Last year Ashley Jones went to parliament to plead for ‘quickie’ divorces to be allowed in cases of violence or abuse. This week, almost three years after leaving her husband, she finally won her own freedom.
In June 2021 I brought my fight for changes to our archaic divorce laws to the steps of parliament. I was calling for New Zealand to change its divorce laws to remove the two-year stand down period for victims of abuse. In this country we recognise many forms of abuse: physical, mental, emotional, financial, sexual and spiritual. Yet we enable abusers by leaving them tied to their victim for two years and often longer, as in my case.
After presenting my petition to National MP Chris Bishop that day I witnessed it being presented to the house. It was an experience I will never forget.
That same week, Labour MP Angie Warren-Clark submitted a member’s bill on the same topic. I had never felt so heard and so hopeful of change.
Today I lodged my member’s bill to allow a person to apply for an order dissolving a marriage or civil union if they have been the victim of family violence inflicted by the other party in the relationship without having to be separated for two years. pic.twitter.com/ZbODiqrVF7
— Angie Warren-Clark (@angewarrenclark) July 6, 2021
I was invited to make a written submission to support my petition, which I was very eager to do. Then I learned that because the submission would make my husband identifiable, he would get a right of reply. I didn’t want to end up in a very public fight and so, at the end of the year, with tears flowing, I made the gut-wrenching decision to withdraw my submission.
It absolutely broke me – and it meant my petition was now closed. I didn’t get my chance to stand in the room with MPs and show them why this issue is so close to my heart. I didn’t get the chance to be heard. Again, the system allowed the abuser to be treated as victim. During this time, I was dealing with a lot personally. It was a rough but beautiful time of hard work, growth and healing. I had to put myself first.
For a while I felt so much shame around this decision, like I had let down the 5,310 people that signed my petition, and the countless others that were too scared to sign.
Fast-forward to 2022. On January 20 it was exactly two years since I made the brave decision to leave my husband. I had been counting down to that day ever since I walked out the door two years before. I turned up to the courthouse clutching my divorce papers, filled with hope that finally my life was about to change.
But then the court staff refused to accept my documents because I didn’t know my husband’s whereabouts. The same court that had granted me a protection order was the one that wouldn’t accept my application because I didn’t know where he was.
I was heartbroken. I had counted down those days. I had waited it out. And now I had to get back up and try again. There are only so many times one person can handle being knocked down.
I’d run out of fight, but thankfully a few months later a friend encouraged me to try again. Do you know the worst thing? I went back to the same court, with the same documents, and they accepted them.
On April 11 I finally filed my divorce – nearly three months after I should have been able to.
What followed was some very insensitive emails, from the many court registrars who use a shared inbox and don’t maintain consistent contact, asking me over and over to do things that my protection order does not allow. At this point, I had accepted that I would not be leaving 2022 divorced, and this draining process was going to continue into yet another year.
Many trips to file further affidavits and provide further information later, we were into October. It was then that I got the best news: I needed to sort out one last affidavit, and when they received that my divorce would be able to go through.
The weight that lifted from me when I got the news was immense. I still had some doubt that the system that had failed me for almost three years would actually come through. But then I received the letter stating my divorce date, and I realised that finally this chapter could be put behind me.
This Monday, November 28, 1,043 days since I left my husband, I became officially DIVORCED.
To those that know me, surprise!
To those that have followed my journey, shared their support, opened up to me, or just started the tough conversations: thank you. Your actions have never gone unnoticed.
I hold so much anger towards these outdated laws and systems that do nothing to help victims of abuse and instead only exacerbate their ongoing trauma. My petition may have been closed but the fire burning inside me to fight so others never have to experience the same thing remains. I cannot leave things how they are. I will not give up until change happens, and I believe it will.
This isn’t the end from me, but for now I am going to celebrate this huge personal win, and my newfound freedom. And then I’m going to use this extra time and energy to advocate for others.
When I was presenting my petition I was contacted by a brave woman who told me she was writing a submission on her own similar petition. When I withdrew my submission, I hoped hers would continue through the process… and it did! Meanwhile Angie Warren-Clark’s bill has attracted cross-party support. I hope the next time I update you it will be to celebrate an overdue end to this archaic and cruel law.