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Best friend trying to divorce abusive husband - Advice needed

(15 Posts)
Defenbaker Sat 16-Feb-19 19:03:14

I'm looking for advice for my friend, who is planning to divorce her abusive, controlling husband after 20 years. They have 2 children, a son aged 18 and a daughter aged 14. My friend has been a SAHM for 18 years and works a few hours a week. This suits her husband, who likes to have control over her. The kids take her for granted a bit (typical teenagers I suppose) and don't have much respect for her - it seems their father's lack of respect has probably rubbed off on them. My friend suffers from anxiety and depression, and has done so, on and off, for years. She lacks confidence and he has used her weaknesses to manipulate and control her. He has been physically violent twice, and has been gaslighting her too, saying that she belongs in a mental hospital and she is ruining their lives. It's not true - she is worth 10 of him and he's caused most of her MH problems, and she now realises it.

Their son takes after his father in many ways, they are both a bit anti-social, and possibly both of them are on the autistic spectrum (my friend's opinion, no formal diagnosis). He seems the sort that may never marry or leave home, and is close to his father, so there is no way he would want to live with his mother. The daughter is very bright and independent for her age, and plans to go to uni. Both children have been brainwashed by their father, and blame my friend for everything that has gone wrong, but my friend is hopeful that in time her daughter is likely to understand why she had to leave, and would want to join her, when she moves out to her own place, after the settlement is paid.

Both children are upset by all the arguments between her parents (there have been many, causing tears all around). The husband is now sleeping on the sofa, and my friend intends to have a legal separation and stick things out until she can get a divorce settlement, then buy a 2 bed flat somewhere.

My friend has made it clear to her husband that the marriage is over and she wants to divorce. He is trying all sorts of tactics to put things off. Without being too outing, there are many reasons why her husband would never move out from the family home (business and hobby related), so she will be the one to leave. However, he is the main breadwinner and she only works a few hours a week, so the cash side is going to be difficult, until she finds a better job. She is concerned that even then he may try to claim child support from her.

Husband says that if she sticks it out for another 4 years till daughter leaves for uni, then he will let her live an independent life, seperate rooms, he won't interfere, then when daughter leaves he will extend mortage and pay friend her half. BUT he also said that he does not want her to see a solicitor, it just costs money, they should go through mediation, and if she gets a solicitor he is going to make life difficult. Friend feels he is just stalling/lying, and she needs advice from a solicitor, but her husband has controlled her for 20 years and now wants to control the divorce too.

I've done some online research and it seems that mediation has now become a mandatory step before petitioning for divorce. So, my question is - could mediation alone ever work when dealing with this type of man, or is a solicitor still required? Also, is it likely that the process will be speedier if she moves out? (I am worried that he will drive her to another mental breakdown if she stays, but she prefers not to rent as a stop gap, unless things become totally unbearable.)

My friend has a few thousand, but is concerned about money as legal fees could swallow that up. She also believes that any savings she has could affect the settlement.

I'd be grateful for any pointers, so I can show this thread to my friend.

OP’s posts: |
TwoRoundabouts Sun 17-Feb-19 05:37:47

You can do shuttle mediation where you are in separate rooms. Makes it harder for the abusive partner to control the other with their bad behaviour. Then if no agreements are made, get the mediator to sign the relevant forms and go off to court.

LemonTT Sun 17-Feb-19 10:23:09

It does not need to be an either or situation. Ideally the courts want couples to sit down and agree reasonable and fair divorce terms. They do not want court time wasted on resolvable issues or as a forum to play out all the marital problems.

Some are able to do this but many need help which is were mediation comes in. If that fails then it shifts to courts. In which case both parties should be able to show good cause not to use mediation, that they were willing or that they tried. Courts like reason rather emotion and they don’t like bluster or coercion.

A lot of people see a solicitor to get initial advice on what to expect financially, then do mediation armed with this knowledge. Like a pp said your friend should do it in separate rooms. Once they get to a position that is reasonable then it’s back to the solicitor for tweaking. She could refuse mediation on the grounds of abuse and coercive control. Her solicitor would be able to deal with this.

She does not need her ex’s permission to see a solicitor in the first place and she should not tell him. Once they are talking formal offers and counter offers, with or without mediation, then it should be her solicitor who writes to him. If her ex has any sense he would get his own legal advice at this stage.

Divorce is better done sooner or later. Waiting until the DD is 18 prevents your friend from getting a job ft and restarting her life.

Twillow Sun 17-Feb-19 10:35:49

IF she intends to stay in the same house until divorce then I'd say do try mediation. It's a lot cheaper than legal and IF they reach an agreement I believe it can be drawn up into one that is legally binding. However even if it may fail to be successful in terms of making an agreement, it would then make become clear to her that he cannot be trusted and is manipulating her, in which case she could then go to a solicitor with a clear conscience.

Dropthedeaddonkey Sun 17-Feb-19 11:31:05

She could leave now. Claim housing benefit / universal credit and use her savings as a rent deposit. But if the children don’t go with her she will only get HB for a one bed. She can claim HB while the house is on market until it is sold. Given the circumstances I would suggest she get out. She can get a sofa bed for when the daughter stays or use her savings for a two bed rental. Or she could have 50:50 care of daughter to avoid having pay maintenance but if she’s on a low wage any child support is going to be minimal. Look at child maintenance calculator. She can go to CAB / women’s aid for advice or look at Entitledto. If she can get 16+ hours work then UC/ tax credits go up. If the daughter is living with her and she is main carer she can also get child Ben, tax credits, child maintenance etc. The court would take a 14 year old views into account but also take into account the abusive home situation. She could expect 50% his pension, equity and perhaps some spousal maintenance short term until she can get back to work. I don’t see that living together would work if he’s so unreasonable she needs to get out and make a decision whether daughter comes with her or not or if do 50:50. She may get legal aid because of DV depending on her level savings. She could look at counselling for herself and perhaps daughter and her together. Relate offer teen counselling. Why doesn’t she want to rent? Is it because she thinks it would use savings as she may find she can manage on benefits for a year until house is sold. It would also remove his control over her. In fact from a friends experience he will probably be furious the State allows women in these situations to start over. She should check eligibility for legal aid etc and try and keep her earnings within whatever band they need to be to be eligible so she can get a solicitor. She can force a sale of the house so if he can afford to extend the mortgage and buy her out there’s no reason not to do that now. Unless she has a lot of savings it’s likely be within eligibility for benefits and her purchase costs of new property etc will all get taken into account. Does she have her own bank account etc? Is she staying because she’s worried he will be abusive / violent to the kids? There is more support than she thinks and she can live frugally for a year and claim benefits until she can get divorced. I think it will be quicker if she moves out because she can threaten to claim spousal maintenance and force a sale which clearly he doesn’t want as he wants to keep the house for himself.

MrsBertBibby Sun 17-Feb-19 13:14:22

I am a family law solicitor.

Mediation is absolutely not mandatory! It is a basic principle of mediation that it is voluntary.

Also mediation is irrelevant in terms of issuing a petition for divorce. She can issue that whenever she likes.

What IS required in most circumstances is that before an application for financial remedies can be issued, the applicant must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment meeting (MIAM) with a mediator. If you go to a MIAM and say "no, this isn't for me' the mediator will say "OK here's your form" and you can go and issue.

You friend needs to see a solicitor. No way around it. Please don't tell her anything else.

Defenbaker Sun 17-Feb-19 13:19:00

Thanks everyone, that is very helpful and I'm relieved to have some good advice for her. The point about shuttle mediation is really useful, and also the explanation about why mediation is encouraged to save court time - makes sense.

Unfortunately the husband is very unlikely to be willing to sell the house - he loves it because it comes with lots of outside space and sheds/garages, which enable him to run his business from home and do his hobbies (which are an obsession). Running his business from home means he is constantly in and out of the house, keeping an eye on her movements, which is why living separate lives under one roof would be very difficult. If she forced him to leave, he would still need full access to the back garden, and it's obvious he would make her life hell on a daily basis.

I totally agree that staying until daughter is 18 would be unwise. Very unfortunate that daughter's life will be disrupted, but she is strong and has all her life ahead of her.
I hope my friend doesn't sacrifice the last good few years of (reasonable) health then find she's lost the will to make the break and her health/job prospects have dwindled.

OP’s posts: |
Defenbaker Sun 17-Feb-19 13:34:20

MrsBertBibby, Thanks for clarifying about mediation not being obligatory - the article I read seemed to imply the law had changed to make it so, but now I have a better understanding re MIAM.

Another thought has occurred to us. My friend is 50 and her husband is 58 - so the longer this drags on, the less able he will be to get the required mortgage to pay her off. He might even play the age/dwindling health card, and claim he can't cope with working so many hours. Stalling for time is in his Interests. But I think he might be able to do some form of equity release on the house, or sell various assets of his (no details - too outing).

OP’s posts: |
Dropthedeaddonkey Sun 17-Feb-19 15:40:15

She will be happier and more able to stand her ground in her own place. Don’t underestimate the benefit to children even at 14 and 18 of living in a stress free environment. My ex wasn’t this abusive but constant low level put downs and I left partly because of the children copying the behaviour. They do visit their dad but rarely want to and find it stressful as he’s constantly irritable and shouty. It’s hard to see it for what it is when you are in it but if she feels relieved not to be there the children might too and she shouldn’t assume it’s best to leave them there to deal with his difficult behaviour because it’s probably not just her getting the rough end of it. He might not be able to afford to buy her out and it doesn’t sound like her dream house anyway! She sounds like she’s got a good friend who has her back. She could sort a bank account, benefits and have a flat ready to go to. If the child goes too then the sooner the better as she would be main carer and have a stronger hand. He knows this which is why he wants to wait until she has no dependents. Equally if she would need a small mortgage she can’t wait another 4 years.

Defenbaker Sun 17-Feb-19 17:01:06

Thanks Dropthedeaddonkey, I agree totally about the stress on the children. My parents had a dysfunctional marriage and listening to them argue night after night was awful, I think we'd all have been happier if they'd split. Hey ho, that's history now, but I see some parallels with my friend's marriage, so hope she will leave.

OP’s posts: |
leahtalbot96 Sun 17-Feb-19 17:42:33

Please seek legal advice. Before anything can happen, she needs to find a solicitor who can advise her accordingly.

Also, mediation might not be a viable option. Rather, a divorce lawyer might be a better idea. Is she a stay at home parent (SAHP) or does she work outside the home?

Defenbaker Mon 18-Feb-19 17:26:47

Leahtalbot96 - she has been a SAHM for 18 years, but for the last 5 she has worked fora few hours a week (low paid job fits around school hours).

Latest is that she now realises moving out into a rented place near the DD's school might be best option, and she is going to speak with her daughter and see how she feels about it all. Someone has recommended a good family lawyer so she hopes to speak with them soon. She is very grateful for all your comments, as so many of you have experience of divorce, and she needs as much guidance as she can get. Many thanks.

OP’s posts: |
Defenbaker Sat 02-Mar-19 01:08:09

Hi Everyone,
Just a quick update. My friend read all your comments and took the advice on board. She saw a solicitor and papers are being drafted to petition for divorce on grounds of unreasonable behaviour. They did attend mediation, but my friend decided to drop it, as she has made up her mind she is getting a divorce. The solicitor will contact the mediation service and arrange for them to have one final shuttle mediation, then the MIAM document can be signed off.
She has told her husband that she wants to be reasonable about money, she is not wanting to make life difficult and wants to co parent as much as possible, but she has to get a solicitor to draft the papers. He has mentioned a certain sum of money he thinks he can raise, to pay her a cash settlement, so she can buy a modest home of her own. In some ways he's being very fair, on the surface, and has even expressed remorse about how he's treated her, but at the same time he continues to brain wash the kids, telling them the breakup is all her fault and soon they will be poor because their mother is going to screw every penny out of him. He is a real Jeckyll and Hyde type of character, he can be so nice sometimes, but utterly vile at others. I'm worried how he'll react when he sees the petition, and the list of his unreasonable behaviours. Still, I've seen the list and it's all the truth - in fact there are many worse things she could have listed! My friend is strong and upbeat at the moment, but has moments where she is in tears about her marriage ending. He's an abusive, selfish man, but she loved him once. It can't be easy.

OP’s posts: |
Defenbaker Fri 29-Mar-19 00:14:32

Further update - things became intolerable for the whole family, so my friend moved out a few days ago, and is living with her father. She seems to be enjoying her new found freedom, and is maintaining contact with the children by phone and text, although they are still taking their father's side, so things aren't easy. The divorce petition is being finalised soon and my friend has some job interviews lined up.

One thing I've noticed is that my friend's thoughts are all over the place at the moment, and she is contantly changing her mind about things. For instance, she was adamant that she would not move to her father's house as a stop gap, even though he has the room, but then changed her mind completely and did just that. She was also adamant that she wanted to see me on my birthday, but then let me down at the last minute. Her memory seems to be virtually non existent and she is finding all decisions difficult, but I guess that's understandable as her vile husband made all the decisions for 20 years, and has managed to paint himself as the innocent victim to their children - I can't imagine how much that must hurt. I've suggested that she keeps her solicitor updated and that she keeps a notebook and pen handy at all times, to write down important things.

Apparently her STBXH has been in tears at times, telling my friend how bad he feels about not treating her right, expressing remorse, etc. But then he has filled her children's heads with poison, so they both blame her for ruining the family, and say she is being horrid to their lovely father, and she is going to take all his money and leave the whole family poor. They keep saying these things in front of him. I pointed out to her that if he was genuinely remorseful, he would have stepped in to defend her and tell his children that HE is to blame, or at least tell them that it takes two to make or break a marriage and both of them had a part to play, but as he's not doing that it's obvious he just presses everyone's buttons to suit him. Crocodile tears in the hope of saving himself an expensive divorce settlement. What do others think?

I will encourage her to join MN so that she can continue this thread and seek further help if she needs it.

OP’s posts: |
Palaver1 Fri 29-Mar-19 06:31:12

You are a good friend .she should know that each time she correspondence with the lawyer she will pay for the service ,so she should be thoughtful with regards to her correspondence .

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