The Season of Good Will? Domestic Violence at Christmas

Although Christmas is a time of good cheer for many, for some it can increase the tensions in a relationship. According to the latest statistics, almost 2 million adults a year experience domestic abuse (ONS 2017) and it’s a sad fact that figures tend to spike during the festive season. So, what does ‘domestic violence’ mean under the law and what legal steps can you take to protect yourself if you’re in an abusive relationship?

Defining domestic violence and associated people

Domestic violence can be an isolated incident or a pattern of separate incidents that encompass violence, abuse, threats, controlling behaviour or coercion. Most people think of physical harm when they hear the term domestic violence, but it can also include abuse that is:

  • Psychological – e.g. bullying and threats of violence
  • Emotional – e.g. subjecting someone to insults and humiliation
  • Sexual – e.g. rape, sexual assault or harassment
  • Financial – e.g. withholding access to money or taking property

Domestic violence offences are covered under Part IV of the Family Law Act 1996. To apply for legal protections provided by the Act, the parties involved must be ‘associated persons’. This means the relationship must be an association that falls within the following definitions:

  • You are, or have been, married or in a civil partnership
  • You have formally agreed to marry or enter into a civil partnership
  • You are, or have been, cohabitants
  • You have lived in the same household
  • You have had an intimate relationship (not necessarily sexual) of significant duration
  • You are related
  • You have a child together
  • You are parties to the same family proceedings

What legal protections are available?

No-one should have to endure a violent or abusive relationship. An application to the Family Court for an injunction can provide legal protection - this can take the form of a non-molestation order or an occupation order.

Non-molestation orders

A non-molestation order aims to prohibit an abuser from being able to harm, threaten, harass or intimidate an associated person or any children that are a part of the relationship. Although it may not be the case in every non-molestation order, this type of injunction can result in the abuser being banned from having contact for a specified period of time, either in person or via telephone or social media. To be granted this protection, the applicant needs to show the court that their safety and wellbeing would be at risk should the order not be granted. While a non-molestation order doesn’t guarantee an applicant’s safety, it can act as a deterrent, as breaching the order is a criminal offence that can result in a prison sentence of up to 5 years.

Occupation orders

An occupation order decides who is allowed to live in the family home. If the applicant has property rights, the abuser may be excluded from the property altogether or prevented from coming within a certain distance of the home in question. An occupation order can also be used to force the abuser to give the applicant access to the home if they fled the property as a result of the domestic violence. The individuals’ legal rights to the property, as well as safety considerations, are factors that will be taken into account by the court when deciding whether to grant an occupation order.

It should be noted that applicants are not limited to one remedy and can ask the court for either or both protections, depending upon their specific circumstances. Whatever your situation, it’s always a good idea to seek professional advice.

Prompt, professional legal advice

If you’re unsure whether your situation is abusive or your relationship falls within the above criteria, get in touch with us for advice. We appreciate that seeking legal help for domestic violence issues is a big step to take, but don’t wait until the situation escalates – prompt and professional legal advice could help you get the right protection to keep you and your family safe from abuse or harm. You can rest assured that our family law experts will deal with your case with the discretion and sensitivity it deserves. And if you’re concerned about paying fees, we offer a flexible charging structure to make things more manageable.

If you’d like to know more about how our specialist solicitors could help keep you and your family safe from domestic violence or abuse, please contact one of our Family Law team.