Recently, I’ve been hearing the term “mutual combat” a lot. This terms refers to “combat between two persons as a result of a sudden quarrel or such circumstances as indicate a purpose, willingness, and intent on the part of both to engage mutually in a fight.” Dolphy v. State. So, the jist is that mutual combat occurs when two people willingly engage in a fight with each other, and in extreme cases it could be the difference between life in prison for murder or a finding of justifiable homicide. What immediately jumps to my mind is duel: both parties, guns in hands, take ten paces out and then turn and shoot. (I’ve been listening to a LOT of “Hamilton”, if you can’t tell.)
Anyway, how the heck does this come up in family law? I’ve actually seen an influx of clientele (heterosexual couples) with “mutual combat” woes. Namely, they both admittedly beat on each other. They tell me this like it’s not a problem; my domestic violence against my spouse is okay because they’re violent with me. Like it equals out. And even better, they each want to use “cruel treatment” by the other as a grounds for divorce against the other. And usually, it’s the woman who is taking pictures of her bruises and cuts while the man figures that he can claim self defense or mutual combat and all will be well.
This presents an interesting scenario for me as an attorney, and as a woman.
In my past life as a counselor, I worked with the Georgia Family Violence Intervention Program. My clients were individuals arrested under Georgia’s family violence act, and the program was a six month long, 1.5 hour per week, curriculum focused on education and prevention. I worked with just as many male batterers as I did female batterers, and I know that domestic violence does not discriminate on the basis of gender.
Domestic violence is not okay. It’s not okay if you’re both violent with each other. And I do feel that it’s wrong for one party to use the “I’m the victim card” when they are simultaneously a co-batterer. Being a victim is not a mantle you should take up because it’s convenient. This conduct downplays the experiences of women and men who are murdered or brutalized on a daily basis by their partner. It makes you a batterer in sheep’s clothing.
We have to stop and recognize that mutual combat is not a tool for communication. This is not a safe and healthy situation for either party, nor is this a safe environment for children who look up to you to teach them how to communicate with the rest of the world. And when your case ends up before a judge, that judge will not be swayed by the argument, “Well, they started it” unless that judges presides over an elementary school playground.
And, on its best days, a Superior Court court room is not at all like an elementary school playground.