The interplay between ending a marriage that may have involved domestic violence for several years and the right of a wife to sue her husband after divorce recently came together in a case in California. In Boblitt v. Boblitt, the California Appellate Court considered a civil lawsuit for money damages on a tort claim brought by a wife against her husband for a broken jaw and a history of physical abuse during their 24-year relationship and marriage.
The husband moved to dismiss the case saying that part of the divorce code in California included taking into account a history of domestic violence in determining support and alimony. He said that the wife’s issues all could have been litigated in the marital case, thereby foreclosing her from filing a lawsuit after the divorce was final.
The doctrine of res judicata means that once a case is decided it is over and done with. However, a tort action, like the one she brought, is based on the right to be free from personal injury. The court said there was no sound basis for concluding that the marital code would have fully compensated her for the pattern of violations of those rights. In other words, considering domestic violence and setting a level of support does not vindicate the primary right of a woman to be free from personal injury. Therefore, the wife had a right to proceed with a civil action for money damages.