So often we come across situations where a client has been reluctant or hesitant to proceed with a separation, property settlement, or children’s matter because of threats or blackmail from their partner.
Quite often a husband will threaten his wife that he will show she is “an unfit mother” because of something she did in her youth or something which the wife and husband both participated in consensually during the course of their marriage. A spouse/partner may quite often feel that they would suffer public humiliation over their escapades and that it will end up splashed across the newspapers and over the internet. We have had innuendoes about sexual escapades, social drug taking, and shoplifting levelled against clients in the hope that they will cave in.
Often a client will relate to us that their partner has threatened that if they don’t give in to their demands or if they don’t get what they want they shall bring up blah, blah, blah or that if he or she tries to leave they will never see their children again because they will let it be known that blah, blah, blah.
Two things prevent this bullying from succeeding. Firstly, we as lawyers have a duty to the Court not to unnecessarily raise irrelevant, unnecessary, or intentionally inflammatory or embarrassing matters which have no relevance or bearing on the case at hand. So therefore what a person may have done in their youth or may have done in the past will not and should not be raised unless it has some relevance to the property settlement and/or children’s issues and invariably they don’t. In fact the Court takes a particularly dim view of a party who seeks to use or capitalise on such issues.
Before a trial commences each of the parties make submissions to the Court to strike out any offending or irrelevant material from the record. If successful, reference cannot be made to that issue in the course of the trial and the Judge does not take it into account.
Secondly, there is a ban imposed on anyone publishing the names, address, or employment of a party in Family Court proceedings. It extends to witnesses and to anything which may lead to the identification of a party or witness to the proceedings.
So even if for some reason the circumstances of a case were published in the papers it would be done in such a way that the parties identities are not revealed. You may have seen newspaper reports of Family Court proceedings where the parties are referred to as, K v K or C v C. That is to protect the identity of the parties.
Section 121 of the Family Law Act is unequivocal in stating that:
1. A person who publishes in a newspaper or periodical publication or by radio broadcast or television or by other electronic means, or otherwise disseminates to the public or to a section of the public by any means, any account of any proceedings, or of any part of any proceedings, under this act that identifies:
(a) A party to the proceedings;
(b) A person who is related to or associated with the party to the proceedings or is, or is alleged to be in any other way concerned in the matter to which proceedings relate; or
(c) A witness in the proceedings;
is guilty of an offence punishable upon conviction by imprisonment for a period not exceeding 1 year.
It’s amazing the relief that I have seen from the faces of clients who may have been held to ransom for years by belligerent, bullying, overbearing, and intimidating partners when they realise that their “little secret” is not going to end up on the front page of the morning paper and that they can stare their partner down thus allowing them to pursue their full rights and entitlements without fear.