" – refers to a phenomenon recognized by sociologists and psychologist where a woman is subjected to a sustained pattern of physical and emotional abuse by a dominant male figure in her life. Note that battered woman syndrome does not necessarily involve a marital relationship between victim and aggressor.
The Three Stages of Battered Woman Syndrome
The cycle of abuse in battered woman syndrome cases is characterized by three stages.
In the first stage of battered woman syndrome, there is elevation of tension and conflict between the parties.
In the second stage of battered woman syndrome, there is physical abuse against the victim.
In the third stage, the aggressor exhibits extreme regret and contrition. The aggressor may make promises to never hurt the victim again, to refrain from consuming alcohol or drugs, or other similar claims.
Battered Woman Syndrome in Criminal Law
Battered woman syndrome is most famous for its use as a defense in criminal cases. Similar to self-defense, battered woman syndrome has been raised as a reason for excusing or minimizing criminal liability for crimes such as battery or homicide against the aggressor.
However, self-defense often requires proof that the defendant was in imminent danger. In early cases involving victims of battered woman syndrome claiming self-defense, prosecutors would argue that a sustained pattern of abuse suggests that the harm was not imminent because the defendant had “unreasonably” remained in an abusive relationship.
However, as the scientific community started recognizing battered woman syndrome as a legitimate psychological condition, courts started to recognize that women trapped in abusive relationships weren’t necessarily choosing to remain in danger. Thus, battered woman syndrome served to excuse someone from criminal liability for violently lashing out against their attacker.
Civil Liability for Battered Woman’s Syndrome
While battered woman syndrome was mostly recognized in the context of defending an abused woman against criminal charges, New Jersey courts also held that the condition also constituted a marital tort that entitled the victim to a civil remedy. In Cusseaux v. Pickett, 279 N.J.Super. 335 (Law Div. 1994), the Superior Court of New Jersey held that “'battered woman’s syndrome’ is now a cognizable cause action under the laws of New Jersey.”
According to the court in Cusseaux, liability for battered woman’s syndrome requires proof of the following elements:
- A marital or marital-like intimate relationship
- An extended period of physical or psychological abuse by the dominant partner
- A causal connection between the extended abuse and recurring physical or psychological injury
- The plaintiff’s inability to take action to unilaterally improve or change their situation
Domestic Violence Prevention
In 1991, the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (NJPDVA) went into effect, providing victims of domestic violence with new legal protections. One of the forms of relief under the NJPDVA was allowing someone to request “emergency, ex parte relief in the nature of a temporary restraining order…when necessary to protect the life, health or well-being of a victim on whose behalf the relief is sought.”
An emergency temporary restraining order (TRO) to prevent domestic violence is powerful protection that allows courts to issue orders without first fulfilling the conventional due process requirements of providing the defendant with notice and a hearing. This means that a court does not have to wait to hear the defendant’s side of the story before giving them a temporary restraining order to prevent impending abuse.
A TRO can be powerful protection for victims of battered woman’s syndrome as it lets third parties request a TRO. A TRO can restrain the aggressor from making any contact with the victim, oust the aggressor from their home, give the victim exclusive possession of the home, and bar the aggressor from possessing firearms.
Although the procedure for requesting a TRO for preventing domestic violence is considered a civil action, the violation of a TRO is punishable as a crime.
Battered Woman’s Syndrome in Divorce Proceedings
When courts make a determination about child custody, they are required to consider factors concerning the child’s best interest. New Jersey courts have an interest in protecting the safety and welfare of minor children. Thus, a court tasked with deciding on a custody arrangement must consider a parent’s history of domestic violence, whether directed toward the child or their parent. Courts may also factor the continued pattern of abuse in battered woman syndrome cases when determining issues such as spousal support and the equitable distribution of marital property upon divorce.
DeTommaso Law Group Helps Victims of Battered Woman Syndrome
If you are looking for a way to escape an abusive relationship, you should seek the professional counsel of an attorney experienced in handling domestic violence cases. At DeTommaso Law Group, you can benefit from the compassionate services of our legal team. We are dedicated to giving a powerful voice to those who have been oppressed by the abusive conduct of someone they thought they could trust.
For a consultation about your legal rights and options regarding battered woman syndrome or battered wife syndrome, call us at (908) 274-3028 or contact our office online today.