I have written before about the tendency of the family law system to divide areas of life into discrete boxes. If you have engaged a solicitor to help with divorce, financial and children issues, you may well find that this part of your life has been divided into three different files, one dealing with each of these areas.
What about if you have an issue of domestic abuse arising from your relationship? Legal remedies are available to oust a perpetrator from the family home, or to require that person to desist from pestering or harassing you, and if you engage a solicitor to assist you to achieve this then you may have a Family Law Act file too, whilst you pursue your non-molestation and occupation orders.
However, the issue which I am focussing on today is where domestic abuse has been a feature in a relationship, but you are not seeking to pursue a specific legal remedy against your spouse in relation to their abuse. How does the divorce and financial remedy system deal with those individuals who have suffered physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse during their relationship, particularly if that abuse is now historic?
There is an increasing desire from policy makers that separating couples are dealt with in mediation. Legal aid remains available for mediation. Before you issue a financial application are court, you are asked to confirm whether you have mediated, and if not, why not. The rise in collaborative law encourages settlement round the table, and avoid court, but the importance of ensuring that this is the right forum must not be underestimated.
Resolving a dispute in mediation or collaboratively is unlikely to be appropriate if there is a history of domestic abuse. It is for this reason that professionals screen for domestic abuse. Domestic abuse occurs across the full spectrum of society, and presumptions about the typical profile of an abuser or abusive victim must not play a part in the screening process. To ensure that I guide a client to the most appropriate method of resolving a financial dispute on divorce, it is imperative that I remain sensitive to the presence of a history of domestic abuse in a relationship. This also then enables a client to access help*, which may be required even if the abuse is historic.
Women’s Aid 0808 200 0247;
MK Act 0844 375 4307;
Buckinghamshire is the location of a domestic violence prevention programme, called Fresh Start, in which perpetrators who are at high risk of further offending but have indicated a willingness to address their behaviours, attend a series of one to one meetings. This is run by the domestic violence intervention project in Milton Keynes, MK Act, alongside Relate, the counselling organisation, and Respect, which works to end domestic violence. The DVIP runs a similar scheme in London.