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.

  

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.

Action for Brain Injury Week 2021

Action for Brain Injury Week 2021 runs in the UK from 17th – 23rd May 2021. This is a week where focus is given to raising awareness of the devastating effects of brain injury.

From a legal perspective, catastrophic brain injuries can arise out of all types of accidents on the road, at work or as a result of medical negligence.  Cases of this nature can be extremely complex – often, victims of a traumatic brain injury are left with a wide range of medical problems which will require intensive and lengthy rehabilitation for many years. Some may also be dependent for the rest of their lives. If the victim was an innocent party to the accident, then they will likely be entitled to substantial financial compensation for their injuries and any financial loss they suffer as a result of their injury.

It is normally necessary to engage a team of experts in such cases to calculate the full scope of any financial claim that may be due to the injured party.   This can include experts in the following areas :-

  • Medical/nursing/care/architectural/occupational therapy Many specialist experts will have to be instructed over and beyond those consultants actually treating the victim for his/her injuries. For example, the victim may require independent care for the rest of their life. In these circumstances, a nursing care regime may need to be put in place as quickly as possible and nursing experts and disability specialists may need to be engaged to assess properly the cost of providing for care needs. Often the family home of the victim will need to be substantially adapted to enable the victim to live as independently as possible. In these cases, expert architects and occupational therapists will often become involved.
  • Assistive Technology – As with virtually every aspect of life nowadays, technology plays a major role in helping victims of serious brain injury. Assistive Technology experts can identify what technological products/services can help maintain or improve the ability of an injured party with disabilities or impairments to communicate and learn and live an independent, fulfilling and productive life.
  • Employment/Forensic Accountancy – The victim’s employment is crucial when properly considering these difficult cases. Often victims of accidents can no longer return to work. They may have been qualified or trained in a particular field of employment. A team of specialist forensic accountants and employability consultants will therefore need to be instructed to calculate as precisely as possible the potential future financial loss.

Victims of catastrophic brain injury need a specialist and experienced team of lawyers to assist in recovering the appropriate level of compensation as this area of law is extremely complex.

For further information on this area, please feel free to contact us here

Controllerships – All You Need To Know

controllership3

This week is Dementia Action Week 2021 – a week aimed at highlighting the ways in which we can all take action to improve the lives of people living with dementia.  

For those who have loved ones who are suffering from dementia, it is important to consider how becoming mentally incapacitated with such an illness could affect their ability to manage their financial affairs.

In a previous article on Enduring Powers of Attorney, we set out information on how any one of us can take sensible steps whilst mentally and physically capable of doing so, to put in place measures that would reassure us that our financial affairs would be managed by a trusted family member in the event that we lost mental capacity.

However, what if a person has already become mentally incapable and an Enduring Power of Attorney has not been executed?  What action could be taken on behalf of this person to manage their property and financial affairs? 

When a person is deemed no longer able to manage their own finances and they have put nothing in place to stipulate who can manage their finances on their behalf, the responsibility for the management of their property and affairs is vested in the High Court through what is known as a ‘Controllership’.

Here’s all the information you need:-

What is Controllership?

A Controller is a person appointed by the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland under the Mental Health (NI) Order 1986 to manage the property and finances of an adult who is mentally incapable of doing so themselves.

Who acts as Controller?

Typically a Controller will be a family member or friend of the Patient but may be Court Officer if circumstances require.

When is a Controller appointed?

If a Court is satisfied on the basis of medical evidence that a Patient is mentally incapable of managing personal property and financial affairs and the Patient has assets or income requiring management, a Controller should be appointed.

Is Controllership a temporary arrangement?

Once appointed, a Controller will remain in charge of a Patient’s affairs unless the Court is satisfied:-

  • The Patient has recovered.
  • That such an Order is no longer necessary.
  • The Controller is replaced by retirement or otherwise.
  • The Patient dies.

What responsibility does a Controller have and is it a paid role?

A Controller does not receive payment for work undertaken but may recover reasonably incurred expenses to a limited degree. The Controller’s powers are limited to those set out in the Court Order by which the Controller is appointed and will only ever extend to financial and property matters pertaining to the Patient. Under the present law, a  Controller has no authority to manage health, social and welfare matters for the Patient.

What if the Patient disagrees and wants to manage their own affairs?

Once a Controller is appointed the Patient is no longer deemed legally capable of undertaking the management of their financial and property affairs. Before a Controller is appointed,  a Notice is served on the Patient advising that the procedure is underway and allowing the Patient the opportunity to object.

Who is the Controller responsible to?

The Controller is normally required to submit an annual vouched account reflecting all expenditure in relation to the Patient’s funds, to the Office of Care & Protection. The Controller cannot take any significant steps in respect of the Patient’s affairs unless authorised by the Court Order under which the Controller appointment is made, or a subsequent authority is obtained from the Master of the Office of Care & Protection.

A Controller may not incur an expense on behalf of the Patient at a cost of £500 or more without Court authority, and should retain receipts for all transactions involving the Patient’s money which exceed a value of £50.00.

How can application be made to be appointed as Controller?

Such an application can be made directly to the Office of Care & Protection or with the assistance of a solicitor experienced in Office of Care & Protection work to guide the applicant through the process.

If you would like any further information on the areas of Controllership, Enduring Power of Attorney or any other area of future planning, please feel free to contact us here or use our confidential contact form below.

Bill Gates Divorce: Can finances be divided amicably?

Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda recently announced their intention to divorce after 27 years of marriage.

Having reportedly accumulated an extraordinary wealth of $130 billion, it was no surprise that the media response was live with speculation as to how their significant assets would be divided out upon divorce, particularly as it transpired that the couple had not entered into a pre-nupital agreement prior to their marriage.

However, it has since been reported that divorce papers filed by the couple make repeated reference to a “separation contract” which both have signed. It appears therefore that the couple, who share three children as well as business and charitable commitments, wish to have the marriage dissolved and assets divided in as amicable a manner as possible.

Can dividing assets on divorce be handled amicably in Northern Ireland?

Where there are financial issues arising following breakdown of the marriage, it is not necessary to ask the Court to determine how these should be divided. It is very common for parties who wish to avoid the stress and expense of Court proceedings to enter into negotiations with one another through their solicitors with a view to reaching a financial settlement on an agreed and amicable basis. This is known as a Matrimonial Agreement.

If an agreement can be reached, it will be drawn up into a legally binding document to be signed by both parties and often made an Order of the Court upon Divorce.

Increasingly these agreements are made on a “clean break” basis. That means that they set out what each parties’ entitlements are to family finances and provide that neither party will have a claim to the other’s finances in the future.

A solicitor specialising in divorce and separation can provide advice and assistance in negotiating Matrimonial Agreements with a view to reaching financial settlement. If settlement is not possible in this way, either spouse can ask the Court to make decisions about how assets should be divided. This does however tend to be a longer and more expensive process for both parties.

For further information on Matrimonial Agreements, feel free to contact us here