Legal abuse is domestic abuse
Domestic violence is a crime that affects people of all races, genders, religions and income levels. It is also a crime that often doesn’t end when the victim leaves the abuser. Taking the step to leave an abuser is monumental for a victim, and leaving is when violence is likely to escalate. The reasons for staying are complicated, which is why it often takes many tries before a victim can leave.
A cruel turn of events often happens after the victim leaves the has had the courage to leaves the abuser: Abusers often continue to assert power over victims by using civil and criminal court systems to their advantage through threats, intimidation, and using legal maneuvers to maintain control. Legal abuse happens whenever an abuser misuses the legal system to re-victimize his or her partner.
Victims quickly discover the complexities and challenges of the legal system. While the system is set up to be impartial, receiving the best representation is often based on the ability to pay for a lawyer. Since abusers often control the family finances, they are often able to obtain experienced legal representation, while the victim is self-represented or less well-represented by legal counsel.
In addition, the abuser continues to assert power and control over the victim by manipulating the court system in their favor using tactics like:
Refusing to agree to reasonable custody agreements or dragging out court battles. Abusers can suddenly show interest in parenting when they had not been involved with the children in the past.
Abusing the right to file motions to keep the victim tied up in court and exhaust the victim’s financial resources with legal fees.
Applying for restraining orders without the threat of violence from the victim.
Refusing to comply with court orders, forcing victims to spend time and money enforcing the orders.
Portraying the victim as an unfit parent and/or making false reports to Department of Children and Families (DCF).
Claiming the victim abuses drugs or alcohol and using this claim against the victim.
“Shopping around” for attorneys, thereby creating a conflict of interest for attorneys and preventing these attorneys from representing the victim.
Requesting continuances to prolong proceedings and/or not showing up to court for scheduled appearances, when the victim has had to arrange child care, call out of work, or pay her attorney.
Not only are these tactics costly, but they also cause additional emotional stress for the victim. In fact, according to Dr. Karin P. Huffer, a marriage and family therapist, the consequence of being abused through the legal system can cause a condition known as Legal Abuse Syndrome, a form of post traumatic stress disorder caused by the continued abuse of power, betrayal, or fraud within the legal system.
What can we do to address legal abuse?
First, we need to continue to raise awareness that abuse of the legal system is a powerful form of domestic abuse that enables an abuser to retain power and control over the victim.
Second, better education and training about how abusers use the legal system to continue to victimize their partners must be provided to judges, lawyers, court advocates, police officers and other professionals who treat victims of domestic violence.
Third, victims of domestic abuse also need advice and counsel on how to determine the best representation for themselves, including interviewing multiple lawyers, finding a lawyer who has experience in litigating domestic violence cases, and finding a lawyer who will take the time to deeply understand the full history of the victim’s abuse, so they can best represent the victim’s interests.
Earlier this year, YWCA Greenwich announced the opening of the YWCA Greenwich Civil Legal Clinic. The clinic, run by two YWCA volunteers who are attorneys, is providing consultations for YWCA Greenwich domestic abuse clients who need help filling out legal paperwork; help with court documents; assistance creating financial affidavits; advice on motions that they need to file; and educational consultation advice on what to look for in a lawyer.
Abuse of the legal system is another “hoop” that victims of domestic abuse often go through to be free of the abuser. Join YWCA Greenwich in raising awareness about this powerful form of abuse and supporting victims of domestic abuse in our community. To provide financial support for the Civil Legal Clinic and the work of YWCA Greenwich Domestic Abuse Services, donate to the Purple Purse Challenge at ywcagreenwich.org/purplepurse. All of all funds raised this month will go to support the work of YWCA Greenwich Domestic Abuse Services.
If you, or someone you know, is in an abusive situation, contact YWCA Greenwich Domestic Abuse Services at 203-622-0003. All services are free and confidential. You don’t have to fight abuse alone.
Greenwich YWCA President and CEO Mary Lee A. Kiernan speaks during the Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention Month Kickoff in Greenwich Oct. 2.