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Family Violence Can Happen to Anyone

Throwback to a PPO Trial I Handled a Few Years Back: Family Violence Can Happen to Anyone

1. My clients were the parents – ie. (the father “F”and mother “M” respectively) of the adult son “X”. F and M had been physically abused by X. When the matter came to me, PPOs had already been filed by F and M vs X, on the advice of a social worker. Earlier, M’s co-worker noticed M’s bruised eye, decided to intervene and urged M to seek the assistance of a social worker. In retaliation, X took cross-applications against F and M.

2. At that time, X was staying in the same place as F and M. So, for their safety, their daughter (“G”) asked F and M to stay with her and her husband (“SIL”) temporarily. F and M were genuinely pleasant and your typical simple, straightforward older folks. They just wanted X to move out of their flat. Once they were not living in the same place, F and M would feel safer and would not have to live in fear of running into X when they went back home. X was in his late 20s, had a degree, but just wanted to leech off his parents.

3. We tried to de-escalate the matter and attempt an amicable resolution. In our attempts, we even offered to assist X with part of his rent for a particular period of time. However, X was not represented so he had a misguided sense of self-righteousness, so he flatly rejected all our proposals. Left with no choice, we sent an official notice for X to vacate the flat. As insurance, we gave X notice that the utilities and internet services to the flat would be cut-off by a particular date. X moved out.

4. Eventually, the matter came on for trial. Before the trial started, the Judge tried to explore options for an amicable settlement. We proposed both sides dropping the PPOs since X had moved out. X refused and insisted that he gets his PPOs. We even suggested that all PPOs are granted or that all parties give each other undertakings not to commit family violence. Needless to say, X again rejected everything. So, we pressed on with the trial.

5. It was quite straightforward tearing-up X’s case. The facts and law were not in his favour. However, this trial was quite a challenging one. While my clients knew the job that I had to do, X was still their son. Thus, I needed to skillfully push my clients’ case firmly, yet not being overly aggressive towards X. After all, I was there to persuade the Court and not to fight with X. I needed to be mindful of the perception that I was “bullying” X. At 1 point, the Judge even asked me why I was not objecting to X’s questions. I answered simply along the lines “…Your Honour, I do not want to overly object and interrupt these proceedings. Doing so may end up prolonging proceedings if X claims that he was not allowed to finish his questions. These questions are irrelevant anyway, so I am exercising some discretion so that X can finish up and the trial can be wrapped up sooner”.

6. The verdict: (a) F and M got their PPOs against X; (b) Court dismissed X’s applications for PPOs; (c) X was ordered to pay costs to F and M. After the trial, we sent a demand for the costs, and X paid the costs. I understand that F and M sold their flat as they had been planning to earlier.

7. As is my personal practice with all other matters, I took some time to de-brief on this matter. Some brief reflections are as follows:

7.1 F and M were so lucky that G and SIL were accommodating. It is a myth to assume that every person has family members that they can turn to in times of crisis. F and M were also understanding and realistic. They made it clear that they would not impose on G and SIL longer than they needed to, and would look for a new place once their flat was sold.

7.2 Going up against a litigant in-person (“LIP”) has its set of challenges. Realistically, LIPs would not understand how the law works. Unfortunately, so LIPs read 1 article and think that they can be “lawyers”. A myth is that the law applies more “sympathetically” to LIPs. While the Courts will be more patient procedurally, the law applies the same. But as counsel going up against and LIP, we need to be conscious of the “David-and-Goliath” dynamic and be cautious about walking straight into this perception of inequality. We need to remember that ultimately, we are trying to persuade the Court and not fight with the other side. This is very basic.

7.3 We need to look out for those around us. In doing so, we must also avoid being overzealous. M’s colleague did so in a tactful manner. She spoke to M, asked for permission to contact G, and everybody persuaded (not forced) M to speak to the social worker. Because of that, M and F came to their senses and realized the cycle of violence that they were in. Many times, those in the cycle do not even realize it.

7.4 *Disclaimer: I say this part acknowledging that the social worker had good intentions when persuading M and F to immediately apply for a PPO. However, M and F should have sought legal advice before filing an application for a PPO. They had already been removed from the immediate threat, so the need for an Expedited Order (“EO”) would not have been as great as if they were still physically staying under the same roof. If they came to me earlier, avoiding the whole PPO trial altogether was a possibility. We could have worked on evicting X. Once the PPO applications were taken out, X retaliated by taking frivolous PPO applications. This is quite common. Unfortunately, what is done cannot easily be undone. In this case, once X took out his PPO applications in retaliation, he refused to withdraw them, and parties were forced to go all the way to trial. As lawyers, we deal with the situation presented before us, and do the best that we can. The sooner we are consulted, the better we are able to assist you to achieve the best outcome possible.

8. Family violence can happen to anyone. In any relationship, violence is never alright. Should you wake up and find yourself in this cycle of violence, the first step is to acknowledge that you are in this situation. You should then seek help from the right people. Social workers / counsellors may be a good starting point, for valuable knowledge on the situation you are facing as well as dealing with your emotions. However, they are not legally trained and you should seek legal advice from lawyers. We will advise you on your legal options, processes and costs. Armed with this combined knowledge, you will be able to come up with a good plan of action to move forward.

9. Ultimately, breaking out of the cycle of violence is just the first step. Healing and rebuilding will take time and cannot be rushed. Along the way, there will be real obstacles to deal with. Stigma, stereotypes and unreasonable judgment. But until society reaches a certain level of enlightenment, perhaps the words of Taylor Swift offer some guidance in taking this journey head-on: “And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate. Baby I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake. I shake it off, I shake it off…”.

10. For further enquiries or communications, plesase contact me on my direct line at +65 94763230 (call / What’s App / text) or e-mail me at

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