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Alimony pay challenged by rape victim/wife against convicted attacker/husband

March 20, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
She was ordered to pay alimony to her ex-husband after he was convicted of sexually assaulting her. There's an effort to change the law that made her pay spousal support.

A California judge said that he just couldn't order no spousal support in a 12-year marriage in which the husband made $400 per month and the wife made $11,000 per month. Crystal Harris, the wife, says she feels victimized twice.

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 pre-school age boys were awake upstairs," said Crystal.

Crystal, a successful financial analyst, recounted to lawmakers the horrible night that happened four years ago, hoping they'll change the law. A family court judge ordered Crystal to pay her ex-husband $1,000 per 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," said Crystal.

There's already a state law that prohibits spousal support when the significant other is convicted of attempted murder. State Assemblywoman Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) has a bill that 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. We seem to be going down a slippery slope and one wonders where we will draw the line, ultimately," said Jill Barr, a family law specialist with the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists.

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," said Bentley.

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


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