Post-Separation Abuse – The Hidden Epidemic in Family Courts

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Domestic abuse does not always end when a relationship ends. For many survivors, the trauma continues long after they have escaped an abusive partner. This ongoing abuse following separation has become known as “post-separation abuse”, and it is leaving victims dangerously unprotected by the UK family court system.

A Toxic Cocktail of Coercion and Control

Post-separation abuse involves the continued use of coercive and controlling behaviors by an abusive ex-partner. This can include harassment, stalking, threats, financial abuse, use of the court system to continue coercion, and more. Abusers exploit any avenue they can to maintain power and control over their victim, often using child contact arrangements ordered by the family courts to facilitate ongoing abuse.

For survivors of domestic abuse, the threat does not end with separation. In many cases, it escalates. A 2020 Ministry of Justice report found that nearly two-thirds of domestic abuse survivors experience post-separation abuse. This hidden epidemic is leaving victims and children at serious risk of harm.

Falling Through the Cracks

Disturbingly, post-separation abuse often goes unidentified and unaddressed by the family court system. Proceedings focus narrowly on arrangements regarding children, frequently framing cases as acrimonious disputes between two estranged parents. The dynamics of domestic abuse remain overlooked and minimized.

The family court system is currently enabling abuse rather than ending it. There is no more time to waste. Survivors have suffered long enough in a system that is supposed to protect them. The reform process must begin today. Share on X

Abusers are adept at manipulating proceedings, presenting themselves as reasonable and painting the victim as obstructive or unstable. Survivors find themselves disbelieved and pathologized. Dangerous contact arrangements are ordered, with inadequate protections.

The fundamental mismatch between the family courts’ mandate and the complex needs of domestic abuse victims sets the stage for systemic failure. Victims simply fall through the cracks, left unprotected.

A Life Sentence of Abuse

The consequences for survivors are devastating. The family court process often serves to extend rather than end the pattern of abuse. One victim described feeling sentenced to “a life of abuse” by the courts.

Abusers weaponize child contact arrangements to continue their harassment and control. Visits and handovers become opportunities for confrontation, threats of violence, psychological manipulation, and more. Children are drawn into the abuse and exposed to danger.

For survivors, the “end” of an abusive relationship marks only the beginning of a new nightmare. They endure years of ongoing trauma and fear trying to navigate a system that does not understand the dynamics of abuse.

A Call for Urgent Action

The broken response to domestic abuse survivors in UK family courts demands immediate reform. The human cost of inaction is simply too high.

Firstly, comprehensive training for all family court staff must be mandated to improve identification of abuse and protect survivors. Secondly, specialist domestic abuse courts should be established across the UK. Thirdly, stronger protections must be put in place regarding child contact, with supervised visits and handovers where needed.

The family court system is currently enabling abuse rather than ending it. There is no more time to waste. Survivors have suffered long enough in a system that is supposed to protect them. The reform process must begin today.


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