Maybe this year will finally be the year of change for victims of domestic abuse and how the courts handle domestic abuse.
On the 5th of January, we saw the second reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill in the House of Lords which will introduce, amongst others, a new definition of domestic abuse, extra protection for victims and witnesses in court, and remove the so-called “rough sex” defence.
This week, we see a landmark hearing in the Court of Appeal reviewing how the family courts handled allegations of domestic abuse when deciding how the alleged perpetrator should spend time with their children in four separate cases.
These cases feature significant allegations of domestic abuse by the victims, including marital or partner rape and coercive control; although I must add that the perpetrators deny these allegations.
How the courts handle domestic abuse
The family court is renowned for being pro-contact, and it can be a real uphill struggle for a parent and the family lawyers representing them to trying to protect the children (and the victim) from harm.
I frequently work with domestic abuse victims where we have had to fight against the recommendations of CAFCASS and the court.
For example, I have previously advised clients not to consent to recommendations thereby prohibiting interim arrangements being put in place before a fact-finding hearing.
Upon findings being made, CAFCASS has changed its recommendations to one of no direct contact, and we have achieved these as final orders. Had I not advised and supported my clients in this way, they could have found themselves and their children at further risk of harm.
And these issues are widespread. Just this week, as a host of a Stowe talks webinar looking at the understanding the tactics of a narcissist, many of the questions coming through spoke of issues with the family courts deciding how much time the children should spend with perpetrators of domestic abuse.
These appeals highlight the need for the family courts to update how they approach domestic abuse and coercive control cases. It is about time we saw the removal of outdated attitudes towards abuse, which, all too often, leave victims and children at risk of harm.
I am interested to see if the appeals are upheld and that the family court, in these cases, has erred in its protection of domestic abuse victims and children.
I am hopeful that some new guidance to family court judges based on the findings will be issued on how to deal with these types of cases moving forward; ultimately providing more adequate protection and support for victims and their children.
Get in touch
If you in an abusive relationship and would like any advice on how the courts handle domestic abuse and your legal situation, please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist domestic abuse lawyers here.
National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247
The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327
The Mix, free information and support for under 25s in the UK – 0808 808 4994
National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428
Samaritans (24/7 service) – 116 123