A local mother who was the victim of domestic violence has said that the family justice system in the North is ‘disgraceful.’
Ann-Marie* said that her experience had been ‘awful’ and had left her feeling re-victimised.
The mother said the court proceedings treated her like a ‘bitter ex,’ who was preventing her abusive ex-partner from having contact with their child.
“That was anything but the case. I never stopped him seeing our child and I was begging him to see our child, but for months he came nowhere near us.”
Eventually he lodged legal procedings to arrange contact with the child.
The hardest part for Ann-Marie was that she was unable to mention the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her ex-partner during the family proceedings because he had not been convicted of a criminal offence.
Ann-Marie’s partner became abusive towards her when she was pregnant and his behaviour continued for years.
“He had always been a nice, kind and bubbly person, but once I got pregnant his personality changed and he began to drink more.
“At the begining he was verbally abusive and once the baby arrived he became violent.”
Ann-Marie said her ex started to cause damage to their home before turning on her.
“He would break things or punch holes in the walls. Then he became violent towards me, hitting me; kicking me and strangling me. I never experienced that whole culture of drinking and being violent when I was growing up, so it was a complete and utter shock to me.”
She admits she stayed with him in the hope that he would ‘get back to the person he was, but he just got worse.’
“A few times I threw him out of the house. He came back full of apologies and I took him back.
“He had me in a spot, mentally, where I thought I couldn’t live without him. He made me feel very, very scared of being on my own, even though I had always been an independent woman.
“His behaviour changed me and I became a different person.
“I became a paranoid wreck, always worrying what state he would come home in and what mood he would be in.”
Ann-Marie ended the relationship after an assault which left her requiring hospital treatment. If not for the support of her family at that time, she admits she would have taken him back again.
“I had never stopped him seeing our child after we split up and had contacted his family members begging him to see the child, but he had shown no interest.
“Once the family case was launched, social services became involved. My ex-partner completed parenting classes and anger management classes and was granted supervised access with our child.”
She said that she was treated like a ‘bitter ex’ during the proceedings and felt like she had no voice.
“Because he wasn’t convicted of anything, I couldn’t say anything about the domestic violence. There were so many things I was not allowed to say, yet he was held up as a model citizen. The whole thing made me feel awful.”
Ann-Marie said the family justice system is ‘disgraceful’ and needs completely revamped.
“There is a specialised criminal court for domestic violence cases and there should be the same for family cases which involve domestic violence,” she maintains.
“Every time I had to attend court he was able to walk past me and at times shout abuse at me. He should not be allowed to be anywhere near me and the court should know about the violence in our relationship, even if he has not been convicted of it.
“My experience is not the same as someone who has broken up with their partner because they don’t get on anymore or because they have cheated. If he hadn’t done what he did, we wouldn’t have been before the family court at all.”
Ann-Marie said she believes the fear of family justice proceedings could put women off reporting abuse.
“Going through the family court really takes it’s toll on victims and it needs to change.”
*Names have been changed