Domestic abuse takes many forms. It needn’t result in physical harm and can occur at any stage of a relationship, not just in the context of divorce proceedings.
Men, women and children caught up in abusive relationships face considerable hurdles when attempting to remove themselves from the toxic situations they find themselves in. In England and Wales however the law is developing to encompass a wide range of behaviours that, historically, wouldn’t have been recognised as domestic abuse.
There are also moves afoot to alter the approach courts and statutory agencies like social services take to dealing with perpetrators and survivors of domestic abuse. We believe this is good news for survivors of abuse, providing support where it’s needed and opening up new paths for those affected by domestic abuse to challenge their abusers.
How do courts define domestic abuse?
Legally, domestic abuse covers a range of behaviours, including, psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse. Controlling and coercive behaviour – where one person seeks to maintain control over someone they have had an intimate relationship with – is also now recognised as a form of domestic abuse. The perpetrator of the abuse will be related or connected in some way to the person suffering abuse – for example he or she will be a family member or partner.
Shortcomings in the way survivors of abuse were treated by statutory agencies and the courts led to a large-scale public consultation in 2018 about how the law relating to domestic abuse could be transformed. The result of this consultation exercise has led to what some commentators have described as a root and branch reform of our whole approach to domestic abuse survivors. These changes are all contained in specific new domestic abuse legislation and include:
- Extending the definition of what constitutes abuse
- Adoption of a more co ordinated approach to domestic abuse by health professionals, police, teachers and other statutory agencies
- Appointment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to raise public awareness of the issues around domestic abuse
- Introducing domestic abuse protection notices and domestic abuse protection orders to bolster the range of remedies available to perpetrators (discussed below)
- Significant changes to the operation of family courts to aid survivors. For example, perpetrators won’t be able to cross-examine survivors. In addition practical steps will be taken such as creating separate court entrances for survivors and making much greater use of video link evidence
What do I do if I am suffering domestic abuse?
If you feel you or your children are in imminent danger you should call the police as soon as you can. Police and statutory agencies have a much greater understanding now than they perhaps had in the past of the nature of abuse and the sensitivity and urgency with which it needs to be handled. Other ways to deal with abuse when there is no immediate danger include:
- Consulting a solicitor where the perpetrator’s behaviour is lower on the scale of seriousness of what constitutes domestic abuse – sometimes a carefully worded letter will be enough to stop the abuse in its tracks
- Applying for a non-molestation order to prevent a certain type of behaviour (abusive texting for example). Breaching an order like this is a criminal offence
- Seeking an occupation order to stop a perpetrator coming to your home (even if they own the property or have a right to live there)
Criminal courts may also provide protection through a restraining order. This type of order can be imposed on a perpetrator following a criminal trial (for any kid of offence not just domestic abuse) where the judge believes there is a need to protect an individual.
If you are suffering from abuse the team at Brookman can quickly put you in touch with specialist agencies that can help such as the National Domestic Abuse Helpline. We can also provide you with practical advice on your legal options, including advice on separation and divorce where appropriate. You can call us 44 (0) 20 7430 8470 or contact us online.