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

6 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,
    Sharon.

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