Spousal Rapists May Soon Not Be Able to Collect Support

I am sure you are shocked by this statement.  Not because you are shocked on behalf of the rapist, but rather you are shocked that a rapist can collect support against his or her spouse.  Well, that is the current state of the law, as evidenced by a decision in San Diego, CA which prompted legislation on this matter.

The Award and the Crime

The spousal support (also known as alimony) laws in California require the court to look at the relative incomes of each party, their ability to earn a living, as well as many other factors including domestic violence.  Well, earlier this year in a San Diego divorce, a family court judge did just this and determined that a wife, Crystal Harris, who was undisputedly the breadwinner, should pay support of $3,000 per month to her husband, but “discounted” this support to $1,000 per month due to the sexual assault inflicted on Crystal by her husband.

A wife paying support to her husband in this day and age is itself not shocking.  What is shocking is that this order was made just as Crystal’s husband, Shawn Harris, was convicted and sent to state prison for six years for committing spousal rape.  She was also ordered to pay $47,000 of the $100,000 legal fees incurred by Shawn in the divorce proceedings.  While Shawn cannot collect support while in prison, after he is out, under the current state of the law, he could seek support from Crystal.

The Reason and the Remedy

Crystal objected to the family court about the inherent unfairness of her having to be re-victimized each month by paying support to her rapist ex-husband. In response, the judge said he was required to make this order under the law because Crystal and Shawn had a long-term marriage (defined in California as lasting 10 or more years), Shawn was a stay-at-home dad and after he gets out of prison he essentially will have no job opportunities because he is a convicted sex felon.

While possibly technically correct under the current law, it just seems wrong that someone who is a felon and who by that felony renders himself unemployable, should then benefit from his crime by receiving support from his victim.  Crystal felt the same way and went straight to the legislature to seek a ban on such a result.  Currently, the law bans alimony for those convicted of attempting to murder their spouse.  Crystal seeks to include in this ban those convicted of violent sexual assault.

The bill has passed the Assembly and one would hope it will pass the Senate.