Award-winning Family Law Barrister Paula Rhone-Adrien is inspired every day to work as hard as possible for her vulnerable clients and to protect them. She shares her story with SLOAN!
Before I came to the Bar I had visualised a career where I was trailblazing across the country fighting the good fight. Just over two decades later and that passion to do right for those has never waned.
Who did I think I could help? The vulnerable, those who exist instead of truly living and those who find the strength to ask for help but are uncertain whether they have the strength to see the fight to the end. You may have already painted a picture in your head of what my clients look like, but you’d be wrong. My clients come from every different echelon of society, some so wealthy your eyes would struggle to fathom the zeros, others so desperately poor your eyes would struggle to fathom how they survive on those zeros.
That’s the thing about Family Law: domestic abuse, divorce, a dispute over your child or property; no matter who you are or where you’re from, you are facing an inescapable battle until that fight is either won or lost.
I say fight, because you become submerged in a family dispute, you are all consumed, fighting about something or someone that you love, perhaps the most precious thing your life. This love has been threatened. It could be a love lost, a love hurt and bruised by abuse or a love that someone else wants to take away. Either way you are vulnerable, at your most vulnerable, be you male or female, rich or poor, you will rely on me to fight your fight…and win.
Of course, I cannot always guarantee a win, and so what happens then? Well, I tell you, I don’t hold back, the sooner I can help you heal then the better. I protect you, not just by ensuring a ‘win’, but even more so in times of loss, by predicting that loss and preparing you for such. You can walk away knowing that the depth of the damage was curtailed – this is your win.
Of course 20 odd years ago I had no real idea of the vulnerabilities I would be confronted with. We all have a world vision, a rosey prism by which we view our reality and we do our best to fit each person we meet into that because it’s safe and equatable. My first two cases, and yes they really were, smashed every tinted glass in my prism. One was a woman who was a victim of domestic abuse. This was before Jeremy Kyle, the Only Way is Essex and Made In Chelsea. You may not know, but 20 years ago people didn’t ‘share’ like they do now.
I met my client at Croydon County Court she was applying for an injunction because her husband was physically abusive, and yes, there was no real recognition of mental abuse then. My client had children who had witnessed the abuse, she ( and no, I didn’t have any male clients who were victims of abuse back then) had brought pictures with her of the last assault she had survived and those pictures have never left me. My client was so embarrassed to be at Court and could barely look me in the eye, but she felt forced to come to Court because she had a son and was determined that he would grow to understand that his father’s behaviour was wrong. We got the injunction (a Non Molestation Order) and my client left Court protected. I never saw her again, but never forgot her and dearly hope that those 12 months gave her breathing space to break free.
The reality is the statics tell us that it takes at least 2 1/2 years before a victim of abuse seeks help, even when there is the intervention from statutory bodies like the police or social services. Victims of abuse, male or female, struggle to even identify themselves as a victim in the first instance, and even when they do, there is a complicated life saving mechanism that is triggered which simply doesn’t permit space to sit and consider what’s going on in the wider world – it’s about surviving the next 5 minutes, hour or day.
The latest statics from the Office of National Statistics tell us that over a million calls are made to the police each year siting domestic abuse as the cause of complaint: 2/3 are women and 1/3 are men. In my experience abuse is not prejudiced, it will inflict pain upon whomever and wherever it can.
For some the fight lasts for years, and years, and years. My longest case lasted 7 years and at the time, before the law had changed, my client sadly withdrew his application. He was fighting to see his twin sons after ending the relationship with their mother. He did not harm her, his children or anyone else. He loved his children, he just didn’t love their mother anymore. His boys were just approaching 2 years old when we launched his case for contact. The case concluded when the boys were nearly 10. Yes my client got contact, yes, he got to spend time with his boys, but it was forever fettered by their mother who was unable to see past the end of her relationship and the continuation of her children’s with their father.
I saw this father cry, threaten to commit suicide, threaten to walk away, and (understandably) slam his fist on the table out of frustration. I often think about him and his boys some 20 years on and wonder how they are.
So much has changed for the better since those cases. If you are a victim of domestic abuse – male or female, gay or straight – there is help. The Family Courts do listen and your voice will be heard. You don’t have to be rich to afford a good lawyer, and you may even be eligible for legal aid. You have no need to feel ashamed. You have no need to feel embarrassed.
When you can, pick up the phone, get the advice you need and let my colleagues or I help you. I have seen the relief and gratitude on the faces of my clients at the end of their trial and I know that my hard work has led to them recognising the existence of their own strength, no longer do they have to feel vulnerable. This could be you too.
If you identify with any of the issues I have raised in this article then please consider the details below:
- Refuge: https://www.refuge.org.uk/get-help-now/ and a free 24 hour helpline number 0808 2000 247
- Stonewall, focusing specifically the needs of LGBT members of society: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/help-advice/criminal-law/domestic-violence
- For male suffers of abuse: https://www.mankind.org.uk and a helpline number 01823 334244
- For general information regarding family legal issues see the gov.uk website.
About Paula Rhone-Adrien
Paula Rhone-Adrien is an award-winning and renowned Family law Barrister with over two decades of experience practising from Lamb Building Chambers in central London. Paula has been at the Bar for over 20 years and is widely known and respected as a leader in her field of work by the likes of the BBC and The Times. She recently achieved the highly prestigious industry award of Lawyer of the Week by The Times.
Paula regularly attends Court representing clients across the social spectrum, from the Magistrates’ Court to the Court of Appeal, in a range of areas including: divorce and finances; disputes between parents regarding where their child should live or how much time they should spend with the other; the region/country a child should live in; child welfare, be that the concerns of social services regarding negligent parenting (sexual, physical or emotional abuse) or one parent accusing the other; and domestic abuse (representing the alleged victim or the alleged perpetrator).
Paula is able to skilfully communicate complicated legal issues to her audience and the public, having represented a wide cross-section of society, facing the most terrible of outcomes and being a successful mediator. Paula is a BBC Expert Voice and has worked with a number of broadcast networks and TV production companies in the UK. ENDS