Leanne: Abusers generally don’t change they have to really really want to change and it takes a lot of work and so if you’re in that type of relationship you you either you have two choices I mean one is you’re just going to accept that this you’re good this is your life and you’re going to live be married to an abuser and this is you’re you’re just going to live your life this way you accept it and that’s as good as it’s going to get or you have to take the difficult steps and leave and and when you leave it’s going to be tough and it’s going to get like it’s going to be you’ll feel harder before it feels better but once you come out the other end your life will be so much better and it’ll be so worth it but if you stay nothing will change.

Nicky: What’s up CorrNation!   I am your host, Nicky Correa, CEO of CorrWealth Management and you are listening to another episode of Coin for Thought. 

Nicky: What’s up CorrNation! Welcome to another episode of Coin for Thought!   Today we have Leanne Townsend here.   She’s an incredible family lawyer and she’s the chair of the family law group.  Thank you so much for being on the show Leanne.  

Leanne:  Thank you.   I’m happy to be here.

Nicky: So today I really wanted to get your your I guess your insight on abuse it’s it’s such a huge term and I feel like a lot of relationships have been going through a lot of stress during Covid and the word abuse has really been thrown around a lot.  People are becoming more aware to different kinds of abuse in a relationship.  Things are getting more recognized.   People are recognizing abuse within their relationship themselves you know.   They’re becoming less in denial of what’s happening because at the end of the day with Covid,  people are forced to kind of be together spend more time together at home so it’s kind of like whatever issues they have are sort of in their face.  I wanted to go through you know with physical abuse.   Physical abuse is just it seems very easy you know you get slapped, you get punched, you get pushed and it’s very easy to be able to define but then there’s financial abuse and then there’s emotional and mental abuse and I’m sure that you know when women or men come to you and they’re like wow I’m in a really abusive narcissistic relationship or whatever, whatever they come to you and say, that must be tough for you to hear but how do you how do you define those things, how do you action that, how do you advise on that?   

Leanne:  You know sadly it is a widespread problem and I it’s sort of part of my background and experience. I have a lot of training and have worked a lot with victims of abuse both as a family law lawyer and as an assistant crown attorney so I I have a lot of training in you know recognizing the signs of abuse and often they center around the issues of power and control and you know what any type of abuse whether it’s physical, emotional, financial, narcissistic, whatever it might be, usually issues of power and control are at its core.   So you know signs are when one partner you know is controlling all the finances and the other party doesn’t have access to it,  when one partner you know won’t let the other person you know go out with their friends or has tried to isolate them from their friends and family that would be another sign, you know it’s and when someone comes to see me one of the first things I try to do is to determine if there is in fact abuse.  You know I do like my own informal screening of that because you know sometimes people don’t even recognize that they’ve been in an abusive relationship and then other times sort of at the other extreme I have people coming through the door I mean I would say you know 90 percent of the people who come through my door right now say that their ex is a narcissist so that term is floating around a lot and you know sometimes people I think are misusing it a little bit as well so I want to kind of assess you know how if there is abuse how bad is it, what type is it, and and what can I do to you know support the client because often if you are a victim of abuse you you’re part of the abuse it whittles down your self-esteem and you feel powerless and so when you come to see a lawyer first of all that’s a huge step for somebody in that situation and I want to help empower them you know as much as possible and support them.   

Nicky: That’s you know that and it’s important to have a lawyer that’s on your side it’s important to feel like you’re supported through your divorce because a lot of times when you’re seeing somebody you know it takes so much courage to be able to go even find a lawyer and you want to feel like you’re supported through this whole thing because it’s scary and there’s a lot of fear when there’s you know when you’re in an abusive relationship.  I know that a lot of people when they are, say for example, you know they come to their divorce from a space where they want to keep things amicable right especially when they’re scared of what the other person might do  you know maybe there’s threats, maybe there’s they’ve said some things to them, maybe you know they’re scared of the whole thing right, it’s a really unknown space.   So a lot of times, they might not take the best path they might say for example go to mediation in a situation that is really high conflict.  What do you have to say to people who you know to help them reflect and assess their relationship to figure out if a lawyer is best for them or a mediator is best for them?  

Leanne: Well there’s a misconception out there with respect to mediation.  Mediation isn’t a substitute for a lawyer because even if you do mediation, you still are going to have to get a lawyer at the end of it to give you independent legal advice and incorporate it into a separation agreement and sign off on it.   So you can go see a mediator but at the end of it the mediator is going to send you to a lawyer ultimately anyway so as much as some people want to avoid us at some point they’re probably going to have to come into contact with us but you know mediators are trained to screen for issues of domestic violence and you know but when it when it exists I don’t think mediation is a good option for people who are in those types of relationships because part a mediator is an independent third party they’re not gonna advocate for anybody.  They’re there to explain how the law could be applied in their particular situation but they’re not going to advocate for anybody and so you know if there’s a power imbalance, it’s important that you have an advocate and that’s what a lawyer can do and you can still do meet like there’s lawyer what’s called lawyer assistant mediation so that’s where the lawyers go to the mediation with the client so the lawyer is there to advocate the mediator can try and work out an agreement and the lawyers will try and do that collaborate with the mediator to do that as well or you know you can there’s other options outside of you know mediation and sometimes with abuse cases I mean unfortunately, court maybe may be required.   You know which is everyone’s so afraid of of the word court but sometimes it’s the only way to gain control over a situation and to you know keep an abuser on like a tight leash and have them comply because a lawyer or a mediator at the end of the day I can’t force somebody else to do something whereas a judge can.   

Nicky: No, it’s absolutely true.  I’ve you know I’ve had situations where you know they tried mediation for so long and it didn’t work and now all of that money is wasted and they could have been spent on you know proper legal advice with with a with an actual lawyer that was on their side.

Leanne: So that’s such a good point because even with lawyers I what I sometimes see happen is you know people they so don’t want to go to court, they waste a lot of money whether it’s with a mediator or whether it’s just with lawyers, writing letters back and forth and trying to negotiate and then they don’t come to a resolution and meanwhile they spent five or ten thousand dollars and they’re no further ahead and so you know and the thing with the court process is once you start it, you can like settle and opt out of it at any point in time it doesn’t mean you’re stuck in it but you know as I say sometimes when you’re dealing with an abuser, it just becomes necessary because the judge can actually order you know that the abuser provide proper financial disclosure,  they can order exclusive possession of the matrimonial home which if you’re in a very abusive situation, you may want to get that only a judge can force or order that your abusive spouse get out of the home and let you stay there while your family law matters are are resolved, that you’re not going to get that in mediation or negotiation you know unless an abuser is willing to go which you know usually they’re not so you know that sort of thing is important I just think it’s important to have somebody who is your advocate because you know I I myself have you know I’ve been in relationships where I was not treated so well and I know what that’s like and you come out and your self-esteem is low, your confidence is low, you don’t feel like you have any power and you’re afraid and abusers are very good at pressing those buttons and triggering and scaring you know their victims and one of the common you know threats that gets made is, oh I’m gonna take the children away from you and I’m gonna just take you’re gonna have no money and you know to someone who is in an abusive relationship those are scary things to hear and they become they can be very fearful and so it’s important to get that legal advice because a lawyer is going to tell you you’re not going to lose your children like that is just that’s not the only way someone’s going to lose their children is if they’re a lifelong child abuser or negligent and even then they might lose them for a little bit and they would get them back at some point but you’re not going to lose your children just because somebody’s trying to scare you so that fear can immediately be eliminated and then the lawyer can help you with the financial part and navigating it and you know often people in abusive relationships they don’t understand the family finances they haven’t been involved in them and so you need to have someone who’s gonna dig and go in and and knows what to look for and knows how to see if something’s being hidden and and help you uncover all of that so that you can get what you’re legally entitled to.

Nicky: No, that’s that’s amazing you know and it’s so true because a lot of times you know when someone is in an abusive relationship and they’re the receiver of the abuse they’re you know they’re controlled, they’re manipulated, they’re the ones making the lesser money right, so it’s hard and it’s it’s important that you know say for example like they they have a space like they’re like the matrimonial home where they can kind of go through their divorce in peace right where they can think straight, they have that space to be able to kind of get it together, so they can get through this process and get out of the situation so they can live the life that they want to.   My you know the big thing I always you know like to warn people about is like you know there’s always like the law likes to look at facts right and it’s hard when you know someone comes to you and says well he said this and she said this and granted some of the things that are said and done like can be termed as verbal abuse but it’s really really hard to prove you know because it’s it’s a lot of he said she said.   How do you deal with you know something like that versus say for example bruise or broken arm or things like that so those are more how should I say, those are more blatant right and even say for example if someone’s going through something they might have like a call to the police or whatever but it’s you know it’s hard when there’s a he said she said, it’s hard to be able to prove abuse in that situation.   So how do you deal with that?

Leanne:  It is very hard and a lot of you know abuse cases come down to that often there isn’t you know independent evidence and you know what often happens is one party will say you know he you know he called me this and he did that and you know and all these things certainly form you know what I would characterize as abuse but then he’ll come out with his own set of comments about what she’s doing and so then when the judge hears this or a mediator hears this, you know it’s like who knows because you’re not the only you know you’re not there and so I mean if something goes to trial, then the evidence and that kind of you know that he said she said will be weighed in terms of credibility and these people will be they’ll testify and they’ll be cross-examined and you know and then a judge can assess you know okay like this person seems credible this person doesn’t but no most cases don’t end up going to trial and so it ends up sometimes cluttering things and judges don’t you know they throw up their hands because they don’t know they’ve got you know two diametrically opposed accounts of of what’s gone on and so you know yes things like you know physical marks where you’ve got photographs that were taken immediately you know or you know if you had to get medical attention like that helps, calling the police is also an important one you know even though you know we all know lots of people are abused and they don’t call the police and they have very valid reasons for not doing so, you know.  If somebody ends up getting arrested and charged and convicted ultimately like that’s that’s going to be very concrete proof that they were an abuser.  If somebody gets arrested but then they you know if they get acquitted or the charge gets withdrawn or they get a peace bond or something like that then it could be more challenging to actually say that you know the allegation as it was actually happened.  So that can be challenging and then financial abuse is easier to prove because that’s like kind of one thing where it’s you know it’s clear if someone’s been controlling you know finances more so or if they’re doing you know sometimes it can be hard harder to find money or whatever but there can be obvious gaps and things that are jumping out so

Nicky:  There’s a paper trail oftentimes 

Leanne: Yeah there’s often a paper trail whereas it’s more that mental abuse, psychological abuse that is more challenging and in honesty with that type of stuff, the courts don’t care that much and I know that’s a harsh thing to say but you know if your ex-spouse is swearing at you and belittling you all the time, that’s not gonna make a difference in terms of what you’re financially entitled to as far as the court is concerned and if that parent if that person isn’t doing that to the children they’re only doing it to you then it probably isn’t going to affect the parenting schedule or and it possibly it could affect decision making if the two of you can’t make decisions together because the relationship is so hostile but you know so that could be one way where that type of evidence would come into play but a lot of it you know a lot of family law is about arguing about money quite frankly and that type of stuff has no bearing on how much money someone is or isn’t entitled to.

Nicky:  You know the law is very you know it’s very 50-50 and you know when I find that a lot of times someone comes and kind of announces their abuser or they hire a lawyer and they take these steps.   These steps are so empowering right so it gives them kind of like a second wind to their life and they you know I hear a lot of this from some of my clients or people around that are consulting with me and they say well you know he did all of this to me or she did all of this to me and I’m gonna take them for whatever they’re worth and they’re going to be homeless they’re going to live on the street and I’m going to have everything and you know it’s a harsh reality the law doesn’t work that way you know and regardless of what’s happening and all the crap that’s that happened during the course of your relationship, it’s still 50-50 you know and do you get that a lot?

Leanne:  Yeah and it’s hard because you know I’ll have people come to me and they’ll say like all I want is what’s fair and I have to say to them like the law isn’t necessarily fair like if you’re looking for fairness, justice, validation, you’re probably going to be very disappointed because that that may or may not happen and because I always say it’s a legal system, it’s not a justice system and sometimes, the pure application of the law, it could result in an unfair result and you know if you have this abuser who’s been horrible to you and you’ve given up so much for that relationship, you’re only you know going to be legally entitled to you know x number you’re not he’s not going to be penalized I’m saying him but it could be I want to stress I’m not saying it’s always the man who’s an abuser, it could be a woman, but the abuser isn’t going to be penalized financially for their behavior and you you know and court is a very it’s it’s a tough process and it’s not very satisfying for a lot of people even when they end up getting the result that they want it so you can’t look to court or judge to validate your experience or your feelings like that’s what friends family therapy are for.  The the court system is not going to do that.

Nicky:  No it’s draining really you know sometimes you go through all of this to fight to get what you want and then you get what you want but the process of it is so emotionally draining and it’s hard because when you do get what you want it’s kind of like it’s not really worth it it’s like working so hard for a paycheck and then that paycheck comes and it it seems so small but you’ve worked so hard for two weeks kind of thing you know.

Leanne: Exactly like I was because I I have situations where you know I go into court on a motion for example or even a case conference or something like that and I’ll come out of it and and my client will have had a checklist of let’s say 10 things that they wanted and I’ll get them eight of those things but all they’ll do is focus on either the two that they didn’t get or they’ll latch on to something that the opposing counsel said about them that really offended them and and hurt them and upset them and they they’ll totally you know they’ll be totally upset and focused on those comments and completely forget that they actually got eight of their ten things and and that’s the problem with the process because it is emotional, it is draining and it’s very it’s it’s tough you know and sometimes for people it’s not worth it.  

Nicky:  I hear a lot of you know where he abused me and now he has a lawyer that is using abusive language towards me so it’s kind of like you know I think that lawyers are in a really tough position because obviously they have to represent their client regardless of whether their client is an asshole or not and sometimes you know for someone that is on the victim end of it right that it comes at them like you know like a force right so that’s really tough you know.   What has your experience been with you know maybe representing people that are on the other side of it?

Leanne:  You know it is tough and I mean that’s and that the problem is is that there’s you know different types of lawyers out there.   I mean I think that there’s lawyers who are outright abusive to other parties and to other lawyers quite honestly like I I you know I I get abused by clients and other lawyers you know and self-reps myself and I think that that’s unfortunate I think that you can be a strong advocate for your client without crossing the line into being abusive to the other side but there are lawyers you know who are like that and who do do that and it’s very difficult to deal with because it’s obviously very upsetting for the your client when the other lawyer is is doing that and it ends up creating more conflict and you know that’s what gives family law lawyers such a bad name or those types of lawyers who kind of fuel the conflict and make things and go into court and mis mis-state like yeah I’m going to say mis-state because it’s a more polite word than lie but I mean you know in some cases it almost really is they’re lying about the facts and they’re misrepresenting and they get away with it sometimes so that can be challenging but I mean I have clients on both sides in the sense that I do have clients where  they’ve been accused of abuse.  Fortunately the ones I have that have been accused of that I believe them that they they didn’t do that and I’m not just saying that because I do have clients where they tell me stuff and I’m kind of like okay like but you know the ones I have I actually you know I have one in particular who’s jumping the line and he’s really been railroaded by his ex-wife.   It’s been a very manipulative process for her to gain you know she ended up moving children to another city and got him charged with things and and it just I feel very badly for him because I think she had this master plan on how she was going to you know do all of this and that does happen and so but the other thing I say also to clients is like sometimes the opposing party thinks that the other lawyer hates them and like that’s not the case either like this isn’t personal like all of us lawyers like we are just doing our job I don’t hate any opposing party  and you know I find it it you know humorous almost when you know I’ve had some you know self-reps or even people who are representative of their lawyers like why does she hate me so much and it’s like I don’t hate them at all I’m just doing my job and it’s not personal at all 

Nicky: Right no and you know there’s a lot of times where it goes both ways. I think like men have a harder time also calling out abuse for you know what it is because a lot of times with women you know you can say like he’s a big strong guy or whatever but you know I think it’s shameful a lot of times when it goes the other way and men are in a situation where they’re the ones experiencing like verbal emotional mental abuse in different ways right and that’s really tough because they often don’t don’t state it as such.   They don’t state that they’ve been in an abusive relationship right 

Leanne: No they’re embarrassed like I do have a client who is in a very a male client who’s in a very abusive relationship and he’s such a sweet man and we have to keep really pushing him to stand up to his ex-wife because he just always wants to fold and give her everything she wants and it’s it’s terrible and you know it it does go on and he’s he just doesn’t want to rock the boat and he’s you know he is he’s embarrassed that he’s you know the man and he’s in this situation and you know obviously I tell him that he shouldn’t be and like this sort of thing it doesn’t have a gender it goes both ways but I think there’s more support out there for women than there is for men who are in that situation.

Nicky:   So lastly you know I I wanted to talk about aggressive lawyers because I personally don’t like aggressive lawyers I find them you know from a financial perspective, they’re just a lot more expensive than lawyers that you know see the big picture, are willing to educate their clients on what needs to be done and what the actual facts are regardless of what their client wants to be able to hear, they’re like this is the law, I’m going to educate you on the law to the capacity that you can understand it obviously you know so you can kind of get your head right but you know why shouldn’t in your opinion why shouldn’t people you know who are in a victim state pick abusive lawyers because I find that that’s what they go for because they want somebody with a very very strong voice?

Leanne: Yeah and it is it’s something people associate you know a very aggressive pitbull like lawyer as being strong and being one who’s going to fight for their rights but often those types of lawyers or that type of approach, it does it ends up fueling conflict more and you know causing a lot more legal fees and a lot more litigation and you know I think it’s you have to pick your battles and you know I find when I get a letter from on a new file from the opposing counsel and it’s just spewing venom from the get-go, I find that concerning because the reality is that you know most families they don’t have you know hundreds of millions of dollars here to just endlessly fight like you know an average middle-class family or even you know you know these days like even you know people who have a few million dollars like they to spend like a hundred thousand dollars plus on legal fees fighting your spouse it’s you can’t afford it and it’s not you know necessarily worth it either and you know and that’s what happens and I think that there is a style of lawyering that fuels that unfortunately and people like clients because they don’t understand the law, you know I find when you get one of those lawyers and they come into court and they misstate the facts and they jump around and they shout and they you know make a big scene you know it’s it’s their client might be sitting there thinking yeah like my lawyer is great look but it might you know judges if you have a good judge who knows what the case is really about and who’s read the material, they’re not going to be you know persuaded by someone like that but unfortunately it does change the dynamic like I don’t approach things that way but if I’m on if my client’s ex has a lawyer who is that way, we have to fight back and you know then that it does end up creating you know I shake my head because I feel like it ends up just creating more conflict but you can’t you know you have to be strategic about it and you know figure out you know what are the battles you want to fight and can you throw them a few bones about of things that you don’t really care about but it’ll make them think oh yeah like I won on on that but it was something you maybe didn’t care about like there’s a strategy yeah dealing with it for sure.

Nicky:  I feel like you know those lawyers are maybe very process driven versus big picture you know they’re not really focused on the end result and they get hyped up with the process of what’s going on and then you get stuck in that process and then that’s why your case takes so long right because it’s a lot of rah-rah-rah-rah about things that may or may not matter right

Leanne:  No exactly and it’s you know and I think that clients need to you know you need to be mindful of that like you know the person who shouts the loudest isn’t necessarily the best but what I’ve also found interesting is you know a lot of like abusive clients or that you know the typical narcissist type of client they seem to find lawyers who are also you know have that kind of a they’re more abusive or narcissistic in their approach so it’s just interesting how you know those that type of personality they seem to attract each other to work together and then it’s like a double whammy because you’ve got an abusive client and an abusive lawyer.

Nicky: Yeah because I guess you know at the end of the day, you pick a lawyer that resonates with you and your values and if your values are crap well then you know you’re you’re probably going to look for for someone that shares your crappy values you know.  

Nicky:  Well thank you so much for joining me on the show.   This was such incredible information.   Do you have any like last words to say to somebody who’s going through an abusive relationship right now and maybe thinking of you know hiring a lawyer or going through mediation or one of the cases, do you have any last words?

Leanne:  Yeah I mean I would say to someone in that situation that it’s worth the money to get just a one hour consultation with a lawyer.   Some lawyers offer free consultations but it’s worth you know doing that.  I always say knowledge is power.  So go speak to someone, find out what you’re entitled to and the one thing I always say to people who are in abusive relationships as well is that abusers generally don’t change they have to really really want to change and it takes a lot of work and so if you’re in that type of relationship you you either you have two choices I mean one is you’re just going to accept that this you’re good this is your life and you’re going to live be married to an abuser and this is you’re you’re just going to live your life this way you accept it and that’s as good as it’s going to get or you have to take the difficult steps and leave and and when you leave it’s going to be tough and it’s going to get like it’s going to be you’ll feel harder before it feels better but once you come out the other end your life will be so much better and it’ll be so worth it but if you stay nothing will change.

Nicky:  And I agree with that because you know my mom was married for 33 years in a really crappy marriage and she really struggled with the two years that her divorce took and you know I was like this is two years of your life for like another 33 years of freedom you know and you already endured all these years of like that abuse so you know you have to keep it in perspective because also you can’t  ending marriages it’s not a light switch right, so it takes time and there is a process and you have to go through that process and that yucky period you have to go through the tunnel to get on the other side.

Leane:  Exactly 

Nicky: Well thank you so much for being on the show.  If you’d like to work with Leanne, check out her links below.  She has an incredible podcast called Divorcing Well.   So definitely go ahead listen to what she has to say.   Her guests are absolutely amazing and we will see you in the next episode.   Don’t forget to like, subscribe and hit that notification bell for more videos to come.  See you soon.   Bye.