What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse is very often thought of as violence within a family home usually a Husband ‘beating’ a Wife. This of course covers one scenario but domestic abuse in fact covers a huge range of different situations and behaviour.
Domestic abuse is abusive behaviour which occurs within a family set-up or between those in an intimate relationship. Abuse can be perpetrated by both men and women, whether they are married, living together or separated. The people involved may even be siblings, step children, boyfriend and girlfriend, Aunts, Uncles, Step-parents, Guardians or grandparents. In terms of the abuse itself this can refer to any behaviour that is abusive or harassing and is certainly not restricted to physical violence. It includes any of the following;
- Physical abuse
- Sexual Abuse
- Emotional or psychological abuse
- Financial Abuse
Statistics suggest that domestic violence is extremely common and it is thought that 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence during their lifetime.
What can a Family Court do if you are experiencing domestic abuse?
People commonly talk about injunctions or injunction orders when they think about abusive relationships. Indeed there are 2 types of injunction available from the Family Court;
- Non-Molestation Order
- Occupation Order
Even though the Government did away with legal aid for many types of family law applications, it still is available for these types of application. There is no fee payable to the court upon issuing these applications.
A Non-Molestation Order is a type of injunction which provides somebody with personal protection by prohibiting someone else from molesting (harassing or pestering) them. The Order can prevent somebody from threatening or using violence, from sending text messages, emails, letters or communicating in any way whatsoever. Non-Molestation orders very often include geographical restrictions. For example the abuser can be prevented from attending within 100m of the family home (although technically this is an occupation order).
An Occupation order states who can occupy a family home or dwelling house. An occupation order can provide for any of the following;
- That the Respondent must allow the person who has applied for the order to enter the home and remain there to the exclusion of the Respondent.
- That both parties will occupy certain parts of the home.
- Exclude the Respondent from a defined part of the home to include a defined area around the home itself
- Exclude the Respondent from the home entirely
What is the process for applying for an Injunction Order?
This requires an application to the Family Court. The application is a straight forward form which tells the Court what you are seeking. The application is supported by a full statement which provides the District Judge with information about the circumstances and behaviour from which you need to be protected. In the case of a Non-Molestation Order the Court can have a hearing on an urgent basis (sometimes the same day that you visit a Solicitor) and that hearing can take place without the Respondent (the person against whom you are seeking the order) knowing.
In the case of an occupation order the first hearing in most cases will be heard with the Respondent present. This is particularly the case where you are seeking the removal of him or her from the home. As an order of this type could potentially leave the Respondent homeless it is important that they have an opportunity to speak to the Court before any orders are made.
Both types of injunction are only effective once the order has either been handed to the Respondent or they are aware of it because s/he was at Court.
After an order has been obtained, particularly a Non-Molestation Order, where the Respondent was not present, both parties will be ordered to attend a second hearing. This second hearing is to give the Respondent an opportunity to tell the Court why the Order should not continue. If the Respondent does not attend, the Court is likely to continue the Non-Molestation order for a period of between 6 and 12 months. You can apply to extend that period if it becomes necessary. If however the Respondent does attend the hearing and objects to the order continuing then the Judge will invite the Respondent to file a statement. The matter will be listed for a final hearing at which the Judge will make a decision about whether the order should continue. In the meantime the order will remain in place until a final decision is made.
In the case of a non-molestation order the order itself will be sent to the police once the Respondent has been handed a copy. The Police will keep the order on their database. If the Respondent breaches the order by doing anything which he has been ordered not to do or he encourages anyone else to do something which he has been ordered not to do then this is a criminal offence. The Police who will have a copy of the order will investigate any breaches reported to them. If it is proved that a breach of the order has taken place the Respondent can be imprisoned for up to 5 years (depending of course on the nature of the breach) and/ or fined.