Does domestic abuse in a marriage affect the divorce settlement?

As with all cases of financial settlement, a range of factors will be taken into consideration when you separate from your spouse. These are listed under section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (MCA), and even in cases of domestic abuse, these factors are still considered. This article will discuss whether domestic abuse may affect a divorce settlement.

What amounts to domestic abuse?

In recent years, the definition of domestic abuse has been expanded. It can include (but is not limited to), emotional/physical/psychological abuse, sexual violence, coercion (including financial control) between people over the age of 16 who are, or have been, intimate partners or are family members. Domestic abuse also encompasses a pattern or an incident of controlling or coercive behaviour.

Will domestic abuse be considered when making a divorce settlement?

Under s25(2)(g) of the MCA, the parties conduct is considered when deciding on an appropriate financial settlement. Incidents of domestic abuse may, in certain cases, fall within ‘qualifying’ conduct, and could therefore be deemed to be relevant. However, this is not automatic. It is important to note here that the court rarely considers conduct, even where allegations have been made to the police.

Of course, any instance of domestic abuse is unacceptable, but the law does not make extra allowances for domestic abuse survivors automatically to receive a greater financial award because of the other’s behaviour. The extent to which domestic abuse affects the financial division of matrimonial assets depends on the impact that the perpetrator’s behaviour has on the other factors listed within s25. As a result, in reality, only cases of extreme domestic abuse will have a notable impact on the wider division of assets.

Domestic abuse is likely to have a real impact on a survivor’s income and earning capacity, particularly if financial coercive control has been a factor. This could affect someone’s ability to move towards financial independence, and will therefore be a relevant factor when determining apportionment of assets. Find out more about the factors affecting financial settlements for further information.

Will I be homeless if I leave because of domestic abuse?

Homelessness and domestic abuse are inextricably linked, and without support, survivors can easily become homeless. It is sadly not uncommon for victims of domestic abuse to leave the family home in order to escape an abusive relationship. And whilst most of those will not be rough sleeping, inadequate housing can lead to a survivor feeling they have no choice but to return to the perpetrator.

The shortage of housing has been widely reported by the media, and the private rental sector is becoming increasingly unaffordable to those on benefits or on low incomes. In Bristol alone, social housing lets have reduced by 1,800 per year, down from 3,000 ten years ago. However, anyone who becomes homeless because of domestic abuse becomes an automatic priority for homelessness assistance from their local authority. They also cannot be considered as having made themselves intentionally homeless by leaving the home.

A government initiative has been set up to fund temporary accommodation for survivors in cities across the UK, from Birmingham to Leicester and London. Issued under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, it expands on existing legislation and provides for Tier 1 local authorities to have domestic abuse safe accommodation strategies. These strategies outline how each respective local authority will implement its statutory responsibilities in respect of safe accommodation and ensure that survivors receive a funded temporary home.

What is a Tier 1 local authority?

Tier 1 authorities are where one authority carries out all local government functions, two-tier authorities by comparison are covered by county councils and district councils. Tier 1 areas include (but are not limited to) the 32 London boroughs, 36 metropolitan districts (including Greater Manchester and West Midlands), and 58 unitary authorities such as Bristol and North East Lincolnshire.


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