When Caroline Flack died, I read posts on social media and some were saying how abusive she’d been to her partner, while others were saying she was the one who was abused.


Those who thought she was the abuser said things like:

  • Society can’t seem to accept men can be victims of abuse and women can be perpetrators.
  • Like many women too, he may have been trauma bonded and still loved her even though she abused him.
  • There must have been clear evidence if police chose to press charges without the victim’s consent.
  • Her previous partners said she had acted similarly in previous relationships.
  • There is much more shame for men to admit they are victims.
  • Women can be abusers and men victims too.  As victims, we all know how hard it is to stay away from our abusers.
  • Abusers often harm themselves to seem innocent.
  • I couldn’t see the reality of the situation, I still loved him and desperately missed him: the DV relationship is complex because the abused often still love their abuser.

While those who thought she was the one who was abused said things like:

  • Abusers are weak, controlling people who love themselves too much, threaten to end their life but are cowardly to do it. Perpetrators rarely commit suicide.
  • She suffered online bullying at the hands of Fathers for Justice.
  • Why would he keep contacting her and putting stuff online saying they were still together and he loved her, etc? He knew she could not contact him because of her bail condition and would get into more trouble if she did: it was as if he was goading her.
  • I kept trying to work things out with my ex for over a year as he made me feel like I was going mad, that was the problem. That’s what a narcissist does: projects.
  • Reactive abuse? I did some scary stuff. After years of abuse I threw things out of a window and damaged my husband’s new car.
  • Toxic relationship. Destroyed her as she was obviously pushed to the limit of human tolerance.
  • I reckon she was protecting herself from him and couldn’t handle it any more.
  • Who’s to say she was the abusive one? Maybe she was attracted to that type of man and she lashed out as he drove her there.

And some even queried whether it was suicide:


  • “I got a bad feeling about him…I was married to a narcissist…I can spot them 100 miles away…you’re the second person to suggest it was suicided” (when someone is murdered and then arranged in such a way to make the death seem like a suicide. Or the victim may be forced to take their own life so that the real culprit leaves no evidence and the cause of death is said to be suicide, which often means that no investigation is carried out).

As I was reading all of this, I was immediately struck by how similar it was to what the family courts regularly have to decide: which of the two is the abuser, if either. In fact, I had never heard of Caroline Flack before she died, so knew nothing about her which meant I read the social media posts a bit like a judge in a family court – new to the evidence presented to them. And I had absolutely no idea which of them might have been the perpetrator and which the victim.  Another post said:

  • “My ex accused me of assault when I called the police to remove him. I was arrested and went through hell because of it. I wasn’t guilty though, and I don’t know if she was either. Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors and I guess nobody will ever know.”

So, it’s clear that the family courts are faced with an almost impossible task when they have to decide cases involving abuse.

Where do they start?

Practice Direction 12J applies in any application relating to children where there are allegations that an adult or child has experienced domestic abuse by the other party. If the other person denies the allegations of abuse, and if the allegations will make a difference to the court’s final decision, the court should hold a fact-finding hearing.


These hearings are more like criminal trials than normal family court hearings as both parties and any witnesses have to give evidence under oath, and be cross-examined, about the allegations. At the end of the hearing, the judge says which allegations they find to be true, and which they don’t.

This all sounds good, but there are two big problems:


1. See above. Domestic abuse is complicated and judges have very little training in it, so there’s no guarantee at all that they will come to the right conclusion as to who is the abuser and who the abused. If the abuser is projecting i.e. accusing the other parent of what they are actually doing themselves, how is a mere lawyer supposed to know who is telling the truth? This is why I believe that family courts should have social workers and psychologists sitting with the judges, which would give a better chance of them reaching the right decision. The wrong findings made at a FFH can make things much worse, rather than better, for the abused party.

2. These hearings take a lot of time – the minimum would be one day and some go on for several days – and the courts are very short of time.  

So, very often the court will try to avoid holding a fact-finding hearing. They may say that the outcome would not change their decision as to residence or contact in any event. Or, they may try to deny the abuse altogether and dismiss it as ‘parental conflict’. It often looks like conflict either because there are counter-allegations, or because the protective parent is fighting back hard to protect their child.   

When there’s parental conflict following a separation, this usually settles down in time and the parents are then able to work together in the best interests of their children. When there’s abuse, this is never going to change and you cannot co-parent with an abusive one.

But this doesn’t stop Cafcass and the courts from constantly trying to bulldoze an abused parent into co-operating and negotiating with their abuser. So, if you hear the words ‘parental conflict’ or ‘high conflict’ or ‘intractable conflict it’s important to state quickly, clearly and repeatedly that it is not conflict, it’s abuse.

If you’re dealing with any of the issues here, let’s have a chat, just drop me a line (diana@dealingwithdivorce.co.uk) so we can arrange a convenient time to talk.