The Role of Family Courts in Domestic Abuse Situations

Domestic abuse, in any form, is a terrible experience. While moving away from such a situation and seeking legal support with divorce proceedings, and child custody matters are vital, it can be a significant challenge for abuse survivors.

Tackling the court system, potentially fearing a confrontation with an abusive ex-partner, and the need to ensure a safe future for children can all add a substantial weight of stress.

Firstly, we are here to help. Elaine Parkes Solicitors are experts in every aspect of family law and can provide confidential advice to ensure you get the support you need.

From emergency injunctions to safeguarding your home, there are very many ways to protect yourself and your children, with Legal Aid available to assist in covering any associated legal costs.

It is essential to know how the family courts can help and what resources they offer to support domestic abuse victims. While court proceedings can be daunting, the process is there to formalise your protection and rights, with the backing of the legal system to enforce any rulings passed down by a judge.

Here we have summarised what options you have to move on from an abusive relationship, and how the UK courts can help you navigate the process successfully.

For more information and a private discussion about the best route for you, please do get in touch with our Hastings or Brighton teams covering much of West and East Sussex.

How the Domestic Abuse Bill Has Changed the Court Experience

The Domestic Abuse Bill is part of a significant overhaul of the family court system. It seeks to address imbalances that have previously made court proceedings challenging for domestic abuse victims.

Examples of reforms include:

  • Improved barring order systems, empowering judges to prevent abusers from protracting the court process and forcing victims to keep attending further hearings.
  • Increased protection for victims to avoid confrontations, including separate entrances to the court building, and protective screens.
  • The recognition that abuse is not only physical but can include emotional abuse, coercion, economic abuse and controlling behaviours – all of which are treated equally seriously.
  • Prevention of cross-examination of victims by perpetrators of abuse.
  • Inclusion of domestic abuse protections for victims outside of cohabiting scenarios – such as family members and ex-partners who were not living together when the abuse occurred.

In the interest of supporting victims in expediting the court process, judges have been awarded greater powers. That includes the ability to prevent aggressive questioning, to prevent re-victimising by exposing abuse sufferers to unnecessary stress.

Initially, such changes will be introduced as a pilot scheme, with judges encouraged to intervene when they deem it necessary, and control lines of enquiry.

These changes are vital to supporting domestic abuse survivors and ensuring that hearings – whether criminal or relating to matters of family law – have a successful outcome without creating further trauma.

Many family matters where there has been an instance, or instances of domestic abuse, require interventions from Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.

If I Divorce an Abusive Spouse, Will I Have to Confront Them in Court?

In short, no, you can proceed with a divorce, or a child custody hearing, for example, without having to confront an abusive ex-partner directly. Courts are there to hear a case and pass a decision, and must not expose domestic abuse victims to further potential harm.

Given changes to court hearing formats, and the introduction of video conferencing hearings where in-person proceedings are not possible, the family courts’ capacity to facilitate remote hearings has vastly improved.

In November 2020, the Family Justice Council published a guide outlining how remote hearings and hybrid hearings (where there is a mixture of in-person and remote hearings) should be held.

There are many different options, the most suitable of which will depend on the circumstances and what sort of case is being heard, by which part of the court system.

  • Child safety is paramount, and consideration must be made to what information a child might be exposed to – for example, if a parent is recounting an abusive situation.
  • Video conferencing may be blurred to disguise the background from an abuser.
  • Vulnerable people may be allowed to join remote hearings via audio-only, and are not required to give evidence or attend via live video stream where this poses an issue.
  • Solicitors or lawyers may host video hearings from a neutral, safe space rather than attending from a private home.
  • Hybrid hearings can include the victim and their legal representation in the courtroom, with the abuser attending via a remote link – this is essential where the court does not have the facilities for separate entrances, waiting rooms and screens to protect the victim.

If you have suffered domestic abuse, and wish to explore the options to safeguard you during a family court hearing, do get in touch with our teams. There are many ways to protect your privacy and well-being, and the Elaine Parkes Solicitors experts can support you in implementing these measures.

Should you be concerned about forthcoming legal proceedings, and potential exposure to conflict due to an abusive situation, there is help available to keep you safe.

How Can Cafcass Help in a Domestic Abuse Situation?

Cafcass represents the interests of children in family courts and can decide what actions are necessary to protect young people’s interests.

They are an independent organisation, and work with, although separately from, the courts, health authorities and social services.

In some cases, the family court may ask Cafcass to assess a situation, which might involve interviewing both parents and children. There is a specific framework that Cafcass follows where domestic abuse has occurred or is suspected.

Family courts hear cases relating to matters such as child custody, adoptions, injunctions, and divorce proceedings, and Cafcass helps children through the process, often appointing a Family Court Advisor to assist.

If you are facing a legal situation with an abusive ex-partner or would like help navigating the family courts, Cafcass can provide support to alleviate any pressures and ensure your children are safeguarded throughout.

For more information and guidance about family court hearings, legal support following a domestic abuse situation, and professional advice to secure a successful outcome for you and your family, get in touch to arrange a good time to talk.

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