Leaving an Abusive Marriage: What Are My Legal Options?

Posted on December 09, 2020

Sadly, if you are being subjected to any form of abuse in your marriage, you are far from being alone. According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of arrests for domestic abuse-related crimes between 1 April and 30 June 2020 increased by 24% compared with the same period in the previous year, with some suggesting lockdown measures made a considerable contribution to this rise.

Ending an abusive marriage will mean not only leaving your spouse, but also formally divorcing them. This is a daunting but important step, as studies have shown that abusive partners often do not change their ways, and so your circumstances are unlikely to change if you remain in your marriage. It may be the case that as time goes by, the situation becomes more and more volatile for you. To add to this, the trauma that any children of the family will face by witnessing the abuse, may also impact on the breakdown of your marriage.

As well as guiding you through the legal process of divorce, Jefferies will be on your side throughout the entire process and give practical advice and solutions.

How do I start the divorce process?

At present to obtain a divorce in the UK, you must be able to show the marriage has broken down irretrievably.  There are five ways this can be shown, namely:

  • there has been adultery;
  • the behaviour of your spouse or partner was considered to be unreasonable;
  • you have been living apart for at least two years and you both consent to divorce; or
  • one partner has deserted the other for two years;
  • you have been living apart for at least five years.

When you have suffered from domestic violence or any other type of abuse, the most common way to proceed with your divorce is by issuing proceedings on the basis of unreasonable behaviour.  It is necessary to show that your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to continue to live with them.  This can be done by providing 4 or 5 examples of your partner’s behaviour which you considered to be unreasonable and so which led to your marriage breaking down, without any prospect of reconciliation.

Which abuse incident examples will I need to show?

You will not be expected to state each and every incident over the course of your marriage, but just highlight a few significant examples, which stand out to you. You may find it helpful to keep a diary of incidents, or to make some notes showing a timeline of the unreasonable behaviour you suffered from. This may even make it easier for you when meeting with your Solicitors, as at Jefferies we understand how difficult it may be for you to re-live that terrible moment again.

Will I need to go to court for my divorce?

Divorce hearings are not held in open court, but behind closed doors as they are private proceedings between you and your partner.  This means that members of the public will not be present.

How long does divorce on the basis of unreasonable behaviour usually take?

When applying for a divorce on the basis of unreasonable behaviour, there are certain time limits that must be adhered to. If you have continued to live together, you must petition within six months of the last incident of abuse. If you are no longer living together, this time limit may be extended.

It will usually take a period of four to six months for your divorce proceedings to conclude, but it may take slightly longer if there are matrimonial assets that need to be divided. Remember you will be entitled to certain rights as a spouse that you will not be entitled to as an ex-spouse and so may want to wait to dissolve your marriage before the finances have been addressed.

Being able to issue divorce proceedings straight away, without the need to wait a period of two years or wait for your partner to consent to the divorce, is one of the main advantages of issuing an unreasonable behaviour divorce. What better way of showing your partner that you have moved on and away from the abusive relationship you were ‘trapped’ in, other than by issuing divorce proceedings?

How much will the divorce cost?

Another advantage of issuing divorce proceedings is that you will be able to include a ‘claim for costs’ in your petition. This simply means you want the Court to order your spouse to pay the legal costs you have incurred in issuing divorce proceedings. Had your marriage not broken down due to your other half’s unreasonable behaviour you will not have had to incur the expense of issuing divorce proceedings. Including a claim for costs, will enable you to take the unnecessary stress and pressure you may face in issuing proceedings in person as it will enable you to instruct a professional to deal with it on your behalf, whilst you get yourself and your life back on track.

It is unlikely that your experience of domestic abuse will lead to an increase in your financial entitlements. It is only in rare and extreme cases that a court will look at an adjustment of matrimonial assets based on the conduct of your spouse.  The court has to be convinced that their conduct was so unreasonable and it was to the extent that it should be taken into account when deciding what will be a ‘fair’ outcome in your finances. For example, this may be if the domestic violence has caused significant personal injury to you and has in turn affected your ability to work or secure employment.

Facing abuse from the person that is meant to love and support you through the good and bad times, most commonly leads to a lack of confidence and self-doubt. The UK Legal System does however, recognise the need to protect and help victims, and so are investing more in ensuring victims of domestic violence are given much needed support.

How Jefferies can help

At Jefferies, we understand how tough it can be for you to take that first step and reach out for professional help, but you are not alone in this and can be helped and supported through the different stages of your proceedings. Contact Jefferies now for a confidential consultation with our experienced and professional Solicitors.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only.  They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.  Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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