Why divorce is the only way out of an abusive marriage
It certainly came as no surprise to hear that Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi are to divorce after he was captured with his hands around her neck during a row at a London restaurant.
Shocked onlookers recall the advertising billionaire and celebrity chef relentlessly arguing, which, according to newspaper reports, resulted in Mr Saatchi putting his hands around his wife's neck four times, tweaking her nose and pushing both hands in her face.
And his defence? He announced in a national newspaper that it could easily have been Ms Lawson grasping his neck to hold his attention which he claimed she had done in the past.
Of course, we will never know if this is true or not or if either party subjected each other to domestic violence, mental abuse or both behind closed doors. But what we do know is that in any one year, there are 13 million separate incidents of physical violence or threats of violence against women from partners or former partners.
To break this down, it means that at least 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime and between 1 in 8 and 1 in 10 women experience it annually. As a family law solicitor in Liverpool, I know that less than half of all incidents are reported to the police.
And as for men- 40% of domestic abuse victims are male which equates to 1 in 3 men suffering at the hands of women. In 2012, it was estimated that 800,000 men were victims of domestic abuse with more married men - 2.3% - suffering from partner abuse than married women.
How many of these relationships end in divorce?
It is impossible to find out how many marriages actually end in divorce due to domestic violence and mental abuse, but what we do know, according to the Office of National Statistics is that 4% of all marriages are expected to end in divorce by the 20th wedding anniversary.
Clearly, Ms Lawson and Mr Saatchi haven't made it to their 20th anniversary - in fact a decree nisi was issued in the High Court at the end of last month ending their 10-year marriage.
Interestingly, it hasn't been made public on what grounds Ms Lawson petitioned for divorce and if she cited unreasonable behaviour.
What are the grounds for divorce?
If you want to divorce your spouse in England and Wales you have to show that your marriage has "broken down irretrievably.” This is the only "ground” for divorce in England and Wales as stated in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.
The five "Facts” you can use to prove the marriage has irretrievably broken down are:
- Unreasonable Behaviour
- Two year's separation with consent
- Five year's separation without consent
What constitutes unreasonable behaviour when divorcing in England and Wales?
Violent and drunken behaviour is obviously classed as unreasonable behaviour. But it is also important to remember that unreasonable behaviour doesn't just have to be violent. Many men and women experience ongoing mental abuse from their spouses which is equally as damaging if not more so.
This can take a variety of guises including verbal bullying, non-communication, humiliation, degradation and harassment by text, email or Facebook to name but a few.
However, it's not really necessary to include all of these on the petition. If you have been a victim, you may understandably want to detail all that has happened but it may not make a difference to the final outcome or financial settlement.
As a family law solicitor in Liverpool, I advise my clients that it is more sensible to keep the allegations to the bare minimum because you only need to mention a few in order to secure a decree nisi. You might also find this easier as reminding yourself of what has happened will undoubtedly add to the stress and upset you are already feeling. Additionally a detailed version of events may provoke further unreasonable behaviour.
Is there a time limit?
If you want to use unreasonable behaviour to show that your marriage has irretrievably broken down, you need to remember that there are time limits involved.
This means that if you want to present a divorce petition on this fact and you are still living with your spouse, you have to do so within six months of the last incident.
Basically, at any time within six months of being attacked or mentally abused, you can present a petition for divorce on the fact of unreasonable behaviour. However, if you both continue to live together for more than six months, you can no longer rely on this particular episode alone.
This doesn't mean to say though that you cannot use this attack as historical evidence of unreasonable behaviour in a future petition, as this incident along with other more recent episodes will strengthen your Divorce Petition and won't affect the financial settlement.
What "Fact" did you use to prove that your marriage had "Irretrievably broken down” and therefore grounds for a divorce? If you used "unreasonable behaviour" because of violent or mental abuse as the ground for your divorce, did you find the courts supportive? Was it a straightforward process?