Info & Advice

Do I have to face my ex in family court?

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Seeing an ex at any time can be difficult enough, but having to face them in court whilst in the midst of family proceedings is particularly tough. This is exacerbated even further where there has been domestic abuse, violence, or coercive control. So do you have to face your ex in family court or are there measures that can be taken to avoid this? Read on for more information.

If there are no issues surrounding domestic abuse, then it is likely you will have to face your ex in the court room. Some courts offer separate waiting rooms, but facilities vary, so it is always a good idea to ring ahead of the hearing to see whether you can arrange a separate room.

Having to face your ex in court, especially when you have suffered mental and physical abuse at their hands, can affect your mental and emotional wellbeing and cause stress and anxiety as a result. With this in mind, the courts have enacted something known as “special measures” in order to protect vulnerable court users.

Can I apply for special measures?

To be eligible for special measures, you must show that your ability to participate in the hearing and give evidence will be compromised and diminished because of the fear and anxiety created by having to face your abusive ex. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 says that if a party is or is at risk of becoming a victim of domestic abuse, the court will automatically assume that this ability is diminished.

If granted, special measures can include:

  • Use of separate court entrances
  • Use of separate waiting areas for parties
  • Use of screens in court to prevent the parties being able to see each other
  • Permitting evidence via video link
  • Keeping your contact details secret
  • Assistance when leaving court

A further safeguard under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 is that no victim of domestic abuse can be cross-examined by their perpetrator if they are representing themselves in court. In these types of cases, the court will generally ask the perpetrator to send in a list of questions they would like to ask the victim, with the court deciding which question is reasonable. The judge will then ask the questions instead.

Can my abuser cross-examine me in court?

Because of the cuts to legal aid, it is becoming the norm for parties to represent themselves in court. This poses a problem when that person has abused the opposing party. Consequently, the risk of a victim being cross-examined by their abuser has become very high. Understandably, victims can feel intimidated by their abusers, which in turn prevents them answering questions to the best of their ability or giving compelling evidence. If they were forced to do so, victims would be placed at a disadvantage, and this would be unfair. In order to prevent this happening, an application can be made setting out the reasons this would be inappropriate.

In order for the court to consider whether to prohibit questioning from the abuser, you will need to explain (and provide evidence where necessary):

  • Why cross-examination would cause you significant distress
  • How the quality of your evidence would be negatively affected if the other party were to question you directly

It remains a matter for the court to decide which of the available measures is necessary in the particular circumstances of each case.

You can also ask the court to appoint a legal representative to question the other party if you are not represented yourself. This person will only carry out the questioning on your behalf, but will not represent you in any other part of the case. You will not have to pay for this. If the court does not approve the application, you may have to speak to the other party directly in court. Although, in cases of domestic violence, this is unlikely, given the protections afforded by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, as discussed above.

What can I do if my ex tries to intimidate me after court?

If you are concerned about being abused by your ex on your way home, you can wait in the court building for a period of time until they have left. If you explain the situation, the court security staff could also escort you to your vehicle. In some courts, there is a side or rear exit that court staff can arrange for you to use if you are worried.

If you are the victim of domestic abuse, you may qualify for legal aid and therefore receive legal representation to support you in court, which will provide even greater reassurance.

What can I do if my ex tries to intimidate me in court?

If you are in the court room itself and the hearing is ongoing, if no special measures have been granted, the judge will keep proceedings in check. They will not allow your ex to intimidate you and will stop the hearing if they have any concerns. The judge will also warn the other party, and ask them to conduct themselves appropriately. If the behaviour continues, then the judge has the power to deem them in contempt of court and apply sanctions accordingly.

If the intimidating behaviour is outside of court whilst you are waiting for your case to be called on, you may ask court staff if they have more private waiting areas you could use. This will keep you separated from your ex until you go into court. As stated above, if this is a concern, contact the court ahead of the hearing and arrange facilities beforehand.

The court staff are always there to help, and if you feel unsafe at any point, you should make them aware of the situation. Take a friend or family member to support you. Although they won’t be able to go into the court itself, unless they are your McKenzie Friend (someone that assists a litigant in person), they can wait outside and sit with you during down times.

If you believe your ex will follow you from the court building, ask court security if they can let you leave from an alternative exit or accompany you to your car.

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