Domestic abuse victims say no to ‘no-fault’ divorce settlements

Domestic abuse victims are speaking out about no-fault divorce settlements that see their abusers entitled to 50 percent of the marital property. Sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars change hands.

Some say they paid for the property while their spouse abused them and paid for little or nothing.

One woman said her ex-husband was laughing all the way to the bank.

She described the legal process as an abomination.

“He refused to contribute, but now he’s using the court as his weapon of choice to force me to pay property division of 50-50,” she said.

“They have set the ceiling so high and because domestic violence is so common in New Zealand, my circumstances, even though I’m badly injured – that doesn’t constitute ‘extraordinary circumstances repugnant to justice.'”

The way the law works at the moment, the woman says she’s going to have to “pay twice over”.

She says she “already paid during the relationship, but the way the court analyses everything I wasn’t allowed to submit evidence of all of that violence and all that financial violence, because I should have sorted it out during the marriage”.

“But how can you sort it out during the marriage when you’re begging for your life at machete point?”

Her former husband would receive more than $400,000 if she loses an appeal against the ruling.

She would also be liable for his legal aid fees, as she represented herself because she could not afford a lawyer while paying her mortgage.

“I can’t raise a loan to pay for the house a second time, because I’m not earning enough now so that this is another level of domestic violence for m”e.

“I’m going to have to pay him out and the house will have to be sold to get the money to pay him out.”

A recent Law Commission report recommended the government consider the relevance of family violence to the division of property in the context of its wider response to family violence.

This would enable a court to decide if there were extraordinary circumstances that make 50-50 sharing ‘repugnant to justice’. Indicators of this could include a partner’s gross misconduct – when that misconduct had significantly affected the extent or value of relationship property.

Divorce lawyer Jeremy Sutton says this focus still views family violence’s impact through a financial lens.

“The law is there’s a no-fault principle that underpins the Property Relationships Act so there is no difference to a settlement whether there’s been domestic violence or not,” he says.

Sutton says the Property Relationships Act is “social legislation and people say it should reflect the increasing awareness of the damage of family violence and be consistent with other government initiatives to curtail violent behaviour.”



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News category: New Zealand.

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