In Lalalaletmeexplain 's hit column, readers ask for her expert advice on their own love, sex and relationship problems.
With over 200k Instagram followers, Lala is the anonymous voice helping womankind through every bump in the road. An established sex, dating and relationship educator, she’s had her fair share of relationship drama and shares her wisdom on social media to a loyal army of followers. Every week thousands turn to her to answer their questions (no matter how embarrassing), and her funny, frank approach to love and relationships has made her the ultimate feel-good guru.
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My ex and father of my 3-year-old child has been charged with non-fatal strangulation against me. I left the relationship after years of emotional and physical abuse. The case is going to court next year. My issue is that after a year of having no contact, my ex is now asking to see his child. I’ve been advised to go via the family courts as he is an abusive man.
I'm terrified of the family courts and the things I read in the media about children being ordered to live with abusive parents, mothers being accused of parental alienation and all the rest. I don’t know what to do because I believe that my child deserves to know his dad and his extended family, but I also need that to be safe for me and my son.
I’m feeling pressure from his side of the family to let contact go ahead, but I feel uneasy about this. My ex has taken no accountability for anything and everything is my fault according to him.
He is misogynistic and has assaulted me in front of our son previously. He's very unpredictable and sometimes shows up outside nursery. He has bail conditions not to contact me so I’m worried that this is just a ploy to get back in touch with me and I just don’t know what to do.
This is a very tough situation to deal with and I’m so glad you reached out for advice. It's going to be important for you to get specialised advice. Ideally, you need an Independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA). IDVAs provide you with advice, guidance, and support on how to keep you and your family safe. You can be referred to the IDVA service by the police, self-referral or via a professional on your behalf.
I would contact Refuge (www.refuge.org.uk) or Women’s Aid (https://www.womensaid.org.uk) or google domestic abuse support and the name of your local area to see if there is a local service, to begin this process. You could also contact Rights Of Women (www.rightsofwomen.org.uk) and speak to a lawyer who can give specialist advice on this matter. I think your instinct is correct and that his sudden desire to see his son after a year of not seeing him is a tactic he’s using to maintain control of you. The only ability he has to wield power over you is via your son. The problem with having to maintain contact with your abuser because of a child is that it gives them the opportunity to continue to abuse you.
Commonly, they don’t just agree to set days and then stick to them. They make things messy and complicated. They don’t return them at agreed times, they cancel contact last minute with a fake issue on days when they know you’ve got something important going on. They do whatever they can to make things as hard as possible. The most important thing to establish is whether he poses an ongoing physical risk to you or any type of risk to your son. An assessment would need to be carried out by social workers. If you do go via the family courts, they will likely make an order for a report to be completed by social workers to assess whether they believe it is safe for your son to have unsupervised contact with his dad.
It's clear that there are safeguarding risks based on the fact that he assaulted you in front of your son. The question would be whether he would still pose a risk to your son if all access was managed in a way that meant he had no contact with you during handovers. Whether he would be a risk directly to your son if the risks associated with domestic abuse were removed. Professionals need to assess and establish what they think the risks are.
In my opinion, your fear of the family courts isn’t unfounded. I believe they've consistently failed victims of abuse, allowed perpetrators to hold power over victims in court, minimised the risks of domestic abuse, and have allowed ‘parental alienation’ claims to be used against victims (the unwarranted rejection of a parent by their child based on manipulation and coercion by the other parent. In other words – when a child is terrified of their abusive dad, the dad will claim that it’s only because mum convinced them to be terrified). However, things are slowly improving thanks to campaigners.
The fact that your ex has been charged with non-fatal strangulation should clearly show the courts that this is not a safe man. The only way to avoid the courts would be to agree to a private family arrangement. If you trust his family enough, then you could manage this by allowing him to have contact when his extended family are present, and handovers could be managed by your family. In an ideal world this would be the smoothest way to do it, but I’d recommend having a proper family meeting and writing down the agreement in a contract that both families agree to stick to. However, it’s not an ideal world and if you think there is any risk to you or your son then it’s not even worth thinking about. And it would rely on him and his family playing ball.
It could get messy and will likely lead back to the family courts anyway. The best thing you can do is get solid support, both from professionals and loved ones. Write everything down, make police reports if it’s ever necessary, keep evidence of everything. Make sure that the nursery knows what to do if dad turns up.
The courts aren’t all bad and many people have good experiences where the right decision is made. Get yourself some therapeutic support to help you through this complex process. Check out @rosetreeproject on Instagram and click the link in their bio for information on their ‘Own My Life’ course which supports female victims of abuse to regain ownership of their lives.
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