'State-sanctioned abuse' - why the family court system is failing
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I use a pseudonym to protect my identity, not from thugs or criminals, as you may be thinking, nor from my abuser (yes, I have an abuser). It is to keep me safe from the very people who are supposed to protect me: our judges.
If you go through family court proceedings you are not allowed to share information about what happens in court, auspiciously to protect the identity of the children.
However, as we know from other areas of life, a lack of transparency means any opportunity for scrutiny also disappears. As a result, the very baseline of our democracy vanishes, and with this, very often, any common sense.
I hear of mums who are forced by the judge to return to the family home where they've faced abuse for years, or who lose custody of their children because they spoke out about the violence they've endured.
Without this transparency nobody can be in any way certain that what is happening in our courts bears any resemblance to justice.
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I chose a very nondescript name to reflect how painfully common the issues I face with the family court are. Whenever I share them with friends or neighbours, or through my social network support sites, I hear other stories very similar to mine, and often much worse.
An application to the family court costs £255. This is not that much money, and since it is possible to attend court without a solicitor, it makes it pretty much accessible to everyone. Up to here, this is good news of course. As a parent, nothing should stand in your way when trying to make things right for your children.
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But what if this is used by the wrong hands? What if someone keeps taking you back to court with the only intention being to make your life hell? It'd be the perfect weapon to control you, wouldn't it?
Your life would get placed on hold, you wouldn't be able to make any plans as you wouldn't know when you'll have the kids, you'd live in constant fear that your children could be taken away from you.
You'd probably spend all your savings, most likely would get into debt to obtain legal advice, would possibly quit your job or reduce your hours and go onto benefits to give you enough time to prepare for the hearings
In these circumstances it becomes very hard to focus on normality like looking after your children, paying the bills, doing your job... having fun, what's that?
At the hearing your abilities as a mother, your true essence as a person, will be questioned again and again and you'll be pulled apart every single time. A proper rollercoaster of anxiety and stress of which you have no control. A perfect form of abuse.
You probably imagine, like most people, that once the divorce is finalised and there's an order in place, everyone can move on and carry on with their life. Or that there would be some sort of filter by the court not to allow this type of nonsense.
Ultimately, this is costing the taxpayer an absolute fortune that could be spent in putting in place a proper system that works. Let's face it, £255 doesn't even cover the price of processing your application by the clerk, let alone the wages of the judges who may end up dealing with it!
It is not only that this is happening right in front of the eyes of the court system, but what is especially most concerning is that this system itself is enabling it, to the point that it's been defined as "state-sanctioned abuse".
Surely it is very easy to see when someone is abusing the system and constantly taking their ex back to court for no reason, or deliberately forcing them to make the same application again and again without good justification?
You hear of mothers who just a couple of months after an order has been issued are taken back to court without any justification other than "I changed my mind", mums who live in misery until their children turn 18.
How long will this abuse continue to take place?