Divorce and domestic abuse – what you need to know

Divorce and domestic abuse. Many ladies won’t want to read about this. Some genuinely because this is not their experience, and it’s not relevant. I invite you, even if this isn’t you, to read it anyway because you might know someone it can help. If you’re a lady who doesn’t want to read it because it is you, and it’s too painful, please keep reading. Just reading doesn’t mean that you have to do anything, tell anyone, or leave – it’s just reading, ok?

Who experiences domestic abuse?

Who experiences domestic abuse? The truth is lots of people- that’s men, women and children. Domestic abuse isn’t about your social class, educational achievement, career, the colour of your skin, your religion, age or sex. It doesn’t matter if you said that would never happen to you, sometimes it happens without you even realising it. It could be happening to you, the lady next door or that woman at the office. Domestic abuse isn’t just about physical violence, it’s so much more than that.

What is domestic abuse?

The UK Government defines domestic abuse as: ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.

The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional

Coercive behaviour

Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim. Coercive control is a crime. It can occur through being told how and when to spend your money, to forcing you to do criminal acts against your will. Many women do experience this, but before you click away, what about controlling behaviour?

Controlling behaviour

Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour. It can occur psychologically, emotionally and financially. Such behaviour is not ‘normal’.

Many women experience this type of abuse and regard is as ‘normal’. It is not. Do you find yourself minimising or justifying your husband’s poor behaviour, his bad temper and the way he speaks to you? Do you think that it must be your fault because you’re not a good enough wife or mother? Do you put your husband’s behaviour down to his ‘bad childhood’? Do you think that by being a better cook, cleaner, mother or lover your husband will stop abusing you? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, read on ……

Accepting that this is you

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the questions listed above, you have experienced abusive behaviour. Chances are, you’ve experienced it more than once, and it’s likely its been a feature of your marriage from the start, or since a life changing event such as the loss of a job or the death of a loved one.

It can be very difficult to accept that this is you. Domestic abuse happens to other women, not to you. You feel too smart, to well-educated and too ‘middle-class’ to be an abused woman. But here’s the thing, as I mentioned above, domestic abuse affects everybody.

You may already know somebody who has experienced abuse other than yourself. It could be your mother or grandmother. It could be that your husband witnessed his father being abusive to his own mother. We learn from the videos that we are shown as children. By that I mean, if your husband, as a young boy had been brought up to believe that it’s okay to treat a woman abusively, then unconsciously,  he may well have picked up that message. Equally, if you saw your own mother being abused, unconsciously part of you may accept that is a normal part of married life. It isn’t. You don’t have to accept it. You don’t have to deal with it alone.

Getting support

Accepting that you have experienced domestic abuse is the hardest part in getting help. Perhaps you’re frightened of the repercussions, you may be uncertain about what you want to do, and you may also feel ashamed that this has happened to you. Know what that you are not alone and that support is available. If going to the police feels overwhelming and scary, you can get support from a number of organisations such as Women’s Aid. You can also find support at Rights of women, who have  an excellent page in respect of coercive control.

The Divorce Process

If you decide that you want to get divorced, there is also help available. Make contact with a local family lawyer. You may be entitled to Public Funding or  Legal Aid so that a lawyer can deal with your divorce, rather than you having to deal directly with your husband. You will not be expected to use family mediation. In some circumstances, some people can use family mediation when domestic abuse has been a feature of their relationship, but it is the exception rather than the rule.

Perhaps you are worried that if you get divorced you will have to go to court and face your ex-husband and possibly be cross-examined by him. You may be aware that senior judiciary are backing government initiatives to end this practice. If this is a concern of yours, seek legal advice.

Moving forwards

Often, it’s only when you are away from an abusive environment that you can look back and see just how abusive it really was. That can cause a lot of anger and sadness and it can also bring relief and freedom. There is life after domestic abuse if you choose it. Will it be easy? Probably not, but will it be worth it? Absolutely.

I’m Emma The Divorce Alchemist. I support Ladies who Leave to make smart emotional and financial decisions on divorce. If you don’t have your copy yet, you can download The Smart Woman’s Divorce Guide by completing the box below. Please note, by signing up, you will receive a series of 7 emails over 28 days to accompany the Guide. You will also receive an email from me each Wednesday morning UK time with hints, tips and advice. I sometimes promote my coaching packages too – I’m sure you understand that this is my business :). You may unsubscribe at anytime.