Thinking about and reaching the decision to end a relationship is hard. There are the practicalities to think about such as financial arrangements, children and dealing with the family home. Then there’s the emotional side of things; the children, your own complicated feelings for you ex and concern about how he/she may react to your decision. All of that is amplified when your partner has been abusive.
The law gives you rights and responsibilities in this situation and this blog will set out a simple guide to two common concerns.
Any family law solicitor will be able to help you navigate your rights and responsibilities but you may be worried about the cost so this blog will also set out when you may be able to get legal aid to pay for legal advice and how to go about getting it.
My partner is abusing me, can I protect myself?
You can ask the court to make an injunction. There are two main types of injunctions. The most readily available is a non-molestation order which can prevent your partner from molesting you in general or prevent specific acts of molestation of a type you have experienced or both.
The second type of injunction is an occupation order where the court regulates the occupation of a home where you and your partner have lived together. This may include preventing your partner from being at the home or in an area around the home even where you don’t own or have a tenancy agreement in relation to the home.
You can apply to court for an order by completing for FL401 which can be found here together with guidance on how to proceed.
If we separate, will my abusive partner be able to 1. take the children or 2. see the children?
Issues relating to children are dealt with under the Children Act 1989. The key principle under that Act for the courts to consider where any dispute arises is that the welfare of any children is the paramount consideration.
In considering children’s welfare the court will consider a range of factors such as the wishes of older children, their physical, emotional or educational needs, the effect of any change of circumstance on children and any harm suffered or that children are at risk of suffering.
Parents are encouraged to reach agreement about and in the interests of their children wherever possible. However, this may not be possible or appropriate where your partner has been or is abusive to you. If you are unable to reach agreement or feel coerced, you can apply to the court for an order.
It may also be possible for your abusive partner to apply to the court. Generally, if they are a parent with parental responsibility or a step parent they can apply to the court for:
- a residence order to determine who the children live with. Both parents can share residence or one parent may have residence of the children.
- a contact order for the children to visit, stay with or have contact with them. Domestic abuse in itself will not be a reason for the court to deny contact unless it is not in the best interests of the children’s welfare.
Further guidance and court forms can be found here
What about Costs and Legal Aid?
If your income is low and you apply to the court for any of the above orders, you can ask to have the fees reduced in part or in full by completing the form ex160A here
If you have experienced domestic abuse, you may be able to get legal aid for any family law proceedings.
For family law proceedings you cannot get legal aid unless you receive certain welfare benefits or your income is below a particular threshold. This is called the means test.
If you satisfy the means test and you need an injunction, you can go to a solicitor with a legal aid contract and they will be able to help you to apply to the court.
If you satisfy the means test and you need help with any other family matter, you have to be able to prove that you have experienced domestic abuse. You can only do this with one or more of the following types of evidence:
- your abuser has an unspent conviction, a police caution or is in ongoing criminal proceedings for a domestic violence offence against you
- a relevant protective injunction or an undertaking* (but not if you have given a cross undertaking)
- a letter from a MARAC confirming that you have been referred* as a high risk victim and a plan has been put in place
- a letter or report from a health professional confirming a medical examination* at which you had injuries or a condition consistent with those of a victim of domestic violence
- a letter from a social services department confirming that you were assessed* as being, or at risk of being, a victim of domestic violence by your partner
- a letter or report from a domestic violence support organisation confirming that you were admitted* for a period of twenty four hours or more to a refuge
* in the past 24 months leading up to the date of the application legal aid:
Find further details about legal aid here