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The Family Law Courts System is Adding to Trauma


    Splitting up from your partner is not often civilised. If you’ve undergone trauma and abuse in your relationship, then separation is rarely the end of the story. Throw children into the mix and you have an emotional powder keg that is often weaponised by ex-partners when going through any family law court hearings. It can drag on for years and cause a great deal of stress and anxiety.

    Physical, Emotional and Sexual Abuse in Relationships

    Abusive men with histories of abuse and coercive control have learned how to use the systems in which the family law court operates to continue exerting that control within the legal parameters. We have experienced many incidents where perpetrators have used the family law courts system to shame and defame women, while entrapping them in a process that is expensive of time, attention, emotion, and financial resources.

    Incidences of Parental Alienation Uk

    We have seen many false accusations of abuse and parental alienation in the UK (where the perpetrator accuses the woman of turning the children against him) – trapping women who are expected to facilitate contact between violent fathers and children. Such situations only serve to perpetuate opportunities for further abuse. Delaying tactics, such as not preparing the right documents or not preparing them at all, impact women financially as they often have to take on the burden of any additional expenses generated as a direct result of delays to proceedings.

    Even women in relationships where abuse did not occur can fall foul of the system. Not only are they financially at a disadvantage, but aggrieved ex-partners can recognise weak spots in legal processes and manipulate them accordingly.

    Retraumatising Behaviours at the Family Law Courts

    Here is what one of our clients had to say about her experiences during hearings:

    “He used it to try and gain control. He made loads of false allegations against me. People do not understand the pain of someone using the family courts against me.”

    Affordable Justice recognises that, despite ‘the law’s’ protestations that everyone is equal in the eye of the law, when it comes to family law, women enter the legal system with less power, less resource, and with their identities and experience less valid in the eyes of the institutional norms.

    A Feminist Framework of Practice in the Family Law Court

    It is for this reason that our approach is uniquely based on a feminist framework of practice, which places the woman’s needs front and centre of all proceedings. Having worked extensively in the family law courts system, there is no trick that we have not seen, to the point that we can second guess many of the tactics used by men to sabotage processes.

    What this feminist framework means is that:

    • The woman is heard, listened to, and believed.
    • Emphasis is placed on her desired outcome, rather than the most aggressive legal outcome.
    • She is protected against any weaponising tactics used by her abuser.

    How this works in practice is dependent on each individual woman’s circumstances. On a practical level, it might be as simple as arranging with the courts themselves to erect temporary screens so that there is no visual contact between our client and her abuser. We might ensure that entering and exiting the building itself is carefully planned, or separate waiting areas are allocated, so that any direct contact is avoided.

    A Trauma Informed Approach

    Whatever physical steps we take on behalf of our women clients, most importantly, we ensure our approach is fully trauma informed. When the onus on the woman is to produce evidence that is often difficult to produce, the fear and anxiety are piled on top of existing trauma from living through a damaging relationship. Her trauma and experiences are diminished. Affordable Justice believes that every woman has the right to be believed and should be given the opportunity to state her case without the fear of intimidation, indifference, and prejudice.

    To date, this approach has benefitted the 1165 women we have helped since setting up Affordable Justice back in 2016, and with a 97% success rate (UK average for women being represented by high street solicitors is usually around 12 per cent) these women now have a quality of life that they deserve, free from the fear, threats, and intimidation of their ex-partners.

    Disrupting the Family Law Financial Model

    Financially, we have disrupted the system as well. Your average high street solicitor charges about £350 an hour plus VAT. Even the most professional of women in well paid jobs will struggle to pay this. As a non-profit legal firm with charitable status, we have been able to strip out the profit element, reducing fees to less than a third of what is usually charged, without compromising on the expertise and quality of the service. We are now firmly placed to start seriously disrupting the system and giving women a much fairer and more empathic escape route from abusive relationships. We’d love to hear your experiences.