It’s time to change our archaic divorce laws – and free ourselves from our abusers
Intimate partner violence can happen to anyone. It’s happened to me and I’m determined to do something about it, writes Ashley Jones.
Domestic abuse and violence, or intimate partner violence, is a difficult topic. But we have to tackle it.
One in three New Zealand women has experienced physical and / or sexual violence between intimate partners (IPV) in her lifetime, the researchers found. When psychological / emotional abuse is included, 55% have experienced spousal abuse in their lifetime. New Zealand police conduct more than 100,000 investigations per year, or about one call every four minutes. I never called the police once.
Obviously, these staggering statistics barely touch the surface of a problem that affects so many of us. And yet, when victims have left the relationship, New Zealand law requires victims to remain psychologically connected to the abusers. New Zealand forces me to wait two years until I can legally divorce my abuser.
Help me to change.
The law as it exists in New Zealand requires that you have been separated for two years before you can file for a divorce. This stems from an archaic law founded on the protection of the sanctity of marriage.
It may not seem so bad to a lot of people at first glance. But think about those who have been victims of domestic violence. Abuse is about power and control and the current system allows abusers to continue to have that power and control over their ex-partner for up to two years. Worse yet, in some cases it keeps people in abusive relationships because they feel like there is no way out or that those who try to leave are sucked in by their abuser.
Eighteen months ago, I left a relationship, a marriage in fact, in which I was abused. I will not go into the details of this. The details of my case are honestly not what is relevant here. But my reality is this: 18 months later my ex-husband still has control over me financially and emotionally because he repeatedly refused and failed to properly engage with a lawyer for a separation procedure, not to mention the divorce that I will have to apply for. January 2022.
I ask you to keep in mind that as a country we recognize many forms of abuse. It’s not just about bruises and black eyes. These are physical, mental, emotional, financial, sexual and spiritual abuse.
There are so many countries that have exceptions to the suspension of divorce period for those who have experienced domestic violence. And the mental health statistics that accompany it speak for themselves. In Norway, for example, people who are victims of attempted murder, ill-treatment or even simply behavior suggesting the possibility of one or the other can obtain an instant divorce. It has been that way since 1991. In Iceland, divorce can be granted immediately if your partner has an affair or commits sexual violence against you or your children. In the UK, physical and verbal abuse are grounds for instant divorce, with no two-year separation. Canadian marriages can end if one of the parties is physically or mentally cruel.
It is long past time for New Zealand to follow suit.
As someone faced with the reality of this outdated law, I can tell you how you feel: you feel like you are faced with a system that allows for abuse, a system that has failed to put your mental health at the forefront of what’s going on. A system that must change.
This week I present a petition to Parliament. I hope to make changes and be the voice of others who have suffered at the hands of an abuser. So that I and others like me can take back control of our lives.
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