A woman whose husband has been sentenced to 19 years in prison for a series of rapes against two women, one of which was her, is campaigning for a change in the law to prevent offenders from being able to further abuse their victims through the Family Courts.
Now divorced from her husband, Nicola Richardson has waived her right to anonymity to speak out about her experience.
During Nicola’s divorce her ex husband tried to use the Family Courts to coerce and intimidate her by stalling the separation and filing financial claims. The judge handling the divorce branded her husband “manipulative, controlling and domineering.”
Nicola would like to see the law changed so that convicted abusers who are sent to jail are barred from filing claims against their victims in Family Court. Nicola doesn’t go on to explain how she sees this law working, however a solution could lie in creating a threshold: if it can be shown that the claims are vexatious or likely to cause the victim significant harm, Family judges could use the current powers they have to prevent further applications, both financial and contact related.
We already know that domestic abuse can include financial manipulation. This kind of coercion doesn’t stop once an application for divorce or separation takes place, and this also needs to be highlighted. Guidelines for family professionals on domestic abuse and behaviours during divorce or separation including conduct during family court proceedings should be issued as well. The recent concerns over domestic violence offenders being able to cross examine their victims in court demonstrates the effect of this kind of behaviour which can cause serious health problems including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression.
Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, the proposal doesn’t sit comfortably with working legal principles, which demand that a balance is struck between the rights of the person making a claim and those affected by the claim. In contact cases for example, judges may argue that an abuser’s right to see his or her children is separate from the victim’s right to be free of abuse and that a child’s right to know his or her parent is the most important right of all.
However, others may argue that an abuser should lose all their rights to contact or financial remedy against the victim, not only as a deterrent to others, but also to protect all vulnerable parties including the victim. In 2015, we wrote about a case where a mother who was attacked by her husband and had her throat cut in front of her small children, was then forced by a judge to send her husband letters whilst serving time for what was essentially attempted murder. The case sparked national outrage and a petition was created to revoke the order.
It is a difficult dilemma, but one that’s important. How do we weight up the rights of everyone concerned and what facts should take precedence over law, if and when they should?
We’d love to hear your thoughts.