Many parents are concerned that where there has been domestic abuse in their relationship, that children’s services (or social services as they are more commonly known) may become involved with their family and may remove their children, if they seek advice and support. If children’s services are concerned about a child’s welfare where there has been domestic abuse in the household, it is important to seek advice as soon as possible for ways in which to address those concerns and to avoid an escalation in the abusive behaviours and an increased risk to children and others in the household.
We have written a separate blog about children’s services and the levels of involvement. In this blog, we look at how to address issues of domestic abuse and how to ensure the safety of the adult and the child who has been exposed to domestic abuse.
Domestic abuse is defined as ‘’any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass but is not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional.’’
It is important to note from this definition that it is not necessary for there to have been a physical incident of domestic abuse for an individual to access support or to be able to apply to the court for a protective order. Emotional abuse and controlling behaviours can have just as much of an impact, as physical abuse. In some circumstances, although a child may not have witnessed an incident of domestic abuse in the household with their own eyes, children are often aware of the effects and impacted by domestic abuse having taken place in their home environment.
Controlling behaviour is defined as ‘’a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour’’.
Coercive behaviour is defined as ‘’an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim’’.
Whilst many people are aware of the criminal court and the orders that can be made to protect individuals of domestic abuse, such as restraining orders; fewer people are aware of the orders that the family court can make in order to keep someone safe.
Where there has been incidents of domestic abuse, the family court can make non molestation orders and/or occupation orders.
A non molestation order can direct the other party not to try to communicate (whether by phone, message or social media) with the person who has applied for an order; not to intimidate or harass them; not to threaten them; not to attend at their property and not to ask another person to do something that they have been prohibited from doing by the order.
If a non molestation order were breached by the other party, it is a criminal offence for which the criminal court can impose a sentence of up to five years imprisonment.
An occupation order regulates the occupation (or determines who can live) in a particular property. An occupation order can direct a person to leave a home, even if the property is owned or rented by that person and can prevent them from returning or entering a specific area surround the home for a specified period of time.
Whilst breach of an occupation order is not automatically a criminal offence, a ‘power of arrest’ can be attached to an occupation order, making a breach of an occupation order an arrestable offence.
It is important to ensure that first and foremost, those who are at risk are kept safe, as well as ensuring the safety of any children:
- Consideration should be given to reporting any incidents to the police
- It is often helpful if a diary or log of events has been recorded of any specific incidents that have occurred including dates, times, locations, what happened and who was present.
- It is also helpful to have copies of any messages of abuse that have been received or copies of call logs where there have been repeated harassing calls
- Many local organisations exist on a charitable basis to offer practical support and guidance
- If there are any physical injuries or concerns that a person is suffering emotionally from the impact of domestic abuse, consideration should be given to supporting that person to contact their GP or attending at the hospital
- Consider a safety plan (this can be done in conjunction with a specialist abuse agency), for example:
- Where might you go in an emergency?
- Keep some money on you should it be needed
- Ensure that your mobile phone is kept fully charged
- Keep copies of important telephone numbers
- Plan an escape route in case it is needed
By Gemma Cropper (paralegal) and Bethany Corday (solicitor) in the family law team