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Practical tips for separating from an abusive partner

In parallel with seeking support from medical professionals, it is important to raise the issue with your solicitor. There can be a misconception that having been subject to gas lighting and/or domestic abuse (which from April 2021 includes financial abuse) automatically means that this will impact the division of financial resources on divorce. It is important to appreciate that there is an incredibly high bar and it will only be in a tiny minority of the most extreme cases that the conduct of the other side will affect the proportion of assets received.   

It is imperative that a survivor of abuse does not have their pain compounded by running arguments which could only serve to increase their legal costs and increase the temperature of relations. This is why it is important to tell your legal team if you are able to as although it will not necessarily have a direct impact on a settlement, it can inform case strategy.  

For example:  

  • Mediation – although this can be a lower cost and quicker forum for reaching agreement in financial proceedings, in cases where there has been alleged abuse, this alternative dispute resolution method should be approached cautiously. It is unlikely to be appropriate if the parties do not consider there to be mutual respect and trust.  

  • Abusive parties may take the view that they would prefer the matrimonial pot (the assets built up during the marriage) to be spent on legal fees rather than awarded to their former party. On this front, do not be tempted to agree with an abusive partner in respect of what they think you should be entitled to. Blame us, if pressured, explain that you are not able to engage in discussion on this topic until you have spoken with your solicitors. You may be content to listen to what your partner has to say in respect of settlement parameters but be cautious in engaging – speak with your legal team first.  

  • In cases where there are no children, it may be preferable to avoid any direct contact and request that all correspondence go via solicitors. If contact with the other side needs to be maintained for any reason, some clients get a second mobile phone. A low cost pay- as-you-go handset with a different number provides control over when and where messages are received. For those with children using apps such as FamilyWizard can assist in reducing direct contact although it is appreciated that the other side may not agree to use such platforms.  

  • Nobody knows your partner better than you and this can help to minimise your costs – if you feel your partner has narcissistic tendencies (commonly associated with those who gas light) only respond to correspondence in a succinct and relevant way. There may be letters that do not require any response. A hallmark of abusive dynamics can be a perpetrators obsessions with trying to control the narrative. However, long letters back and forth are unlikely to progress your case. Do not feel compelled to address every issue and get drawn into circular debates, only the key factual errors should be corrected. Your case will not necessarily be impacted by letting them have the last word in correspondence and there may be matters where attaching a sample of correspondence received can give the court an insight into what a party has been dealing with if you have received particularly inflammatory letters.  

  • Do obtain professional help. Your GP may be able to assist and you may be able to speak with a therapist or counsellor, and there are providers who specialise in working with clients going through divorce following trauma. You may also feel it is appropriate to contact the police. There may also be charities or voluntary organisations which can provide support and you may also find solace in speaking with others who have undergone similar experiences. With 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men thought to have been subject to domestic abuse in the UK, you are not alone.  

  • Do not expend your time or energy in trying to obtain a professional medical diagnosis unless your legal team suggests this is necessary. It can be helpful to research what you have experienced but it is unlikely that the court will see fit to have your former partner assessed for example, for narcissistic personality disorder etc. Take this time and energy for yourself instead.  

  • Remember that your friends, family and legal team will not judge you. You are not responsible for what you have experienced and if you feel able to, now may be the perfect time to reaffirm that you are not defined by a past relationship – for example, join new groups and try new activities 

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