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Law Articles

How domestic abuse can impact divorce proceedings 12/06/2023

The definition of Domestic Abuse under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 (DAA) has been extended to include controlling and coercive behaviour, physical and sexual abuse as well as economic abuse.

Coercive control has been a criminal offence since 2015 with the scope being widened in 2022 to take these changes into account. This definition also includes clarification that the victim of coercive control has no need to be a cohabitee with the perpetrator.

Domestic abuse can sometimes continue post separation, especially during the divorce and financial remedy proceedings. By way of example, the more vulnerable financial party could be concerned by mounting legal fees and therefore feel additional pressure to accede to the other party’s (possibly unreasonable) demands; there could be unequal ownership of assets and therefore the appearance to the victim of unequal bargaining power; there could be the threat of the withdrawal of financial support from the perpetrator leaving the victim fearing for his or her financial future; there could also be the deliberate lengthening or complete disengagement with the court process with the intention of wasting the victim’s financial resources.

Despite such behaviour from the perpetrator, there are often things that can be done to ensure that a fair outcome is reached in respect of division of family assets on divorce. For example:

  • where the perpetrator withdraws needed financial support, an application for Maintenance Pending Suit (interim spousal maintenance) can be made; 
  • where a victim who is the financially inferior party is concerned about paying legal fees for legal representation and the perpetrator refuses to contribute to those legal fees, an application for a litigation loan from a specialist litigation loan company can be made; 
  • if a litigation loan is not approved, an application to the court for a Legal Services Order can be made and, if successful, the court can order one party to pay the other’s legal fees; 
  • if the perpetrator’s behaviour during the proceedings is the reason the victim’s legal fees have mounted, an application for a Costs Order (an order for one party to pay the other party’s legal fees) can be made. Such an application may be necessary where the perpetrator is increasing the victim’s costs by not engaging in the process in a meaningful way. An application to the court for a Penal Notice to be attached to the court order can also be considered if the perpetrator is not engaging in the process in a meaningful way. Breaching an order with a Penal Notice attached to it could lead to the perpetrator being imprisoned or having their assets frozen.

These applications should not be taken lightly. However, victims of domestic abuse should be reassured that there are always things that can be done to counteract any unreasonable actions by the perpetrator.

For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.

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Manor Law Ltd, trading as Manor Law Family Solicitors, is a registered company in England and Wales - number 07977350, and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority - Hertford office SRA number 567506 and City of London office SRA number 568637. Copyright © Manor Law, 2016. All rights reserved.

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