Domestic violence: a legal primer for those in abusive relationships
It may once have been a behind-closed-doors taboo, but thankfully times have changed and as a society we are now more willing to acknowledge the hard realities of domestic violence – albeit often reluctantly and unsteadily. Sometimes domestic violence spills onto our streets. Sometimes it lands in the headlines. Sometimes cases come before the courts, although perhaps not as frequently as they should.
For victims, domestic violence is a horrible violation, of the trust and sense of safety that should be inherent in time spent with your spouse or partner. Many victims are women, but male victims are all too often overlooked.
Sometimes the violence escalates beyond bandages, bruises and trips to the casualty ward. Two women every week are killed by a current or former partner.
Divorce lawyers hear stories of violence practically every day of the week, told to them by women and men who seek help in the form of non-molestation orders and occupation orders on family homes. It is relatively common to meet bruised and battered victims with bitten faces or broken jaws, in need of urgent help.
If you are unlucky enough to have been a victim, you should be aware that that family lawyers are not permitted to breach professional privilege. This means that what you tell your lawyer remains within those four walls. Confidentiality is assured.
Remember: a leopard never changes its spots. No matter how hard it is and no matter how many excuses you make, my advice is straightforward. Get out – and if you have children, then you have even more reason to leave. Don’t kid yourself. It is nonsense to say that you are staying put for the sake of the children. You should remove them from this abusive relationship as quickly as you can.
Try to find the strength to do it – but if you cannot, at least try and find someone professional who can help you.
Domestic violence can – and should – add a real sense of urgency. If you go looking for a divorce, you usually only do so after considering every possible alternative and reaching a reasoned, but painful conclusion that life cannot go on as it is. Emergency orders, on the other hand, are, by their very nature obtained at a time of great need. If you seek an emergency order, you do so out of panic and fear.
The legal process is designed to assist quickly. Family lawyers are trained to work speedily and outside of normal office hours. The court system, too, is geared to process emergency order applications as swiftly as possible: the process can be completed within a day.
There are two principal types of emergency order. A non-molestation order prohibits the abuser from molesting you or, in certain circumstances, your children. The abuser may not damage or dispose of your possessions. The abuser may not instruct anyone else to harass, intimidate or use violence against you. Such an order is relatively easy to obtain.
An occupation order, on the other hand, prevents your abuser from remaining in your home or coming near it. It may also order the abuser to stay in restricted parts of the house, or to let you enter the property if he or she has locked you out. Such an order may be sought if the relationship is characterised by extreme violence, or if the abuser’s presence causes immense distress to you or your children. Please note that even if an occupation order is in place, the court can order the abuser to continue paying the rent, mortgage or utility bills.
A person who breaches an order has committed a criminal offence and can be jailed for contempt. In certain cases the police can be ordered to arrest them immediately and bring them before the court.
If you are abused and battered, the law is there to help you and to keep you as safe as possible. The police should be contacted immediately; at the very least they will ensure that there is no breach of the peace. In serious cases they will begin criminal proceedings against the aggressor.
One major criticism of the system is that those who experience violence may receive little or no obvious back-up from the police, even if an order is not in place. The stock phrase? “Go and get an order, love; there is nothing we can do without it”. A desperate woman will not know whether this is true or false. In fact it is false.
Legal remedies do work, but only when you are fiercely committed to them and you are determined to see everything through. Capitulation and a “fresh start” may seem like the easy way out – but only until the next time. My advice to those who are suffering is to think positively and to do something about it now. The next time may be the last time.
Share this post
Get free family law updates
Marilyn Stowe’s new book: expert advice on all aspects of divorce, just 99p!
Divorce & Splitting Up by Marilyn Stowe is the essential how-to book for anyone who is getting divorced or splitting up from a partner. Read more >>
"A must buy that really opens your eyes to what is involved if you are considering or going through a divorce." - Amanda Brown
"This will answer your questions in a way that non-lawyers can understand." - Miss P.
"Don't get divorced without it. I read this book despite being divorced for more than 10 years. I wish I'd had this book to hand at the time. Great examples, simple to read and understand." - Jamie
"This really has helped me to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel and I will come out of it a stronger person." - J
Marilyn Stowe on SKY News & ITV This Morning
- Lianna on Delaying the Decree Absolute: another look at Miller Smith v Miller Smith
- JamesB on Don’t have children if you aren’t ready for marriage, judge says
- Raven on The Expat’s Tale: “I’m a stuck mum”
- Paul on Don’t have children if you aren’t ready for marriage, judge says
- Stephanie Bamberger on What family lawyers were talking about this week… by John Bolch
Subscribe & Follow
In the Media
Marilyn Stowe is the senior partner in Stowe Family Law, which has offices in Yorkshire, Cheshire and London. With more than 30 years’ experience handling divorce cases and family law proceedings she is regarded as one of the most formidable and sought after divorce lawyers in the UK. In 2012, Marilyn became one of the first solicitors to qualify as a family law arbitrator.
All persons mentioned in the scenarios are fictitious: details have been deliberately changed in order to protect identities and other confidential circumstances of my clients. All advice and information on this blog including posts written by guest authors, is given only as a general guide to the operation of the law on the date of publication. Readers must place no reliance whatsoever on the content of this blog and must always obtain their own legal advice. Marilyn Stowe, Stowe Family Law LLP and guest authors accept no liability whatsoever arising as a result of reliance upon its content.
Contact Stowe Family Law
These downloads accompany Marilyn Stowe's latest book: Divorce & Splitting Up: Advice From a Top Divorce Lawyer. After opening, right click to save to your computer.
For more free downloads, visit the Downloads section.