WITH one-in-four women and one-in-six men in the UK experiencing domestic abuse at some point in their lives, domestic abuse is sadly all too common a crime. Allen Bailey (pictured above), of Scotts Wright Solicitors, explains what you can do if you are affected…
Am I being abused? What constitutes an action being defined as domestic abuse?
When asked to define domestic abuse most people would probably think of it as comprising actual or threatened physical violence either within a marriage or a common law relationship.
However, domestic abuse can take many shapes and forms. Its meaning has been extended over the years and will no doubt continue to be widened in the future.
Today, the government definition of domestic violence and abuse is “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.”
Examples can include psychological and/or emotional abuse, physical or sexual abuse, economic/ financial abuse, harassment and stalking, coercive control and abuse online through social media sites.
As can be seen from the above the term “domestic abuse” can embrace a wide number of actions
I no longer live with my partner – can I still be subject to “domestic abuse”?
Yes. Even though you may have separated, your ex – partner may still try to maintain their control over you by means of controlling and coercive behaviour.
Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten the victim.
An example of coercive behaviour is harassment or stalking. This may arise where your ex-partner sits in their car outsideyour home or place of work or perhaps drives past at different times of the day or night. It would also include pestering and intimidation by way of threats.
Controlling behaviour can be described as a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.
Financial or economic abuse falls into this category and is another way your ex-partner can try to exert control over you after you have separated. It can arise even though you may live many miles away from each other and have been living apart for several years.
Examples could be when your ex-partner fails to pay or contribute towards joint bills, forces you to take credit out in your name, or drains/depletes bank accounts. This type of abuse can leave victims in dire financial straits, liable for debts they never agreed to and effectively at the mercy of the abuser.
How can the law protect me and why should I seek support from a solicitor.
There are a number of ways in which the law can protect you if you have been the victim of domestic abuse.
Probably the best way to answer this question is to look at the criminal and civil law separately.
Firstly, if you have been the victim of a criminal offence such as an assault, criminal damage or stalking and the abuser is charged the police can release them on police bail. This will prevent the abuser from contacting you or any other witnesses either directly or indirectly including coming to your home, place of work or even approaching you in the street. These conditions of bail will last until the investigation has been completed. If charged, the court can impose similar bail conditions whilst the case progresses through the justice system.
If your abuser pleads guilty or is found guilty after a trial, the Court can include as part of the sentence a restraining order which will continue to provide you with protection from that person for either a specified period of time or an indefinite period.
More recently, there are now police orders. A police officer can serve on an abusive partner what is known as a a Domestic Violence Protection Notice. This lasts for up to 48 hours and may require them to leave the premises and not contact you. It can be extended up to 28 days by a magistrate’s court.
The civil courts can also provide assistance by making what are known as non-molestation and occupation orders.
A non-molestation injunction prevents an abuser from using or threatening violence towards you harassing and pestering you or communicating with you in any form directly or indirectly.
An occupation order is where the court orders a person to leave the family home or if they have already left, an order preventing them from returning.
If the abuser having been personally served with such an order breaches it, they will be arrested and brought before the court.
I am worried about how my abuser may react – can I take action without them being made aware?
Yes. This is reason why it is important to seek advice from a family solicitor.
It is possible for a victim of domestic abuse to go to court without the abuser being aware of the hearing. This is known as a “without notice” application. It is usually necessary to provide a written statement explaining why you want the court to make such an order without the other person being told of the hearing.
If a judge is persuaded that there is a risk that your abuser would cause harm to you if they knew of the action you were taking, a without notice non- molestation order can be made. Such orders are only usually made for a short period of time.
It should also be borne in mind that on a without notice application whilst the court might make an order preventing your abuser from returning to the home if they have left, it is unlikely they will order them to leave if they are still living there.
In such a situation the court would expect the non- molestation order to provide protection for the victim until a further hearing has taken place and the other party has been given an opportunity to attend and make representations, following which, a decision would be made as to whether the non- molestation injunction should be extended and whether they should leave the home if still there.
I don’t have the means to meet costly legal bills. Is there any financial support available?
Yes. If you are on benefits or in receipt of a low income and don’t exceed the capital limit you may qualify for legal aid which means your legal costs will be met by the state. Your financial status will determine whether you have to make a contribution towards your legal costs either by way of a “one off” contribution from capital or a specified sum each month from what is called disposable income which will continue until the case has been concluded. If you are entitled to receive legal aid you will be issued with a certificate which will usually cover all the preparatory work and representation at court.
A word of caution though. If you are given legal aid for domestic abuse proceedings and other work is subsequently undertaken by your solicitor under the legal aid certificate such as divorce, financial and property and/or children issues, the “Statutory Charge” may apply. This arises where a legally aided person receives money (including costs) or property as a result of the case. Any such property that person recovers or preserves can be taken or (charged in the case of a family home) by the Legal Aid Agency and applied in payment of that person’s solicitors costs for all work undertaken under the certificate including domestic abuse proceedings. Any monthly contributions that may have been made for the duration of the certificate will be taken into account and deducted.