What is Domestic Abuse?
Cumbria Police deal with an average of 17 incidents of domestic abuse a day. The impact of domestic abuse upon children and families is a major concern to the family courts in the UK.
Domestic abuse is not limited to only physical acts (including assault and damaging property) but also encompasses all forms of psychological, sexual, financial and emotional abuse such as threats, criticism, harassment and controlling or coercive behaviour.
Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse; a person of any gender or sexuality, whether an adult or child. If a person finds themselves the subject of any form of abuse, either physical or emotional, there are options available to them to seek help and protection.
The family court has the ability to deal with domestic abuse if it takes place between people who are, or were, in a relationship with each other or are family members over the age of 16.
The effects of the UK’s social distancing rules on domestic abuse
There has been a vast amount of media coverage in the UK recently about how the government’s rules on social distancing (issued on the 23rd March) have left some individuals and families at greater risk of domestic abuse. Some victims have been effectively locked-down with an abusive partner or family member, during already unsettling and stressful circumstances.
A number of UK domestic abuse charities and campaigners have reported a marked increase in calls to helplines and online services since the conditions were imposed in March.
What can the police do for victims of domestic abuse?
It is important to remember that most forms of domestic abuse amount to a criminal offence that can and should be reported to the police. The police can issue a Domestic Violence Protection Notice or apply for a Domestic Violence Protection Order.
- In an emergency, you should always call 999.
- You can also call the non-emergency helpline 101, or report domestic abuse by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by using Cumbria Constabulary’s online reporting form at cumbria.police.uk
What other support is available?
Local support is available from organisations including:-
- Women’s Community Matters in Barrow-in-Furness, who can be contacted on 01229 311102 or via their website womenscommunitymatters.org.
- Springfield Support covering South Lakeland https://springfieldsupport.org/
- A directory of support organisations is available from Cumbria County Council here https://www.cumbriasafeguardingchildren.co.uk/LSCB/professionals/supportandservicesforfamilies/domesticabuse.asp
National help is available from organisations such as:-
- Shout – a free text support service for anyone in a crisis – Text Shout to 85258 or visit https://www.giveusashout.org/get-help/
- Women’s Aid – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/domestic-abuse-how-to-get-help?gclid=CPKNh5H3mekCFdS6GwodQ5oO1w&gclsrc=ds
The UK Home office has also published a wealth of advice for victims of domestic abuse which includes:-
- how to recognise whether you are in an abusive relationship
- how to report abuse
- how to make a Clare’s Law application (which allows a person to ask the police to check whether a new former or existing partner has a violent past)
- support for people who think they may be an abuser.
These resources can be accessed via https://www.gov.uk/guidance/domestic-abuse-how-to-get-help
What protection is available from the family court for victims of domestic abuse?
The law in England and Wales enables those subject to domestic abuse to apply for injunctions to protect themselves.
These orders are called non-molestation orders and occupation orders.
Who can apply for a court order?
Non-molestation orders and occupation orders are only available to certain categories of people known as “associated persons”. These are people between whom there is or has been a relationship.
The relationship does not always need to have been intimate and the definition of ‘associated person’ includes relatives living in other households.
What is a non-molestation order?
A Non-Molestation Order (NMO) is a type of injunction which is used to stop someone from behaving in a certain way.
The person who applies for the NMO is called the applicant and the person who is subject to the order is called the respondent.
A respondent can find themselves subject to a NMO if they are using or threatening violence against the applicant, or using or threatening violence to a child.
A respondent can also find themselves subject to a NMO if they are molesting a person in any way. In England and Wales, molesting includes behaviour that harms, troubles, vexes, annoys or inconveniences an associated person or any relevant children.
Molestation can be direct or indirect. Direct molestation includes physical harm such as pushing, hitting, hair pulling, throwing objects, spitting and verbal abuse. Indirect molestation includes threats, intimidation and pestering through written messages, phone calls and messages on social media or through a third party.
An NMO can also be used to keep the respondent away from the applicant and/or away from a particular place, such as the area around the applicant’s home or workplace.
How can I obtain a non-molestation order?
For an application to be successful there must be evidence showing that:-
- the behaviour which the applicant is complaining of;
- the applicant or a child are in need of protection; and
- an order is needed to control the behaviour of the respondent.
If the family court agrees that an order is required, the order only becomes effective when it has been served on the respondent. This means that the respondent has had sight of it and is aware that an order exists.
How long does a non-molestation order last for?
Usually a NMO is made for 6-12 months, but it is possible to apply for further orders after this time if protection is still required.
Breaching a NMO is a criminal offence punishable with up to 5 years imprisonment or as a contempt of court.
What is an occupation order?
An occupation order determines who will live at the family home and can sometimes be used to exclude someone completely from a property. It can also set out rules for a property to be shared.
Granting an order depends on the relationship of the parties and their respective rights to occupy the property in question.
What is needed for a successful occupation order application?
When an applicant asks the court for an occupation order, the court will apply a test called the “balance of harm” test. The Judge will consider whether the applicant or any child is likely to suffer significant harm due to the conduct of the respondent if the occupation order is not made. The Judge will also consider whether making an occupation order will cause greater harm to be suffered by the respondent and any child.
In every case, the court will also consider the conduct of the parties, the housing needs of the parties, their financial resources and the likely effect of any decision by the court not to exercise its powers on the health, safety or wellbeing of the Applicant and any child.
How long does an occupation order last?
occupation orders are not intended to be permanent. They are only intended to determine temporary living arrangements, giving the applicant and respondent time to organise where they will live and how they will divide their property in the long term.
An occupation order can be made for a period of up to 6 months, but it is possible to apply for further orders after this time.
Can an order be applied for without the respondent knowing?
Sometimes it is safer for an order to be made quickly and without the respondent being aware of the application. These are known as “without notice” or “ex parte” orders.
An ex parte order seeks to deal with the immediate urgency of the situation and give the vulnerable person or people the protection of an interim order. The court will always arrange a further hearing so that both parties can have their say thereafter.
Under certain circumstances legal aid may be available to victims of domestic abuse in order to assist them in making an application to the court. Whilst we do not offer legal aid services, we are available to those who do not qualify to receive legal aid.
We recommend that victims of domestic abuse make enquiries of a legal aid provider first, to establish whether they qualify for help with the costs of legal representation.
The situation is constantly changing and the Government may bring in further guidance in due course. However, this post represents our best interpretation of HM Government’s guidance, where applicable, at the time of our writing. Both the content of the post and any guidance it is based upon will be subject to change.