Marital rape victim challenges alimony pay

March 20, 2012 7:31:11 PM PDT
A woman who was raped by her husband is asking California legislators to change a law so she and other sexual assault victims don't have to pay alimony to their rapists.

There was no happy ending for the marriage between Shawn and Crystal Harris, a couple from the San Diego area. It ended in divorce after he was convicted of sexually assaulting her and sentenced to six years in prison. One attack was caught on tape.

"He also choked me, beat me and threatened to kill me, all while our two preschool age boys were awake upstairs," Crystal Harris said.

The successful financial analyst recounted that horrible night four years ago to lawmakers, hoping they'll change the law. A family court judge ordered her to pay her ex-husband $1,000 a month in alimony upon his release, plus $47,000 in attorney fees.

"It mattered not that being ordered to pay my husband's spousal support every month amounted to making a rape victim write a check to her own rapist every month," Harris said.

A California judge said he couldn't order no spousal support in a 12-year marriage where the husband made $100 a month and the wife made $11,000 a month. Harris says she feels victimized twice.

There's already a state law that prohibits spousal support when the significant other is convicted of attempted murder. Assemblywoman Toni Atkin's bill would add sexually violent felonies to that, something the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists opposes.

"We should not be adding crimes to this section," Jill Barr with the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists said. "We seem to be going down a slippery slope and one wonders where we will draw the line ultimately."

Barbara Bentley championed the 1995 California law banning alimony and retirement pay after her husband tried to kill her. She can't believe how 17 years later, courts haven't learned from her case.

"Unfortunately, we have to fight for every little scrap of progression in the laws," Bentley said.

The committee approved the bill 6-1 with bipartisan support. If it's signed into law, Harris will still have to pay her ex-husband's $46,000 legal bill, but he would not be eligible for spousal support.


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