Netflix series ‘Maid’ shines a light on Coercive Control & Emotional Abuse

Image: RICARDO HUBBS/NETFLIX

In October 2021, Netflix released fictional 10-part series ‘Maid’ which quickly became one of the streaming site’s most successful shows, with over 67 million people having watched it worldwide to date.

‘Maid’ has received critical acclaim and recognition for its portrayal of issues surrounding parenthood, relationship breakdown, poverty and domestic abuse

The show’s storyline centres around Alex, the young mother of 2-year-old daughter Maddy, and the struggles she faces when she tries to escape a toxic relationship with Maddy’s father, the abusive and alcoholic Sean.  When Alex flees in the middle of the night with Maddy with no money, housing or job, she falls further victim to a system that is broken and that provides her with little to no support.  Alex’s steely determination to succeed and to provide a better life for her daughter suffers one setback after another and with each episode, we become emotionally invested in the journey that this young woman takes in trying to regain control of her life and escape the deep-rooted shackles of an emotionally abusive relationship. 

Abuse does not have to be physical 

Since its premiere, ‘Maid’ has been applauded for not only shining a light and raising awareness on the existence of coercive control and emotional abuse within relationships, but it has also assisted in helping those struggling in emotionally abusive relationships to identify this non-physically violent behaviour and to empower them to seek support.   

In the first episode, Alex tells a Social Worker, “Maddy’s dad drinks and he blacks out and punches stuff.” When asked if he punches her or Maddy, she replies; No, I’m not abused.”  When asked whether she wishes to report Sean’s abusive behaviour to the police, Alex replies “and say what? That he didn’t hit me?”   

Until recent years it has been a common misconception, not just within society but among victims, that for there to be domestic abuse in a relationship, there needs to be a physically abusive element to that relationship.  In Northern Ireland, a landmark piece of legislation will come into force in March 2022 which it is hoped will dispel this myth.  The Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act Northern Ireland 2021 will criminalise a course of abusive behaviour including both physical and non-physical abusive behaviours such as controlling and coercive behaviours.   

Coercive control to be punishable by law in NI 

One of the most significant aspects of this Act will be the introduction of coercive control as a criminal offence in Northern Ireland.  As well as violent or threatening behaviour, the following behaviour will also be punishable by law: –  

  1. Making a victim feel dependent on, or subordinate to a perpetrator 
  2. Isolating a victim from friends, family members or other sources of social interaction or support 
  3. Controlling, regulating or monitoring a victim’s day to day activities 
  4. Depriving a victim of, or restricting their freedom of action 
  5. Making a victim feel frightened, humiliated, degraded, punished or intimidated. 

The legislation also includes provisions which recognise the detrimental effect that domestic abuse can have on children, with enhanced sentences possible in cases where a child is exposed to an incident of domestic abuse.  Convictions for the most serious domestic abuse offences will carry a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment.  

‘Maid’ is not an easy watch at times, though it has an important and compelling message. Domestic abuse is often far more complex that the standardized ‘man hits woman’ narrative.  The impact that emotional abuse and coercive control can have on a person’s mental health and emotional wellbeing cannot be underestimated.   It is hugely positive that the success of this series has allowed some focus to be given to this overlooked thread of abusive behaviour.   

The show’s success is timely in the backdrop of Northern Ireland’s own changes to the law in this area. Allowing for criminal prosecutions to arise from non-physical abusive behaviours will go some way to providing further protection to the Alex’s in our society who are trying to break free from abusive relationships.  

For further information, advice and support with domestic abuse, please feel free to contact us here.

  

Having Contact with Your Children

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Relationship breakdown is a very painful time for the adults involved, but it can be even more difficult for children.

Children within the family are often the innocent and confused casualties of the breakdown of a relationship.

What if I can’t agree contact arrangements with my ex-partner?

Many parents are able to agree between themselves arrangements for their children which enable them to continue to enjoy a relationship with both parents.

For many other families, contact arrangements cannot be agreed.  Some parents choose to engage in mediation as a means of trying to negotiate a solution.

Where mediation is not suitable or has proved unsuccessful, an application can be made to Family Courts to resolve the issue of contact.

Children proceedings in Northern Ireland are initially dealt with by the Family Proceedings Court – in this Court,  the child’s best interests are the primary concern. This means that the main focus will always be on the welfare of the child first, rather than the rights of either parent.  It is a commonly held view that if safe and appropriate, a child should enjoy a relationship with both parents.

What will the Court look at when deciding on contact arrangements?

Each family is a unique group of individuals and in considering an application for contact, the Court will look at the particular circumstances of the child and family in question.   Contact arrangements will differ depending on the circumstances of each family.

The views and the feelings of the child involved are also taken into account and a Court Children’s Officer (who is essentially, a Court-appointed Social Worker) may be asked to speak with the children individually to try to ascertain what these are.

How much weight is given to a particular child’s wishes will depend upon the age and understanding of that child: for example, the views of a 14 year old child would weigh more heavily in influencing decisions than those of an 8 year old child.

Additionally, a child will not be forced to have contact with someone they are afraid of or who harms them in any way.

What is a Contact Order?

Contact Orders are Court Orders which set out the arrangements for when the non-resident parent can see their children.

Contact arrangements can vary in each case and therefore there are many different Contact Orders which a Court could make including the following:-

  • Indirect contact – for example,  the exchange of letters, cards and e-mails between parent and child with no regular visits
  • Direct contact – regular weekly contact between the child and parent
  • Overnight contact
  • Holiday contact – for example, additional contact at Easter, summer or Christmas.

Contact can also be supervised in cases where the Court directs that a relative or social worker must be present during visits.

How do Court proceedings conclude?

In most cases, Orders are made by agreement between the parents with the help of their legal advisors; this is the most preferable method, as Orders which are made with the consent of both parents are much more likely to work successfully in the future and reduce antagonism between the parties. However, where agreement cannot be reached, the Court will fully hear arguments from both parents and will ultimately make a Contact Order which is deemed to be in the best interests of the child.

When seeking a Solicitor to deal with this particular kind of case, it is important that you look for not only legal representation and good negotiation skills –  your Solicitor should be understanding and be capable of supporting you through this difficult period in life whilst progressing towards a workable arrangement which is in your child’s best interests.

If you require any further information, please contact us here or email us at info@fhanna.co.uk

Renting a Home – 5 Questions all Students Should Ask

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A common rite of passage for many students finishing school is to leave the family nest and live independently in the big wide world – so after accepting a place in university or college, the next big step is often to secure private rented accommodation.

But before packing up, here are 5 questions that all students should ask for before renting property:

1.   Has my landlord given me the basics?

Once you have found your new home, you should make sure that the landlord provides you with the following:-

  • A Tenancy Agreement – This is the contract between you and your landlord giving both of you certain rights, for example, your right to occupy the property for a set period of time and your landlord’s right to receive rent from you.
  • A Rent Book – This is a book which should contain your landlord’s contact details – not just the details of any lettings agency. It is compulsory for all landlords in Northern Ireland to provide a rent book for all tenancies.
  • A Statement of Tenancy Terms – This statement is essentially a shorter version of your Tenancy Agreement and should contain details such as both your and your landlords name and address, contact details of the landlord or letting agency, and details of the amount of deposit you paid and the monthly rental charges

2. Have I done an Inventory?

Make sure that you get an Inventory of the items at the property provided by the landlord including details of condition and any obvious damage.

You should always accompany your landlord to complete the inventory on the property and photographs can be useful to document the condition of various items as the date that you moved in.

3. Is my deposit protected?

Your landlord will likely take payment of a deposit from you as a type of guarantee against any loss they might face because of the tenancy. This is normally the equivalent of one month’s rent. However, by law,  your landlord has to protect any deposit you pay them. They must enter into an authorised scheme run by one of the 3 companies approved to provide a tenancy deposit scheme in Northern Ireland.

If, at the end of your tenancy your landlord decides to keep some of your deposit for alleged loss or damage and you do not agree with this decision, the tenancy deposit scheme will have a procedure for you to follow to dispute this decision.

4. Has my landlord registered with the Landlord Registration Scheme?

Before signing for a tenancy, you should also check that your landlord is registered in the Land Registration Scheme – this is a central database that all landlords must sign up to before renting out a property.

5. Is the property HMO registered?

If you are renting out a property with two or more friends, the property must be correctly registered by your landlord as a HMO – that is, a House of Multiple Occupancy.   If a property is HMO registered, it must meet certain standards in terms of safety, facilities provided and occupancy.   It is important to ask your landlord to confirm that the property is HMO registered in this instance.

Renting a place of your own for the first time is a big milestone in any young person’s life and the start of a new chapter in growing up.

Whilst for some this may be daunting, being aware of your legal rights and responsibilities when renting your first home will help ensure that you have a safe, secure place to live so that you can concentrate on enjoying student life to its full.

For further information on tenancy agreements, feel free to contact us here or leave your comments below.

 
 
 
 
 

Cohabitation: Same Rights as Marriage??

cohabiting.jpegIn recent years, it has become increasingly common for people to choose to live togetherrather than to get married or enter a civil partnership.

Living with a partner to whom you are not married or in a civil partnership with is often termed as ‘cohabitation’.

In the UK, the cohabiting couple family continues to be the fastest growing family type in the UK, reaching 3.5 million cohabiting couple families by the end of 2019. Cohabiting couple families include both opposite sex and same sex cohabiting couples.
With cohabitation on the increase, it is important to be aware of all of the legal differences there are between being married/in a civil partnership and living together.

Does cohabitation allow me the same rights as marriage/civil partnership?

Generally speaking, you will have fewer rights if you are living together than if you are married or in a civil partnership. Many people wrongly believe that with the passage of time, cohabiting couples enjoy the same rights as married couples. There is an illusion that living together for a number of years earns a couple the titles of ‘common law husband and wife’ which gives them the same legal rights as married couples or those in civil partnerships, although this is not legally the case. This misconception can unfortunately lead to a cohabiting couple being left in a vulnerable position should the relationship break down.

Cohabitation and Property

Living with someone will not automatically give you rights to the home you share with them.

For example, if you cohabit with your partner in a property which is in their sole name and your relationship breaks down, the Court will have no power to alter the property rights, regardless of whether you and your partner have children together or have both been contributing to the mortgage and other outgoings. It may be that a proprietary interest can be argued in your favour; however the rights and remedies that you have are drastically reduced in comparison to those available to persons who are married or in a civil partnership.

Similarly, if you and your partner cohabit in a property that is owned jointly and the relationship later breaks down, the general principle is ‘each keeps their own’. You will both be equally liable for any mortgage debt, regardless of whether you have had to leave the home or not.

If you and your partner are living together in a rented property, only the person named in the tenancy agreement generally has the right to live there and this person solely holds the responsibility for paying the rent. If you are not named on the tenancy agreement, the named tenant can ask you to move out at any time (after giving reasonable notice) and you have no automatic right to stay if the named tenant decides to leave.

Cohabitation and Inheritance

It is also worth noting that if your partner dies, cohabiting does not automatically entitle you to inherit in the absence of a Will, regardless of how many years you have been living together. If your partner has made a Will and named you as a beneficiary, any assets you receive may be subject to inheritance tax as there is no exemption for unmarried couples.

If your partner has not made a Will or has not named you in their Will, as an unmarried partner you may be able to make a financial claim on their Estate. However, making such a claim can be complex and can involve costly legal proceedings.

I am living with my partner but we are not married. How can I best protect my interests?

There are safeguards that can be put in place for cohabiting couples. You can enter into a Cohabitation Agreement which details what you agree should happen in the event of any future separation. Such an agreement will be legally binding if made under the right conditions. Both you and your partner making Wills will also protect your interests in any inheritance you may have in the future.

It is therefore wise to seek professional legal advice whether you are entering into a cohabitation relationship or indeed if the relationship has ended and there are issues to be resolved.

If you would like any further information on cohabitation rights, please contact us here of leave your comments below.

Father’s Rights When Things Go Wrong

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Father’s Day is a celebration of fatherhood, paternal bonds and the influence of fathers in our lives. It’s a day when children lavish daddy with cards, gifts, hugs and kisses and where fathers celebrate both the joys and rewards of having children.

Of course, the role of being a dad extends above and beyond one particular day and as any dad will know, along with the rewards of having children comes a lifetime of responsibility. It is the job of both parents to ensure that this responsibility is taken seriously and exercised in the best interests of their children.

This can sometimes be difficult to achieve when the parent’s relationship breaks down. Separation, particularly when the father and child no longer live together, can leave daddy feeling like his role in his child’s life is somehow diminished and less important.

This does not have to be the case. As a father, you can have Parental Responsibility for your child

What is Parental Responsibility?

Parental Responsibility is the legal term for the rights of each parent to be involved in making decisions in the best interest of their children.

It is defined in the Children (NI) Order 1995 as ‘all rights, duties, powers and responsibilities and authority which by law a parent has in relation to the child and his property.’

Do I have Parental Responsibility?

If you are married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth, you automatically get Parental Responsibility.

If you and the child’s mother are not married, Parental Responsibility is not automatic but you can get it n the following ways:-

  • If your child is born after December 2003 and you are named on the birth certificate
  • Through a formal written agreement with the mother
  • By obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order from the Court
  • By having a Residence Order in respect of your child.

What difference does having Parental Responsibility make?

Parental Responsibility is not a label to be worn by a father.

In practical terms, this responsibility gives you as the child’s father the right, for example,

  • To be involved in choosing their school
  • To be kept informed of their progress at school and sent copies of school reports.
  • To give consent to medical treatment
  • To determine your child’s religion
  • To be involved in choosing their child’s name and to agree any change in surname.

I have separated from my child’s mother – do I still have rights?

The short answer is yes.

Parental Responsibility goes some way to ensuring that you can continue to have a pro-active and beneficial input into your child’s life.

Where parents separate, it will often be the case that they can work out themselves where their children are to live and how much time they will spend with each parent.

However, if you cannot agree arrangement with your child’s mother, then you can apply to the Court and ask it to make decisions that are deemed to be in the best interests of your child.

  • The Court can decide where and with whom your child should live. This is known as a Residence Order.
  • In some cases, the Court may make a Joint Residence Order in favour of both parents, where the contact arrangements are such that your child will be spending time living in both your home and their mum’s home.
  • If your child lives with mum, the Court can decide on how much contact you can have with your child. This is known as Contact Orders.
Although in an ideal world it is better where possible for parents to agree issues concerning their children, the law is there to guarantee your child’s right to enjoy a relationship with both parents where this is in their best interests.

For further information on this topic, please feel free to contact Karen or Claire or alternatively leave us your comments below.