Domestic Violence: A Private Affair

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With confronting photographs splashed across the media, continuing news headlines and persistent tabloid covers, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson has unwittingly become the public face of domestic violence.

Images depicting Lawson’s husband, advertising bigwig Charles Saatchi, with his hands around Lawson’s throat and tweaking her nose, while at a London restaurant, have spread like wildfire across the media.  The look of fear in Lawson’s eyes made the couple’s attempt to describe the incident as a “playful tiff” hard to accept and only added to the controversy and debate surrounding the incident.

Days after the incident, Saatchi was cautioned after turning himself into police.  Lawson fled the family home with her teenage son.

More recently, Saatchi has sensationally claimed that Lawson’s PR adviser ordered him to acknowledge and take responsibility for the incident.  Saatchi has further broken rank and announced his intention to divorce Lawson; the catalyst for which he claims was Lawson’s failure to publicly defend him in the first place.  He also alleges that Lawson also participated in violence by placing her hands around his throat.

So what really happened?  What are the true circumstances of the photos?  If this sort of thing happens in public between them, what went on behind closed doors?  And what does it mean if the claims about Lawson also being violent are true?  We may never know the real story.

This scenario highlights a common situation faced by Judges in family law matters where competing allegations of family violence have been raised.

The breakdown of Nigella Lawson’s marriage is undoubtedly complicated by the couple’s celebrity status and intrusion by the media.  Remove the public personas and the paparazzi, and you are left with a very common experience for many separating couples.

Private Practice

Many clients tell us their experiences of domestic violence occur during their relationships, at separation or afterwards.  It is important to identify and discuss with your family lawyer the dynamics that exist in your relationship because it will impact upon how your family law matter is conducted.  Your lawyer will provide you with specialist advice about how to navigate through those issues.

It’s not just physical

In 2012, amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 broadened the definition of family violence to include “violent, threatening or other behaviour that is coercive, controlling or causes a person to be fearful”.  Issues of family violence are now one of two primary considerations when making decisions about arrangements for children.  Judges must prioritise the need to protect children from harm and from being subjected to or exposed to family violence. But in practice, this is not always so straightforward.

The uniqueness of the incident involving Nigella Lawson is that it occurred in public and was captured on camera.  In the majority of most Australian cases, ABS statistics show that domestic violence occurs in private, and more often in the home.  This means that a violent relationship is, just as often, very difficult to prove.  Although you are not required to technically “prove” an incident occurred, the Court might place greater weight upon an allegation where there is corroborative evidence.

Given the private nature of family violence, quite often this evidence is not available.  As has been demonstrated in the Lawson v Saatchi case, psychological and emotional issues often also underpin many abusive relationships, which may further complicate the dynamics between separating couples and/or the availability of independent evidence of violence.

If you are currently experiencing family violence, there are options available to you to ensure your safety and/or the safety of your children, including applying for a Domestic Violence Order. If allegations of domestic violence have been made against you, ensure you make your lawyer aware of them.  Our lawyers can assist you to apply for or defend a Domestic or Apprehended Violence Order.

Need more information?  Contact one of our lawyers on (02) 6212 7600.

 Jacquelyn Curtis is Lawyer at Dobinson Davey Clifford Simpson Family Law Specialists, 18 Kendall Lane, New Acton, Canberra ACT 2601 and can be contacted on (02) 6212 7600.