Updated: Jul 3
When I say I am a survivor of abuse I also refer to the abuse I suffered through my experiences of the judiciary system.
For many years we have been given the impression that the courts favour women and tend to side with them. This is an incredibly dangerous and false narrative.
Our laws and systems are old and archaic and entrenched with misogyny. Most these laws were made so long ago during a time when women had no rights.
Until 1839 when a husband and wife separated the children were deemed to be the property of the man and the mother lost all legal rights to them and Marital rape only became illegal in 1992. It wasn’t until 1996 that The Family law act was passed making it easier for abused partners to seek protective injunctions from the court. Throughout history the laws have not exactly gone in the favour of women. These attitudes become ingrained and are difficult to shift. The training that judges and magistrates are given is outdated and was outlined in a time when it was still legal to rape your wife. I was horrified after my case to learn that magistrates have no legal training at all they are only required to attend a 3-day course. They are then permitted to make decisions that effect the lives of victims and their children. Its incredibly worrying that this is allowed and deemed to be fair. We need to challenge the misconception that mothers get the better end of the deal when historically and still today this is the furthest thing from the truth.
“In 1980s fathers were winning at least joint custody in a majority of custody battles, and winning sole custody more often than mothers a situation that still remains today - the fathers taking advantage of this imbalance are largely abusive ones” Lundy Bancroft
The training that most the judiciary system is given around domestic abuse is almost non existent and the little they do have is in desperate need of modernizing. Overall, we have been slow at reforming the law to provide justice and help for victims and their children and to this day that is still the case.
In 2020 The Harm Report from the Ministry of Justice was published. It was a glimmer of hope for campaigners who had been asking for this for years. The report recognised the major failing in family court that more training was needed, there is a pro contact culture, it was re traumatising for victims and in need of reform. It seemed for many there was hope for change, but that change is yet to come. The arrogance of judges prevails. Why? Because they can.
Due to the lack of transparency and judges given such god like power over cases its rare that anyone can safely speak out about the injustices that they are subjected to. It is illegal to speak out even about the cases where horrifying orders are made and where judges don’t even uphold the law themselves. It also means there is no accountability for any wrongdoing by a judge or magistrate and victims are frequently told to accept what ever comes.
More recently there has been much campaigning and speaking out about the use of unregulated experts within the court system. And theory’s that are being challenged and decided upon that they are harmful to victims and children like the theory of Parental Alienation. Parental Alienation is frequently used by perpetrators against the victims in child arrangement cases, if a child rejects an abusive parent this theory can be used to remove the child from the safe parent. MPs and charities have questioned and fought to have these removed from family courts and thankfully been successful. Once those gates were open it was shocking to see what came out. So called court experts for years have been mis diagnosing victims, usually women that they are emotionally unstable and as result they lose part or all custody of their child. These court experts are usually not trained to even make diagnosis and the theories they use are incorrect and based on major bias that serve abusive parents. Most mothers including myself have had or do have a fear of being psychologically tested through the courts because they fear anything could be used against them to aid the wrongful removal of their child or to aid the abusive ex more power through child arrangements. It is a harrowing thought of all those children that have been torn from the protective parent and placed in to care or into the hands of the abuser due to this despicable form of court abuse.
Society and Government can no longer turn a blind eye to the suffering caused by the systems in place that should be protecting us.
Most victims are naïve when they start the court process which is an incredibly intimidating environment regardless, but many expect in this day and age that justice will be done, and they will be protected and helped in the way they deserve. What they are faced with is vastly different.
Weather you have been abused, raped, beaten, controlled or your child has experienced any of these or more including child abuse the aim of the courts is to make contact work with the abuser. The idea is that children develop better with both parents regardless of what dangers may lurk. There are plenty of modern studies that refute this, childhood trauma causes more damage than anything and plays a part in all social issues. Its far more important to have care and stability both physically and emotionally.
As a victim you are not automatically entitled to legal help. So, you may be fighting this alone with no education of the law or your rights. Leaving you vulnerable to manipulation. If this was criminal law and you murdered someone you would be appointed a legal aid solicitor as a means of your basic human rights but not if you are a victim of abuse fighting for yours or you child’s safety.
It is a terrifying situation to be in, facing a judge or magistrate in a completely foreign environment. Re-living the abuse you have suffered, telling your side of the story trying to remember facts and dates. All in front of your abuser. Then being cross examined maybe by the other sides barrister or maybe even by your abuser. Then you are expected to cross examine the person who abused you and their witnesses. If you get something wrong, or you show emotion you could be told you are not credible and therefore not believed. Evidence doesn’t necessarily make a difference either. There are so many cases where it is thrown out and even if it is used it doesn’t always make a difference. All of this empowers the perpetrator and diminishes the victim’s rights for their abuser to see.
Only 1% of all cases end in no contact or indirect contact.
Despite evidence or the court even finding that the farther is abusive contact is nearly always given and that contact is usually very generous. Giving abusive parents over night visits and holidays out of the country. Regardless of this person being a drug addict, violent, controlling or even sexually abusive. There tends to be no caution put in place only the notion to fit the agenda that contact must take place. This is clearly putting the child in danger. In any other situation you would not put your child in the care even for 5 minutes with someone who has been violent or a drug addict or abusive in any way. You would never use a babysitter that had a criminal record or used violence or intimidation to get their way yet because of the draconian nature of the courts this is what is accepted as satisfactory.
Where does this leave the victim who has been abused? As a victim you have been dragged through this awful process leaving you with trauma and feeling exhausted and utterly demoralized. The court has enabled the abuser to continue their behaviour and even gaining another weapon to use against the victim in the form of the court and the child. Its important to remember that abusers are not interested in time with their child they are interested in owning their child, controlling them and the victim the courts allow this to happen through child arrangements leaving the victim in a precarious position and open to further abuse. All victims are expected in most cases to promote a good relationship with the person who abused them and is allowed to continue that abuse via child arrangements. Post separation abuse will almost always continue in many forms leaving the victim with a life sentence trying to parent with someone who has abused them and their child. If a victim is brave enough to try and make a stand then they are faced with making the judge annoyed and having it used against them. The victim is left is such a horrendous position parenting with someone who is intent on only destroying and disrupting their lives and with no protection from the judiciary system.
“How a society treats its most vulnerable is always the measure of its humanity” Mahatma Gandhi
While there has been some success in campaigning and some laws have been reformed a major shift is still needed. The inhumane treatment of victims and children must end, we cannot call ourselves a progressive society unless it does. A system that puts fear in to the most vulnerable whilst empowering those who abuse must be stopped. The horrors of Family Court, I believe will be remembered as one of the worst occurrences in history.
Judges need adequate training specifically in domestic abuse and trauma there also needs to be more transparency so that wrongdoing can be held accountable and so that it is not carried out behind closed doors.
It’s time to change the current culture in Family Court.