We all know the term “domestic abuse”. However, do we know what it means or who it is really happening to? Domestic abuse is, unfortunately, taking place all around us and yet very few of us will be aware of it happening to our friends or family as it usually occurs behind closed doors. For many divorce solicitors, this therefore means that some of our clients will be victims of domestic violence but may not openly speak about it.

The statistics on domestic abuse are shocking. According to Refuge 1 in 4 women in England and Wales experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. 1 in 6 men experience it in their lifetime. Every minute, police in the UK receive a domestic abuse call. On average, a woman is assaulted 35 times before her first call to the police. 20% of children in the UK have been exposed to domestic abuse. These are horrifying figures.

When researching the statistics to support this piece, we also looked to our own data and experiences of our clients. Of the group of Family Law clients who completed our unique client questionnaire, 29% reported that domestic abuse had been a feature in their relationship. Troublingly, of this group, over a third were still living with their spouse. As family lawyers, we are always aware that there can be hidden issues behind the breakdown of a relationship, however these figures have shocked us perhaps more than the national statistics, as these are individuals we have met…families we have acted for and supported.

The Government defines domestic abuse as:

Any incident of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:

  • psychological
  • physical
  •  sexual
  • financial
  • emotional

The term domestic abuse covers a wide range of behaviours and does not always mean that there is physical abuse. A large proportion of the cases I deal with have an element of domestic abuse within them. My clients are sometimes reluctant to discuss the abuse or address it. They simply want to leave the relationship and get out of the situation as quickly and easily as possible.

Domestic abuse is not confined to any one type of person, it can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, religion, race. The victims have often been isolated by the abuser with their links and access to friends and family being restricted. They describe living in the home with the abuser as ‘like walking on eggshells’ when they never know what behaviour will set the abuser off.

The person suffering from domestic abuse can feel embarrassed – how can an educated man or woman have found themselves in this situation? How can a man be under the control of a woman who is so much physically smaller than him? These are common feelings. It is also usual to feel that no one will believe that this apparently charming person could behave in this way behind closed doors.

Domestic abuse and divorce – taking the next steps

The idea of going to court to get an injunction to stop the abuser contacting the victim or forcing them to leave the house is a terrifying thought for most people experiencing domestic abuse. I can help a person experiencing domestic abuse to obtain these injunctions but it is not the right resolution for everyone. Often, even taking the step of speaking to a solicitor about their situation can be as much as they can manage at the time.

Often my clients need to build the confidence in themselves again before they can take the next step and leave their abusive partner. What I can do at a first meeting is talk through the options, let you know there are choices and perhaps most importantly, reassure you that all those threats you may have heard from your partner are untrue. Such as :

  • If you leave you lose your rights to the house
  • If you make me leave I won’t pay the mortgage and you won’t get to stay in the home
  • You can go, but you can’t take the kids with you
  • No one will believe you
  • It’s your fault this is happening

These are threats that are regularly made towards my clients and with my knowledge of our legal system I am equipped to deal with them. There are answers and solutions that will protect you.. As an example; there are ways to ensure that your abuser continues to pay the mortgage. If you are compelled, for reasons of safety to leave your home I will ensure this does not mean losing your rights of ownership.  I will ensure that your  children’s needs will be my first priority  and not be determined by the perpetrator  who remains living in your home.

There is good support out there for you if you are experiencing domestic abuse. If you are thinking of leaving your  abusive partner  then make sure you access appropriate  support alongside the advice I will provide  as a family law specialist. Local services include:

SDAS – http://southerndas.org/

Worth – http://www.worthservices.org/

Freedom – http://www.freedomprogramme.co.uk/

If you are in an abusive relationship and want to know more about the support available to you if you leave or divorce your partner, contact me for a confidential, non-judgemental chat.

Confidential, supportive advice from our domestic abuse accredited specialist

Contact Hazel

10 responses to “Domestic Abuse and divorce – the hidden issue in family law cases?

  1. I wish to help a friend get a divorce. She has already got a non-molestation order and non-occupancy. It is now necessary to get a divorce for the children’s sake and for her own sake. Her husband has managed to get legal aid by lying about his income. He claims to be unemployed but is in fact working on a cash in hand basis. My friend has failed to get legal aid. He income is £1,700 per month with which she provides for her two children getting nothing from her husband. She cannot afford a solicitor. I can assist as a McKenzie friend but do not know how to go about starting the procedure. Can you help?

    1. Thank you for your comment. While we can help your friend, we do charge for our services. I can offer a fixed fee first meeting to your friend which would hopefully help her with moving matters forward and provide her with help with what she needs to do next. There are many websites available with help as to how you could be a McKenzie Friend or you may find your local Citizens Advice Bureau helpful. Your friend is welcome to contact me directly if she would like to consider a meeting.

  2. In 2011 my stbx denied me access to all marital funds I had to scrape through and bring up 2 children on my own up until now. He has continued to live in the home with us to this day. I started divorce proceedings in 2016 when I found out he had been seeing a solicitor for 5 years behind my back. Over those years he has hidden assets, money, gambled to the extreme, picked up with another woman, denied me any money, said he is going to destroy me and I will never find one penny. The company he worked for has been bought out and his shares recognised. He has not disclosed much on form E and continues to ignore a penal notice. Yesterday I found out he has applied for a remortgage on our home without my permission and I’m told as joint mortgagee there’s nothing I can do. He has lied, cheated, pre meditated this divorce and now with all his years of bullying and threats and controlling all the finances, seems set to walk off with the lot. What do I do??

    1. Thank you for your comment. I’m sorry to hear of the situation you find yourself in. We cannot give advice on this forum but there are certainly steps you can take to protect yourself and try to control or limit your husband’s behaviour. If you would like to contact me directly then I can set out how we help new clients and how I can provide advice specifically for your situation.

  3. Hi
    My husband is the same. I’m on benefits re mental ill health. Can you provide free legal aid at all?
    Kind regards,

  4. My Husband has abused me verbally and now physically. We have been together for 22 years the cracks started about 2 years ago with him loosing his temper and throwing things. Last September I plucked up the courage to leave him. I had lots of nasty messages or him posting things on social media. After about six weeks we managed to sort things out and he promised me that nothing like that would happen again. He even said that he would attend anger management which he did. Then this week it started all over again with his verbal abuse and then he grabbed my jaw . I’m absolutely heartbroken that he could do this to me his own wife. He has said that he is going to kick me out of our home and make me homeless. I know he can’t do that and I’v refused to leave the property and that he would have to give me money so I could rent another property. His farther gave us the money appointmently 10 years ago to pay off our mortgage. We now have a charge on the house that if one of us where to died or in the event of separation or divorce that his dad would get his money back. The rest of the money due to the sale would then be split between myself and my husband. I told ld him that he couldn’t kick me out and if he wanted me out then he needed to give me money so I could find another property to rent. My husband told me that he was so so sorry and that he’s in a bad place at the moment. Sadly on Christmas Day his mum passed away which I know the family has been through a very tough time. But that still doesn’t give in the right to abuse me in any way. I gave up my job to care for her so at the moment I’m without a job and having to depend on my husband. My husband is now threatening to keep my little dog who means the world to me so I feel that my hands are tied what do I do?

    1. Thank you for your comment. I’m very sorry to hear of the situation you are in. Have you accessed any support from local domestic abuse support groups or from your GP? I would recommend that you do access some support locally to you. There are options and ways we can help you with separating from your husband and managing this to try and keep you safe. I would need more information about your situation to be able to advise you as to likely outcomes in relation to the finances if you were to separate. You will have seen that we cannot give advice on this forum but you are welcome to contact me directly if you would like to know more about how I can help.

  5. My wife was violent towards over our 16 year marriage and she has accepted this on the grounds for divorce. We have received our decree absolute but have not settled finances. Will I have to pay her maintenance considering her behaviour as it seems wrong to make a victim responsible for the financial future of their perpetrator. She has been arrested twice and I have notified the police on 4 occasions of the abuse but never pressed charges.

    1. Thank you for your comment. You will have seen that we cannot give advice on this forum. When the division of the finances is looked at then this is usually very much based upon the facts and figures as to whether you have to pay maintenance. In some situations behaviour may impact upon the division of the finances but this is unusual and can be a draining case to run in terms of both costs and emotions. If you would like to contact me directly I can explain more about how I could help.

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