How Does Domestic Abuse Manifest In The Divorce Process?

When divorcing a partner who has been abusive throughout the relationship, it is common for the abuser to try and continue his or her behaviour during the divorce and financial process, often with the aim of making finalisation of matters on divorce an exceedingly difficult process. Abuse may not necessarily mean physically abusive, but more commonly manifests as emotional, psychological and financial abuse.

Cases that I have been involved in have shown that examples of this continued abuse can be:

  • Refusal to comply with court orders,
  • Refusal to negotiate in good faith, or at all – which is required by the court,
  • Refusal to provide financial disclosure,
  • Deliberately delaying proceedings,
  • Insisting that mediation or Collaborative Law is a suitable process when it clearly is not,
  • Making efforts to exhaust their spouse’s financial resources by prolonging, delaying or being obstructive throughout the process.

Although ‘conduct’ must be significant and serious for the court to take it into account as a separate factor on divorce, the court does need to have ‘regard to all the circumstances of the case’ when exercising its wide discretion in deciding a case.

It is possible to provide examples of general obstructive and obfuscatory behaviour to the judge as a relevant ‘circumstance’ to be considered, when asserting that one spouse should receive a more generous financial award. Specific examples will need to be presented.

Because of the way the case management process works in the family courts, it can be difficult for the person on the receiving end of the abuse to make it clear to the court at the outset of their case that the other party has been abusive. This is because at the initial stages of proceedings everything is dealt with on paper, and no detailed evidence is given to the court. Many people, understandably, want the Judge in their case to be aware of the behaviour of their ex-partner from the beginning and reminded at each hearing. This can lead to frustration during the initial stages.

A solicitor with experience of dealing with these kinds of behaviours will know what to expect and be prepared for the delaying and obstructive behaviour of the other party and will move the case forward as quickly as possible to resolution, avoiding lengthy exchanges of solicitors letters. It is important that lengthy discussions where no progress is likely to be made are avoided so that the abusive spouse is not given the opportunity to further manipulate the other, by ‘stringing them along’.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article kindly contact Louise Barretto of the Russells’ family team to discuss in confidence.