Resolution has launched new advice for dealing with divorce and domestic abuse to mark White Ribbon Day, with a guide for divorcing and separating parents in relationships where domestic abuse is, or has been, a feature.
The new guide, which can be found here, advises parents on dealing with difficult divorce situations, including those characterised by abuse, addiction and parental alienation. It includes information on how parents can protect themselves from abuse, and how to help children through emotionally difficult situations.
Jane Wilson, a leading domestic abuse specialist at Hall Smith Whittingham in Crewe, and chair of Resolution’s Domestic Abuse Committee, comments:
‘Divorce and separation are difficult at the best of times, and are made a thousand times more traumatic where there is abuse, addiction or extreme hostility involved. For parents trying to support and shelter their children through this sort of situation, it can be hard to know how to talk to the children about the divorce, and how to balance any arrangements for the child to see their other parent with the risk of the child coming to physical or emotional harm.’
‘Often the perpetrator will use the children to maintain control over the domestic abuse sufferer. This can include making demands for time with the children and threatening or taking court proceedings. The perpetrator is not actually interested in more time with the children but just wants to continue controlling interaction with their former partner. Coercive control is usually perpetrated by men.’
‘Thousands of families face this situation every day. That’s why we have developed this advice guide, to provide parents dealing with difficult divorce situations with sensible, clear advice.’
Jane’s advice for parents who are concerned about parenting arrangements during abusive divorce situations is:
- Arrange child handovers in public, or with a degree of separation – it is emotionally harmful for children to hear or see one parent abusing the other whether that is physically or verbally. The risk of this can be removed by a third party being involved in the handover of the child from one parent to the other so the parents do not have to meet. If the child is old enough to go in or out of the house on his or her own, the risk can be reduced by the parent collecting the child parking outside, remaining in the car and tooting the horn when they arrive or returns. Alternatively, the handover could take place somewhere public such as a car park with the child going from one car to the other or a restaurant or supermarket entrance or somewhere with CCTV cameras.
- Use shuttle mediation to set up parenting arrangements – it can help to set up a pattern of set dates and times for the children to be with the other parent, to avoid the need for parents to speak to each other. Arrangements can be made either by negotiations between the parties’ solicitors or at mediation. Legal aid is available for mediation and you may still be able to access legal aid for legal advice if there has been domestic abuse. Mediation can take place on a shuttled basis, with each of the parents in a separate room and the mediator going like a shuttle between the two. There will be separate times for the parties to arrive and leave. Practical arrangements can be made to ensure safety.
- Use a third party as a go-between – an arrangement for the children can include, say a third party to contact in case of emergency about the children or arrangements, so the parties do not have each other’s phone numbers. This removes the opportunity for harassment by repeated calls and texts.
For more information, including case studies, and advice on talking to children about domestic abuse and divorce, visit Resolution’s new online advice centre for parents that was launched at a special event in Parliament on Tuesday 24 November 2015.
Resolution will also be running a Twitter Q&A session between 1-2pm on the 25 November 2015 as part of White Ribbon Day. Questions can be tweeted to a panel of family law and domestic violence specialist lawyers – visit @ResFamilyLaw and use the hashtag #AskResolution to ask a question.
Geraldine Morris is a solicitor and Head of LexisPSL Family.