Divorce is complicated – financially, legally and, not least, emotionally. You are expected to make some of the biggest decisions of your life when you’re in total turmoil and your brain has little hope of functioning at its best. When domestic abuse is added to the mix the confusion and helplessness is magnified and can result in people making decisions they regret, sometimes for the rest of their lives. I guide people through the legal part of their divorce journey, but encourage many of my clients to seek help from a therapist or coach so that they can get clarity on where they are now, where they’ve been and where they are going. Then they are properly equipped to make difficult decisions, and cope with getting through the court process.
I make it my business to get to know other professionals so that I can refer my clients to the right people at the right time. One of these people is the lovely Caron Kipping, a divorce coach who specialises in helping people leaving abusive relationships and she has kindly let me have the story of her work with one of her clients to share with you.
Ella was referred to me by a fellow Divorce Coach who was concerned that Ella’s history might include domestic abuse, and her case was complex.
Our first conversation
Ella was very open and honest and clearly desperate for help. She had been married for over 25 years and they had two children, aged 14 and 10 years. Ella said they had the perfect marriage, they did everything together, he was a good parent, they enjoyed each other’s company and then out of the blue he told her he was leaving. It was a bombshell. He gave no reason, was refusing to communicate with her and worst of all Ella’s daughter had decided to move out of the family home and in with her dad – and had made an accusation to school that her mum had hit her.
Ella was clearly struggling to come to terms with the break up and could not reconcile the reality of what had just happened with her past experiences and beliefs about her solid, happy marriage and happy family unit. She came to me a few months after her separation when a friend suggested she might be experiencing domestic abuse. Ella found this difficult to believe and wanted help to confirm if this was the case or not, and some advice on what to do.
I am a trained IDVA (Independent Domestic Violence Advocate), a specialist in domestic abuse, so I completed a DASH Risk assessment (https://www.dashriskchecklist.co.uk/) and it was clear Ella had been experiencing controlling behaviour and emotional abuse since the separation. Her husband was refusing to pay towards the mortgage and had effectively withdrawn all financial support. He had been diagnosed in the past with mental health issues but had refused to take medication or get specialist support. Ella was assessed by me as being at medium risk of harm, so there were no urgent concerns regarding safety, but there were definitely some issues related to controlling behaviour from Ella’s husband which could potentially escalate in future.
A complex case
Unfortunately, when marriages break down, no matter what the reason, it is often the children who are caught in the middle. They lash out as they struggle to be heard and to cope with their emotions, they are persuaded to favour one parent over another, they are confused and hurt. There is no evidence that Ella physically hurt her daughter and Ella vehemently denies it. This allegation of aggressive behaviour by Ella also contradicts her previous behaviour and relationship with her maternal family: she was previously an A* student with good friendships and a close relationship with her mum.
Ella has seen me ‘virtually’ every week with a few quick ad hoc conversations in between when she has felt overwhelmed and struggled with the emotional impact of it all. We try not to think too far ahead and deal with one issue at a time, breaking down bigger goals into smaller, manageable actions. Ella struggles to cope with not only losing her husband and the hopes and dreams she had for her future with him but also she feels like she has lost her daughter.
I have encouraged Ella to think about what she can do to maintain contact with her daughter and given her strategies to help her cope with the emotional toll of it all. Ella is not a ‘bad mum’, but her daughter has been heavily influenced by her dad and is being actively discouraged from accessing support for herself; her behaviour, attitude and education is suffering hugely as a result.
- There is a safety plan in place so the children know what to do if they don’t feel safe. They know how to call 999 and have numbers for family members on speed dial if needed. They know it is ok to remove themselves from the situation if emotions are running high and they feel vulnerable. It’s important children know how to keep themselves safe and parents can talk this through with their children in ways that don’t cause alarm, depending on their age. Ella also has a safety plan in place and crisis numbers to call as she has felt overwhelmed and suicidal on occasions.
- I have encouraged Ella to let her daughter know about https://www.kooth.com/ a confidential online source of support for young people. I have also recommended school provide a mentor – a teacher her daughter trusts so she has someone she can contact at school who understands her situation. A mentor can encourage Ella’s daughter with her education, provide additional support and strategies to help keep her motivated so she doesn’t fall too far behind. Unfortunately, as professionals have become involved in trying to support this family, the children have felt overwhelmed with what they perceive to be interference and resisted any support which might help them. Ideally all communication and support for children should be directed through a single point of contact – whoever that child trusts and engages with most, rather than several professionals.
- Ella is reading lots of parenting advice on teens until she can attend a parenting programme. Parenting teens can be a challenge at the best of times – seeing things from the child’s perspective and understanding how their brain ticks can help Ella connect with her daughter and feel confident in her parenting. Examples of books are here and here.
- Ella is completing the Freedom Programme online to understand abusive behaviour and we are discussing this in our sessions.
- The Freedom programme helps people experiencing domestic abuse recognise tactics of abuse, understand the intention and beliefs of the abuser, how their behaviour impacts on them and their children and ensures they can protect themselves from these behaviours in future.
- We have created a support team to offer Ella advice and guidance on finances and legal advice so she understands the options she has for her future and the process for legal proceedings. Her solicitor has found it easier to work with Ella since she has been having coaching as she is clearer about the decisions she is making and less daunted by the process. Social services are involved but with Ella’s husband refusing to engage with the Child Protection Plan and Ella’s daughter refusing to have contact with her mum this whole process is a challenge. Ella has applied to court for a Child Arrangement Order.
- We have done lots of work on confidence building, preparing before court dates and child protection meetings and debriefs afterwards. We are working on managing Ella’s stress levels, communication and things she can do to support her daughter when she does have contact with her. Ella now accepts her marriage is over and is 100% focussed on rebuilding bridges with her daughter. It is a cripplingly slow process but Ella celebrates the wins and focusses on getting stronger and creating a new life for her and the children.
- Ella is doing her ABC :
A – Actions- to challenge her ex, and professionals who struggle to recognise the way her daughter is being used as a tool to abuse her. Other actions include seeking the appropriate support for her daughter.
B – Building resilience and practising coping strategies so she can cope better and feel stronger.
C – Creating a future. Ella’s life is very different now to the one she imagined. She will have to leave the marital home and is searching for a new home which will be suitable with/without her children.
If you don’t have balance and simply focus on the court process or child protection proceedings, the world can seem very negative and overwhelming. My ABC strategy rovides balance and encourages clients to look forwards to a more positive future rather than focussing on the past and the life they have lost.
To read Caron’s blogs or find out more about her work please go to www.caronkippingcoaching.com or give her a call on: 07899 991304