How Does Domestic Violence Affect Divorce Proceedings?

Domestic abuse relates to separate incidents or a pattern of controlling, degrading physically and/or sexually violent behaviours within marriages, civil partnerships, and personal relationships. When you are experiencing domestic abuse and going through a divorce at the same time, it is often particularly harrowing. We explore the impact it can have when a divorce is ongoing.


What is domestic abuse? 

Not everyone is aware of the different forms of domestic abuse of which there are several. Causing physical pain is considered physical abuse, while manipulation, humiliation and making someone’s self-esteem suffer are regarded as emotional abuse. Economic abuse occurs when one party makes the other beg for money or prevents them from getting a job. Sexual abuse is another, often translating into forcing someone to have sex without their consent. Isolating a spouse from their friends and family, and controlling their online activity are examples of coercive control, and harassment and stalking are also a way of abusing spouses. 

The impact of previous laws 

Before the introduction of no-fault divorces, blame (or grounds for divorce) needed to be cited in all divorce petitions, or spouses wanting to divorce had to wait two to five years before initiating proceedings. This, it was argued by women’s rights groups and some family lawyers, protracted the process for victims of domestic abuse and put them in a position where they had to declare fault, often leading to more significant problems for people in abusive partnerships. 

The new no-fault divorce laws 

As of April 2022, new no-fault divorce laws were introduced in England and Wales. One of the key reasons for the reforms was to encourage more amicable proceedings between couples. There is now no requirement to state the fault of the other party to get a divorce. This means there is less room for further conflict, which can significantly help those who need to escape abusive marriages. With less room for divorce respondents to react abusively or negatively, there are also fewer reasons to dispute it, making the process smoother.  A quicker process means that victims of domestic abuse with a small income have greater potential to leave a harmful situation more swiftly too. 

The impact for domestic abuse victims 

Because no fault needs to be cited under the new laws, victims do not have to give specific examples of their spouse’s behaviour. This removes anxiety about having to detail the abuse and worry about how a former partner may respond. It is also beneficial for any children involved in an abusive marriage as they do not have to experience one of their parents in psychological distress at the prospect of further abuse. 

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021

In 2021, the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-20 was passed. Designed to protect victims of domestic abuse, the Act covers economic and emotional abuse, controlling and coercive behaviour as well as physical violence. The Act also introduced support for victims in court to make sure that abusers cannot cross-examine their victims in family courts. Special measures are also accessible to victims under the law to stop intimidating behaviour, e.g., victims can give evidence via video link to prevent them from meeting their abuser. 


Although the new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill does not fully protect victims of abuse during proceedings, it is widely believed that divorces will become less acrimonious and take away the entrapment of people in abusive relationships.

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