Is Yelling at Your Spouse Domestic Violence? British Court Says “Yes”

GeorgiaLeeLang057Have you ever yelled at your spouse, perhaps out of frustration or even anger? If you say “no”, I don’t believe you.

For those of us who on those rare, embarrassing occasions have sounded off rather loudly, best keep away from England, since Britain’s highest court has found that raising your voice to your spouse qualifies as domestic violence.

This is truly a case of “words mean what I say they mean” and the “I” is Baroness Hale of Richmond, who was the first woman appointed to the prestigious House of Lords in 2004 and in 2009 took her place on England’s new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. She is the most senior female judge in Britain.

The case involved 35 year-old Mirhet Yemshaw who lived in government subsidized housing with her husband and children. She brought an action against the housing authority for refusing to provide her with her own apartment after she left the home she shared with her husband because of alleged domestic violence.

Ms. Yemshaw had not been threatened by her spouse, neither had she ever been physically assaulted; no pushing, shoving, or slapping. Nothing.

She said that her spouse had yelled at her in front of the children and did not provide her with a sufficient allowance to run the household. She also said that she was afraid she would lose custody of her children.

Rather than viewing this as a preemptive strike in an obvious matrimonial dispute, Lady Hale declared that the definition of domestic violence must change to include a range of abusive behaviors.

She said it was not up to the government or other officials to decide what constituted domestic violence, rather it was within the purview of the courts alone to determine changes in the meaning of Parliament’s words.

Lady Hale remarked that while the dictionary defined “violence” as a physical attack it could also include “extreme fervor, passion or fury.”

The ramifications of this ruling will be draconian and disastrous in terms of the interpretation of a variety of criminal and family law statutes. I wonder if Lady Hale thought about that before she decided she knew better than everyone else.

However, she was not alone. Four male Law Lords agreed with her decision, albeit Lord Brown expressed what he called “real doubt” about the correctness of the decision, noting that the ruling overturned two precedent cases decided by six Justices of the Court of Appeal. Nonetheless, he was content to let the majority stand.

But England is not alone in their expanded definition of domestic violence. A British Columbia Provincial Court judge recently held that non-payment of child support was also a form of violence. Lawyer John-Paul Boyd writes on his blog

“In J.C.P. v J.B. the Provincial Court has characterized a person’s failure to “pay child support on time and in the full amount” as “family violence” within the meaning of s. 1 of the Family Law Act, and then applied this finding to determine the appropriate arrangements for the care of the parties’ child. This decision continues a trend toward the broad interpretation of “family violence”…

While both yelling and non-payment of child support are actions to be avoided, neither in my view falls under “family violence”. In fact, for those women and men who have been subject to real domestic violence, it is scurrilous to suggest that a raised voice or a missed child support payment is the equivalent of a physical or mental assault.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Meddling Friends No Help in Divorce

If you are going through a divorce you need all the support you can muster, particularly if you find yourself in the midst of the “affidavit” wars, a stage of divorce litigation where nasty allegations fly fast and furious, and usually turn out to be highly exaggerated and embellished.

It is not unusual for clients, particularly female clients, to visit their lawyer’s office with a sympathetic friend in tow, a practice that I do not discourage subscribing to the theory that friends make the burden lighter.

However, with the recent explosion of “grey” divorce, family law lawyers have noticed that the adult children of their clients are “interfering” in the process, making their jobs more difficult.

Sometimes the interference is the intentional undermining of the legal advice provided by the lawyer to their elderly parent, other times it is directed at the adult offspring’s concern about the loss of their future inheritance, or their desire to force the reconciliation of their parents, a goal that while laudable, may not be in their parent’s best interests, particularly where the marriage is marked by chronic family violence.

Whether the adult child is cajoling their parent to rewrite their will, or sending abusive missives to the parent they deem to be the “guilty” party, most of these tactics only serve to escalate the conflict between their parents.

Well-known British divorce lawyer and media commentator, Marilyn Stowe, remarks:

“A client should be able to rely upon their legal team 100 per cent. Friends (and family) play a completely different role, which is socially centred. It is free of the professional ethics, scruples, obligations, privilege and confidentiality that are the lawyer’s domain.”

Certainly, if you are paying a lawyer hundreds of dollars an hour, it is most unwise to discard their professional expertise in favour of a friend or family member, who “only wants to help”, but may have little real insight or knowledge of the process or the law.

Frankly, if you have so little confidence in your lawyer’s advice that you defer to your girlfriend, who has been through two divorces, or your son, who sees his “meal ticket” slipping away, you need to seriously consider hiring a lawyer that commands your respect.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

BC Judge Expands Definition of Family Violence to Include Non-Payment of Child Support

GEO#1My esteemed legal colleague JP Boyd writes in his blog about a recent case where a Provincial Court judge has decided that a failure to pay child support on time and in the full amount constitutes “family violence”. An excerpt from JP’s blog reads:

“In the recent decision of J.C.P. v J.B. the Provincial Court has characterized a person’s failure to “pay child support on time and in the full amount” as “family violence” within the meaning of s. 1 of the Family Law Act, and then applied this finding to determine the appropriate arrangements for the care of the parties’ child. This decision continues a trend toward the broad interpretation of “family violence”…

In J.C.P., Judge Merrick was asked to determine a range of issues including child support, parenting arrangements for a four-year-old, and whether family violence had occurred. Each of the parents made allegations of physical and sexual violence against each other, with the conflict in the evidence provided which is commonplace when such claims are raised, such that the court could not determine what had actually happened. The court was, however, able to conclude that the father had committed family violence as a result of a combination of his failure to pay the full amount of child support owing and his other behaviour.”

What was his “other behavior”? Here is the judge’s reasoning:

“I have come to this conclusion based on the following:

(a) [the father’s] repeated failures to pay monthly child support, as ordered, for more than a year despite having an ability to do so;
(b) [the father’s] communication to [the mother] that other than child support, what could he do to assist her in parenting [the child];
(c) [the father’s] actions in placing $20 in [the child’s] backpack which went back and forth with [the child] as if it was some form of an allowance for [the mother];
(d) [the father’s] view that child support was not due on the 1st of the month, as ordered by the court, and that he could choose to pay it within the month and whenever he chose to within the month;
(e) [the father’s] initial reluctance to contribute to the cost of [the child’s] required dental care; and
(f) [the father’s] steadfast refusal to pay child support despite the considerable number of urgings and the explanation by the court as to the importance of child support.”

Yeah, right?

Hopefully this decision of the Provincial Court will be appealed because it is nothing short of ludicrous. While I have no time for fathers who refuse to pay court ordered child support,(if the decision is wrong then appeal it!) but to equate non-payment or late payment of child support with domestic violence is a stretch that I cannot comprehend.

Another sign of political correctness run amok? Really, Judge Merrick?

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang