American Indian/Alaska Native victims of sexual violence may need to access divorce or dissolution of marriage proceedings in Tribal or state courts. The need to obtain divorce or dissolution of marriage proceedings may arise when a victim has survived spousal rape or in cases where the stressors of surviving sexual violence have been a contributing factor to the ending of the marriage.

Divorce or dissolution proceedings are essential for American Indian/Alaska Native victims of sexual violence for several reasons.  These reasons include the following:

  • Without a divorce order or dissolution decree, victims may face numerous challenges, even if they have physically separated from the spouse for many years.

  • Without a divorce, victims are financially responsible for any future debts incurred by their spouse. 

      • For example, a victim can physically separate from their spouse for many years but remain liable for their future credit card debt, student loans, judgments against them for torts, medical bills, and other obligations.
  • Absent a divorce decree, both biological parents have equal rights to legal and physical custody of the children in common. 

      • For example, this means that the husband is legally allowed to take the children off of Tribal or state lands, move to another jurisdiction, enroll the children in a different school, change the child’s religion, and consent to medical procedures without the mother’s permission.
  • Victims may not be able to dispose of or acquire property (e.g. a mortgage, a motor vehicle, a piece of farm land, or a boat) without a husband’s signature.

  • Up to half of any equity that the victim builds up in a home, business, farm, or vehicle may later be claimed by the other spouse in community property jurisdictions

  • Without a divorce decree, the other spouse may have access to the victim’s retirement accounts and pensions.

  • A victim’s non-divorced spouse can ruin a victim’s credit score and prevent her from accessing financing for a vehicle, credit card, mortgage, or business loan.

When initiating divorce proceedings, it is essential to file in the correct jurisdiction. Couples domiciled or living within the same Tribal jurisdiction must file for divorce in Tribal court. Filing the divorce in the jurisdiction where the children have been living for that last six months is highly recommended.

Contact NICCSA

PO Box: 2100 E Speedway Blvd, Box 40805, Tucson, AZ 85719

Phone: (520) 623-8192
Fax: (520) 623-8246

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*NICCSA is a project of the Southwest Center for Law and Policy ( This project is supported by Grant No. 2017-SA-AX-K001, awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.