Lawful Abuse was a term I formulated in my own head when affected by Family Law litigation. I originally thought the use of protracted Family Law litigation by a Family Law participant in order to punish was isolated and unusual. However, continued exposure to Family Law clients requesting assistance has revealed that “lawful abuse” through misuse of Family Law litigation is far too common.
Utilising the resources of the Family Court for retribution and to damage the emotional and financial well being of families in crisis is in direct conflict with its purpose, and damages those it was designed to protect. Those with a genuine and desperate need for assistance through the guidance of the Family Court simply cannot be serviced in the manner they deserve, due to the misuse of the ‘system’.
In my view, there are two types of participants to Family Law litigation. The Genuine Participant, and the Abusive or Narcissistic Participant. The Genuine participant should have immediate access to the Family Court where necessary, and appropriate timely access as required. Unfortunately, the Family Court resources are stretched to such an extent, with not enough Family Court Judges to sustain the workload.
THE GENUINE PARTICIPANT:
These are the participants who need the assistance of a Court to settle parenting or financial issues where there is no ability to mediate or come to a fair agreement any other way. Often the ‘balance of power’ within a relationship is simply not capable of providing an arena conducive to any kind of settlement or agreement outside of the assistance of Family Law Solicitors and/or the Family Court.
Just because a matter ends up with the assistance of a solicitor or ultimately in the Family Court does not necessarily indicate an abusive scenario. Quite often difficulties in resolving matters exist where there is an inbalance of power between couples. There is also the situation where the personalities of the parties, particularly during the emotional turmoil that exists during divorce and separation, clash – and settlement is just not possible without professional assistance by lawyers or the Family Court.
Even where there has previously been abuse in a relationship – whether physical, emotional or financial – it doesnt mean that the abusive participant in the Family Law Proceedings is using that arena to abuse the other. Quite often, Family Law proceedings, through mediation and other measures made available to parties, assist parties to come to terms with previous behaviours, and assists in resolving issues or an education process through counselling and compulsory court ordered courses.
The dangerous participant to have utilising legal advisors and the Family Court is the narcissistic participant. They cannot accept counselling or assistance in changing prior behaviours – because to the narcissist – they are perfect. They are not in the wrong. The other party is defective and must be punished or exposed for their failings.
THE NARCISSISTIC ABUSIVE PARTICIPANT:
These are the participants who have the money or the sheer narcissistic stamina to continue Family Law litigation simply to ‘break’ the other party – whether in an act of revenge, or the inability to ‘lose’ what they consider is their lawful right.
The narcissistic participant is the most dangerous. The narcissistic participant with financial backing is almost guaranteed to continue litigation until the other party is literally unable to continue. This inability to continue can be due to being financially destroyed by legal fees, or emotionally exhausted.
It is not uncommon for participants to simply become unable to continue with the never-ending requests for financial disclosure, responding to subpoenas, falling victim to tactics such as continual emails and letters to either them personally or their solicitor. Usually the consistent correspondence is designed to increase the others legal fees and deplete their stamina.
Letters and requests for information – such as lists and receipts for every item spent over $1000 over the past five years, copies of all passports and overseas travel since separation, all financial details of any new partner, subpoenas upon medical records, and invasive and time consuming demands are all common tactics of the narcissistic participant and their lawyer.
The unrepresented participant is even more at risk. The consistent emails and letters are sent to the participant directly, and the frequency of the demands, the sheer volume of energy and work it takes to comply on top of the Court dates set for applications and inspection of subpoenas will affect that parties ability to function as a parent and an employee. The loss of a career over a protracted Family Law matter is real. The effect on the mental health of the unrepresented participant is even more real.
Another use of the ‘system’ by the narcissistic participant is to launch attacks on the other using falsely sworn affidavits. Whilst an offence to file a false affidavit, it is usually a case of one against the other. Usually impossible to find the truth without independent evidence. The narcissistic participant has no issue in cross examination in confirming false evidence. The narcissist is charming and believable. Their legal team will believe them implicitly. Filing degrading and untrue affidavits, often with allegations of assaults on children is to be expected with this form of abusive participant.
Parents who are at the end of their ability to cope without proper contact with their children will often enter into parenting orders that are totally unacceptable, and unfair – simply because the children are withheld from them and desperation prevails. Lack of finances to enlist a solicitor to assist results in Parenting Orders which affect one parents relationship with the children irreparably.
Without parenting orders in place, one parent is able to simply dictate the amount of time a child will spend with the other parent, through simply refusing to make the child available for contact, or through manipulating the child once the child is of an age where this can occur.
After some years of the emotional trauma that occurs with the abusive participant, one party may end up depressed, suffer anxiety and suffer very real mental health issues with thoughts or actions in regard to suicide. The ‘mental break-down’ of the other party after extensive Family Court abuse is one of the ‘high points’ for the narcissistic participant. It is then that children can be withheld from the other parent.
The use of the Family Law Act and the Courts that administer it against another person in an abusive manner is, in my view, one of the most abhorrent form of abuse. It is abhorrent because it is legal. It is essentially bullying. As long as there is either access to legal assistance or plenty of money, the abuse of the other can continue literally for years – in a completely legal forum.
Quite often, the abusive participant is doing nothing legally wrong. Family LawCourt proceedings can last years, and throughout the waiting times between Court mentions, the unrepresented party to an abusive participants case is at the mercy of the abusive participant and their legal team, in the manner as described above. For the other party, limited funds mean no legal help. If the other party has the children, or has had to leave the family home, any salary they have goes to housing and the usual requirements, and therefore despite earning a salary – it all is expended in providing for children or themselves. This brings about the issue of obtaining legal assistance – unless qualifying for Legal Aid . Complete mental breakdown as a result of the abuse means no emotional ability to keep going.
The abusive or narcissistic participant will continue the abuse through the Court to punish, and to keep in control of the other party. Feeling as though it will ‘never end’ when the abusive participant continues parenting applications for years, or appeals a property decision after the other party spends their financial security in legal fees is enough to push many into thoughts of suicide. Believe me – it happens.
The big bonus for the abusive participant is that the other party is effectively silenced and unable to seek assistance in relation to the abuse unless through the Family Court, and that is only possible if they have the financial and emotional ability to continue with litigation.
In order to protect parties, and in particular children from being identified in any Family Law proceeding, s 121 of the Family Law Act 1985 makes it an offence for any details of a party to a Family Law proceeding to be identified in any way. There are very valid and appropriate reasons for the legislation, and in no way am I attempting to make any criticism of the intentions of the legislation. Unfortunately, however, it prevents any discussion of ‘abuse of the system’.
FAMILY LAW ACT 1975 – SECT 121
Restriction on publication of court proceedings
(1) A person who publishes in a newspaper or periodical publication, by radio broadcast or television or by other electronic means, or otherwise disseminates to the public or to a section of the public by any means, any account of any proceedings, or of any part of any proceedings, under this Act that identifies:
(a) a party to the proceedings;
(b) a person who is related to, or associated with, a party to the proceedings or is, or is alleged to be, in any other way concerned in the matter to which the proceedings relate; or
(c) a witness in the proceedings;
commits an offence punishable, upon conviction by imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year.
(2) A person who, except as permitted by the applicable Rules of Court, publishes in a newspaper or periodical publication, by radio broadcast or television or by other electronic means, or otherwise disseminates to the public or to a section of the public by any means (otherwise than by the display of a notice in the premises of the court), a list of proceedings under this Act, identified by reference to the names of the parties to the proceedings, that are to be dealt with by a court commits an offence punishable, upon conviction by imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year.
(3) Without limiting the generality of subsection (1), an account of proceedings, or of any part of proceedings, referred to in that subsection shall be taken to identify a person if:
(a) it contains any particulars of:
(i) the name, title, pseudonym or alias of the person;
(ii) the address of any premises at which the person resides or works, or the locality in which any such premises are situated;
(iii) the physical description or the style of dress of the person;
(iv) any employment or occupation engaged in, profession practised or calling pursued, by the person or any official or honorary position held by the person;
(v) the relationship of the person to identified relatives of the person or the association of the person with identified friends or identified business, official or professional acquaintances of the person;
(vi) the recreational interests, or the political, philosophical or religious beliefs or interests, of the person; or
(vii) any real or personal property in which the person has an interest or with which the person is otherwise associated;
being particulars that are sufficient to identify that person to a member of the public, or to a member of the section of the public to which the account is disseminated, as the case requires;
(b) in the case of a written or televised account or an account by other electronic means–it is accompanied by a picture of the person; or
(c) in the case of a broadcast or televised account or an account by other electronic means–it is spoken in whole or in part by the person and the person’s voice is sufficient to identify that person to a member of the public, or to a member of the section of the public to which the account is disseminated, as the case requires.
As indicated in the legislation – it is fairly safe to say, that the Narcissistic Abusive participant is safely hidden behind s121 of the Family Law Act 1985. The other party is ‘hamstrung’. Either have the financial and emotional stamina to keep fighting against the abusive party, or walk away from either the children, any financial security or both. There is nowhere to voice concerns, nowhere to raise issues and no where to demand a change in the way the system is working.
Even providing comments on Facebook can cause breaches of s121 – so please be careful as to what comments are made in respect to personal experiences, however I would be interested in hearing from parties via email who have suffered from “Legal Abuse” through Family Court litigation. I would like to establish a support network for those who have suffered at the hands of an abusive partner to a Family Law matter, and would like to think I can make a change. I am available to assist parties at reduced rates in certain situations where abuse has been sustained and prolonged and where reduced rates are appropriate – whether it be in parenting or financial matters.