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OPINIONPoliticsJune 28, 2021

It is time to change our archaic divorce laws – and let us be free of our abusers

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Intimate partner violence can happen to anyone. It happened to me, and I’m determined to do something about it, writes Ashley Jones. 

Abuse and domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, is a tough topic. But we must tackle it.

One in three New Zealand women have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime, researchers found. When psychological/emotional abuse is included, 55% have experienced IPV in their lifetime. New Zealand Police conduct well over 100,000 investigations a year, roughly one call-out every four minutes. I never once called the police.

Obviously, these staggering statistics barely touch the surface of a problem that affects so many of us. And yet when victims have left the relationship, New Zealand law makes victims stay psychologically connected to abusers. New Zealand requires me to wait two years until I can legally divorce my abuser.

Help me make a change.

The law as it stands in New Zealand requires that you have been separated for two years before you can file for a divorce. This stems from an archaic law that is founded on protecting the sanctity of marriage.

This may not at first glance seem so bad to many people. But spare a thought for those that have been victims of domestic abuse. Abuse is about power and control and the current system is allowing abusers to continue to have that power and control over there ex-partner for up to two years. Worse still, in some cases it keeps people in abusive relationships because it feels like there is no way out, or causes those that do try leave to be sucked back in by their abuser.

Eighteen months ago I left a relationship, a marriage in fact, in which I was the victim of abuse. The details of this I will not go in to. The details of my case are honestly not what is relevant here. But my reality is this: 18 months on, my ex-husband still has control over me financially and emotionally because he has repeatedly refused to and failed to properly engage with a lawyer for separation proceedings, let alone the divorce I will have to file in January 2022.

I ask you to keep in mind that we as a country recognise many forms of abuse. This isn’t just about bruises and black eyes. This is about physical, mental, emotional, financial, sexual and spiritual abuse.

There are so many countries that have exceptions to the stand-down period for divorce for those that have suffered domestic violence. And the mental health statistics that go along with it speak for themselves. In Norway, for example, those on the receiving end of attempted murder, maltreatment or even just behaviour that suggests the possibility of either can get an instant divorce. It has been that way since 1991. In Iceland, a divorce can be granted immediately if your partner has an affair or commits sexual violence against you or your children. In the UK physical violence and verbal abuse are grounds for an instant divorce, without a two-year separation. Canadian marriages can be ended if one party is physically or mentally cruel.

It’s well beyond time for New Zealand to follow suit.

As someone facing the reality of this outdated law, I can tell you how it feels: it feels as though you are up against a system that enables abuse, a system that has failed to put your mental health at the forefront of what is happening. A system that must change.

This week I am taking a petition to parliament. I hope to bring change and be the voice for others that have suffered at the hands of an abuser. So that I, and others like me can take control back of our lives.

Keep going!