Domestic Abuse: Legal Rights and Options

I’m always really careful when giving advice about domestic abuse, as I recognise that fear comes in all shapes and sizes, no one person’s fear is the same as the next and for me to pre-empt the fear when making suggestions in the form of a blog, when not face-to-face with the individual, may come across as though I am discounting its existence.

It would be immoral of me not to say that if you are subject to domestic abuse, the police should be your first port of call. If you do not want their assistance, you can still call them to log an assault; so that the history is available should you need or want it at a later date. Whilst it isn't unusual for someone that has endured years of abuse, not to have any police logs, when it comes to issues such as child protection/contact and house issues, the police logs can be a very valuable asset. What the police offer:

  • Protection for you and your children
  • Removal of further risk or harm from violence i.e. removing the perpetrator of abuse from the property
  • To offer first aid or medical assistance i.e. ambulance
  • To find out what has happened/been happening, taking into account what they know are the key risk factors of domestic abuse (the police are there to investigate, not mediate, so do not worry if you think that they will minimise what you’re saying)
  • To offer you an interpreter should you need one (they should never ask another family member or your children to interpret for you)
  • Give you access to a female officer (WPC) should you request one
  • Offer you support and reassurance
  • Help you to access other agencies
  • Arrange transport for you to go to somewhere safe
  • Offer a police escort for you to return to your property for belongings

If there is reasonable evidence to warrant an arrest, the police should do this without asking for your permission and/or asking you to give a statement first (though you would need to make one later). If the perpetrator has left before the police arrive, they should use their abilities to make sure he is found as soon as possible to ensure your safety and hold him accountable for his crime.

Sometimes the fear of the unknown is what stops women making a change to their situation, so I have some information, beyond the advice of calling the police, that may make a difference to what you think your options are.

Emergency/Temporary Accommodation: please see this link to find a Women’s Aid refuge that would be safe for you to stay. You may want to consider where you have family or friends, or if you want/need to start a fresh away from anybody you know, for your safety and protection. If you do not opt for a refuge, your local authority (council) should provide you with information about finding somewhere to live due to you experiencing domestic abuse – they should also provide you with temporary accommodation and may perhaps eventually provide you with permanent accommodation.

Non-Molestation Orders: this is a civil injunction that forbids the perpetrator from using threatening or violent behaviour towards you and your children, from harassing, intimidating or pestering you. To it, the power to arrest can be attached whereby if the Non-Molestation Order is breached (breach of a non-molestation order is a criminal offence), the police can immediately arrest the perpetrator, and the breach is punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment.

Occupation Order: this order stipulates who lives in the family home and can restrict the perpetrator from entering the surrounding area of the property. If you do not want to live with your abusive partner no longer as it is a risk to your emotional, physical and psychological health or, you have left due to the abuse but wish to return with the exclusion of your partner, you may consider applying for the occupation order. The power of arrest can also be added to this order.

Whilst it is possible to apply for these orders yourself, it is a good idea to seek legal advice and support from a solicitor with experience of working with domestic abuse cases; your local Women’s Aid refuge (Hull) will be able to direct you to the most appropriate in your area.

Residency Order: this order specifies with who and where the children should live, this is particularly important if your partner has parental responsibility for all or some of your children (which means they have the legal right to have their children with them). The courts can make an Order by Consent if both you and your partner agree that the children should live with you and an Intrim Order can be obtained which will temporarily stipulate where and who the children are to live with whilst the legalities of the residency order are being processed.

Prohibited Steps Order: the courts can provide this order if you are fearful that your partner will try to take the children from you. If you are fearful of this, you should seek legal advice immediately and if the threat is imminent, then call the police.

It is important to stress that domestic abuse, when having left the relationship or home, often still persists through contact with the children. If you do not feel that it is safe for you to be involved in the contact of your children with their father you should seek legal advice to apply for the contact to be supervised. You may feel that you would be at risk if you were to be involved and this would have an impact on the children, also, if you feel your partner would say inappropriate things to your children i.e. asking questions about you and your whereabouts or telling the children how upset he is, how it is your fault and he cannot live without them, then this is another reason why supervised contact would be more appropriate and safe for your children.

There is so much more advice you could gain by speaking to a support worker on the helpline of any Women’s Aid refuge; they can put you in touch with the refuge closest to you and be there on the other end of the phone, whatever your stage of being in the relationship, whether leaving is on the cards or not. If you are not ready to speak with someone yet, then you could look at the Women's Aid National Website, they answer so many possible questions, you may find what you need to know from there..

Domestic Abuse is only the fault of the abuser, no matter what reason they give. There is no excuse for domestic abuse, we all get stressed, angry and jealous at times but we don’t all abuse those we say we love. There are lots of people with additional issues such as drugs, alcohol and mental health but those issues do not justify causing another person emotional, psychological, physical, sexual or financial harm. As human beings, we are responsible for ourselves and the first time we realise that we are causing harm, we must then decide to stop this behaviour or continue i.e. the man that drinks and is abusive, has the option to stop drinking and eradicate the problem; or not. Their behaviour, their choice, their fault!