We discuss the changing attitudes to domestic abuse and the range of remedies available to Family Lawyers to assist not just spouses, but partners and ex partners.
There is a popular myth that the phrase “rule of thumb”, derives from the common law that allowed a man to beat his wife with a stick so long as it was no thicker than his thumb. The phrase is first attributed to Judge Sir Francis Buller, in 1782, although there is no substantial evidence that this ever was his expressed view. In 1881, an American book referred to the English common law whereby a wife’s husband was regarded as being her lord and master. It was said “he had the custody of her person and of her minor children. He could punish her with a stick no bigger than his thumb and she could not complain against him”.
As recently as 30 years ago, I can remember contacting the police on behalf of a client who had been involved in a nasty incident with her husband. I was shocked that the police were not interested at all, referring to the incident as “a domestic”.
As Family Law Solicitors our understanding of domestic abuse in its blatant and in its more insidious forms has developed apace since those days, as has the law, reflecting changes in the attitude of Society. Agencies, including the Police have a much more joined up approach these days offering a more consistent and supportive role to victims of abuse. Regretfully, we do sometimes come across cases where individuals either embellish or make up domestic abuse to get back at their ex’s- oftentimes to restrict contact with children. In such cases we will do our utmost to vindicate the innocent party.
It is hugely surprising to me that the first time a spouse without title to the family home was given a statutory right to occupy the house was in 1983 when the Matrimonial Homes (Family Protection) (Scotland) Act 1981 came into force. Exclusion orders were also introduced, allowing a spouse the right to apply to the court for an order suspending the other spouse’s occupancy rights in the house, if he or she or any child of the family (regardless of the child’s age), have been exposed to physical or mental abuse.
Since then the range of remedies available to not just spouses, but partners and ex partners and others has been extended to allow Powers of Arrest to be attached to Interdicts and Non-harassment Orders to be made. More recently in cases of domestic abuse the definition of “harassment amounting to domestic abuse”, allows harassment to be established even after just one incident.
At the end of the day, regardless of the fact that we have an increasingly powerful armoury of remedies, family lawyers also recognise that emotions run high when relationships break down. We are trained in techniques to try to help parties going through separations to better resolve issues of conflict. We recognise the impact that parental conflict can have on children including half siblings and step siblings and being dedicated family lawyers, are best placed to help people to access appropriate supports, remedies and dispute resolution methods. Where possible we try to take the heat out of a difficult situation rather than inflaming it further.
It was interesting to note that Rihanna and Chris Brown are in the news this week as they are supposedly thinking of collaborating together on a new project which also involves another ex of Rihanna’s. I wonder if this is just another step or “honeymoon period” in the vicious domestic abuse cycle. I hope not.