Single Parents Guide - Taken to Court by Violent Ex
MY VIOLENT EX IS TAKING ME TO COURT FOR CONTACT WITH THE CHILDREN
Going to court over issues regarding your children can be stressful, particularly when your ex has been violent or abusive towards you. You may have concerns about how safe or happy your children will be in their care. Perhaps you believe only supervised contact would be appropriate. Besides fear for your children, you may also be scared of the possibility of facing your abuser again. How then, can you prepare yourself for what may happen?
How will I know?
You may hear directly from your ex, by letter from their solicitor, or directly from the court itself. Whichever way you hear, it is important to take action straight away.
My first step
Legal Aid is available for family court expenses if you can prove that violence has been involved. If you have gone to the police about abuse in the past then you can ask them for an incident number. If you have received medical treatment as a result of abuse, then perhaps you can get a copy of your medical record. This will help you to get legal aid.
If you have not got evidence of violence then, you will not be eligible for legal aid, but here are other opportunities for you to get free legal advice:
The Law Centre: Law Centres are staffed with barristers, solicitors, community workers and volunteers. They are specialists in social welfare law which covers a range of issues including family matters. Not only can they provide you with free legal advice but they can also provide representation at Court and at tribunals. It is well worth getting in touch with your local Law Centre.
Solicitors: Most solicitors provide a free 30 minute initial interview. In this time they will listen to your claim, provide you with some advice into the options that you have and tell you what they will do if you decide to let them take your case. Whether or not you decide to go with the solicitors or represent yourself is your decision, but that initial interview will be a good way of getting an idea of the possible routes to take.
If you decide to represent yourself it is worth your while contacting Mackenzie Friend as they provide moral support and some advice on things such as procedure and points of law. Find a Mackenzie Friend.
The process varies but there is often an initial hearing where the person taking the action (usually the parent without day to day care of the children) has to present their case and say what they want. It may be just their solicitor speaking. You or your representative will also have a chance to speak. Ask the solicitor what the format is likely to be - different family judges have different “styles”. It is important to get legal advice before the case, even if you can't afford to get representation in court.
The initial hearing will often be adjourned very swiftly for CAFCASS reports. CAFCASS is the organisation that employs court welfare officers. An officer will speak to you and the other parent as well as your children over the course of the next few weeks and will present their report at the next hearing. Their report is very influential to what happens so it is important that you deal with the officer in a calm and focused way. It will help to write down the points you want to make.
Remember, the court is mainly interested in how things affect your CHILDREN. It is important to bear this in mind and link everything to the effect that it will have on your child, for example “X has anger issues and my child always comes back upset from seeing X” or “Y is a habitual drug user and I am concerned that this will render Y incapable of looking after my child properly” rather than “Z is a total waste of space, I hate Z, and Z does not deserve a relationship with my child”. Although the comments about Z may well be true, the court does not want to get involved in the dispute between you and your ex, they are solely interested in the welfare of your child/children.
The second hearing may or may not be the final one. For example, the judge may request extra information to help with his/her decision. This might include drugs tests, further CAFCASS investigations or more background about the parents.
Coping Emotionally with Court
It can feel scary facing the person that you have feared in the past and maybe still fear. It helps if you can have someone with you at the court. A friend will be a good support but you may also be able to be accompanied by someone from Women’s Aid or your local Sure Start worker, whoever you have been working with.
If you are anxious about seeing the other parent, you can ask to wait in a private room so that you have no contact with them. Your solicitor can arrange this. There is no need for any eye contact with your ex, even if they are representing themselves; you can direct all your answers to the judge and keep your eyes on them throughout the hearing even if your ex has a solicitor. You can even ask to be behind a screen if this would help. You may choose to return to the waiting room for a while after the case so that you do not have to see your ex after the case.
Sometimes a court will say that a parent has to have supervised contact in a contact centre. Although many parents welcome this, it is usually only temporary. CAFCASS might recommend that the parent without care “proves” themselves by attending a centre for a few months. Depending on how the contact goes, your ex may be allowed to have unsupervised access at the end of the period.
It is important to stay calm throughout this process and hold your nerve. You do not have to see your ex. If there is no-one who can drop off your child for you, you can arrive early, and the staff will ensure that you do not see them, and you can wait back for a while at the end if this helps you feel more comfortable.
Keeping a record
It is a good idea to keep a written record of what happens. You may think you will remember everything but it is better to write it down with the date and what happened, such as the other parent not turning up for contact or you receiving an abusive text message. Keep copies of all texts and emails (texts can be saved onto your PC). If you are being harassed by the other parent then talk to your solicitor about taking legal action eg obtaining an injunction or a non-molestation order. If the contact is upsetting your child then stay calm: You need to reassure your child. Talk to your solicitor if you have serious concerns.
When it is all over
Whatever the outcome of the court hearings, there will be an initial sense of relief when it is over. You may even have the result you wanted and yet it will feel puzzling to you why you do not feel overjoyed after the first relief fades. You may even feel guilty that you are not happy and celebrating. However, there is a process to go through and it can take months for this to happen.
What may you experience? There are 10 steps that we need to go through after a traumatic event to complete the cycle. However if you have experienced a trauma, then start to recover and another traumatic event happens, you will be back at the beginning. Have a look at the cycle:
- Shock ("I can't think straight")
- Denial/disbelief ("I can't deal with this")
- Anger (It's not fair, I don't deserve this")
- Bargaining (“If I do xyz, things will get better")
- Hopelessness/Despair ("I'll never get over this")
- Loss/grief/sadness ("I feel lost")
- Acceptance ("This is part of my life; I know I can move forward from this")
- Moving Forward ("It’s not just me")
- Adjustment/Recovery/Integration ("I can see light at the end of the tunnel")
- Reflection/Learning/Strength ("I am more me than I have ever been")
It is also quite normal to swing backwards and forwards through the stages. It is important to be really kind to yourself during this stage. Counselling may help you sort through these changes. Abuse takes a lot of getting over. This does not mean you should just put up with it, seek support and help. If you have not done the Freedom Programme yet then now be the time to do so.
Remember, today is the first day of the rest of your life!
You might be interested in this really useful article: Tips for Life after Violence & Abuse