Almost every unresolved dispute between parents over arrangements for children is referred to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), which looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings. Cafcass will investigate the case and report back to the court, usually with a recommendation as to what orders the court should make.

And sadly in many of those cases there are issues regarding alleged domestic abuse. For example, where a father is seeking contact with his children the mother may allege that the father has been abusive towards her. Such cases must, of course, be very carefully handled by all involved, including Cafcass.

Last year the Ministry of Justice set up an expert panel to look into how the family courts protect children and parents in private law children cases concerning domestic abuse and other serious offences. The panel made a number of serious findings in relation to both the processes and the outcomes for parties and children involved in such proceedings.

In response to those findings Cafcass has published an improvement plan which provides key priorities to strengthen its practice with children and families who have experienced domestic abuse, being clearer about how they explain their decisions to them, and improving the effectiveness of their management oversight.

Cafcass Chief Executive Jacky Tiotto said:

“We are committed, alongside other agencies in the family justice system, to improving all of our work with children and families who have experienced domestic abuse. It’s been so important to build on what we heard from the Ministry of Justice’s Expert Panel on Harm, and our own subsequent work to review and understand the quality of our practice and improvements that we need and want to make. We hope that the learning from our listening over the last year is explicit in our improvement plan and our wider learning and development programme. Children and families who experience our support and help deserve the very best from us and we want to offer advice to the family court that promotes the best interests of children and secures their safety.”

Hopefully, the plan will mean will mean a better service for all children and families who have experienced the scourge of domestic abuse.

Obviously, domestic abuse is a very serious issue in cases concerning children, and can have a significant bearing upon the outcome. Whether you are the victim or the alleged abuser you should therefore seek expert legal advice, at the earliest stage. We can find you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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Family Law Café offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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The landmark Domestic Abuse Bill, which we have mentioned here previously, has at last passed through both Houses of Parliament and been signed into law as an Act of Parliament.

The Act includes a raft of provisions designed to raise awareness of domestic abuse, and better protect victims.

To recap, the Act’s provisions include:

1. The first statutory definition of domestic abuse, incorporating a range of abuses beyond physical violence, including emotional, coercive or controlling behaviour, and economic abuse.  

2. New protections for victims of abuse, including Domestic Abuse Protection Notices, which can be given by the police to provide victims with immediate protection from abusers, and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders, which courts can make to help prevent offending by forcing perpetrators to take steps to change their behaviour, including seeking mental health support or drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

3. The establishment of the office of Domestic Abuse Commissioner, who will oversee the provision of domestic abuse services in England and Wales.

4. New protections and support for victims ensuring that abusers will no longer be allowed to directly cross-examine their victims in the family and civil courts, and giving victims better access to special measures in the courtroom to help prevent intimidation – such as protective screens and giving evidence via video link.

5. A provision placing a duty on local authorities in England to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation.

Commenting upon the passing of the Act   Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins said: 

“This law will fundamentally transform our response to tackling domestic abuse by providing much greater protections from all forms of abuse.”

And Claire Throssell MBE, Survivor Ambassador for the domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, said:

“As a survivor and domestic abuse campaigner, the new act is a chance to make sure survivors are safe, protected and loved. The vital changes to the family court are long overdue and everyone accessing them deserves better. It is high time the family courts are safe and supportive, protecting victims and survivors instead of shielding perpetrators.”

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If you are a victim of domestic abuse you should seek expert legal advice, at the earliest stage. We can find you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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The Court of Appeal has given guidance upon the approach that the Family Court should take to allegations of domestic abuse when dealing with disputes between parents over arrangements for their children.

As we mentioned here in this post, the court was hearing four linked appeals by mothers involved in proceedings relating to their children, in which the mothers had raised issues of domestic abuse.

As the Court of Appeal pointed out, allegations of abuse are often made by one or both parents in children cases. In fact, it is estimated that at least 40% of such cases now involve allegations of domestic abuse.

When allegations are made, the court must decide, usually at an initial ‘fact-finding’ hearing, whether they are true and what effect, if any, they should have upon the arrangements for the children.

This can obviously be a difficult task, balancing on one hand the safety and welfare of the child, and on the other hand the ‘right’ of the child and parent to have a continued and full relationship.

The guidance given by the Court of Appeal focussed primarily upon the issue of coercive and controlling behaviour.

Coercive and controlling behaviour involves one party seeking to restrict the other, over a period of time. It can take many forms, such as the abuser preventing the other party from spending time with their family and friends, or controlling them by restricting their access to money.

Emphasising the importance of such behaviour, the Court of Appeal said that the courts should prioritise consideration of whether a pattern of coercive and/or controlling behaviour is established, over and above the determination of any specific factual allegations.

The Court of Appeal stated that where one or both parents assert that a pattern of coercive and/or controlling behaviour existed, that assertion should be the primary issue for determination at the fact-finding hearing. Any other, more specific, factual allegations should be considered because of their potential relevance to the alleged pattern of behaviour, and not otherwise, unless any particular factual allegation (such as an allegation of rape) was so serious that it justified determination irrespective of any alleged pattern of coercive and/or controlling behaviour.

The guidance was welcomed by Lucy Hadley of the domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, although she expressed concern that it did not go far enough, saying:

“…we are severely disappointed that the Court of Appeal did not call for an end to the ‘contact at all costs’ approach, which is putting women and children experiencing domestic abuse in danger … We fear this judgment has not recognised the urgent need for wholesale reform to make the family courts safe for survivors. We will continue to fight for a change to the presumption of parental involvement in domestic abuse cases – for good.”

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If you are a victim of domestic abuse you should seek expert legal advice, at the earliest stage. We can find you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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The Government has added some important new laws to its forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill, designed to further protect victims of abuse and ‘clamp down’ on perpetrators.

The laws include making non-fatal strangulation a specific criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison. The Government says that this act “typically involves an abuser strangling or intentionally affecting their victim’s breathing in an attempt to control or intimidate them.” This is certainly something that many victims of domestic abuse complain of.

The announcement of the new offence follows concerns that perpetrators were avoiding punishment as the practice can often leave no visible injury, making it harder to prosecute under existing offences such as Actual Bodily Harm.

Another change is that the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour will be extended to include abuse where perpetrators and victims no longer live together. This change follows a Government review which highlighted that those who leave abusive ex-partners can often be subjected to sustained or increased controlling or coercive behaviour post-separation.

Lastly, so-called ‘revenge porn’ laws will be widened to include threats to disclose intimate images with the intention to cause distress. Those who threaten to share such images will face up to two years in prison.

The reforms have been welcomed by interested parties.

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE, Founder & CEO of the charity Surviving Economic Abuse said:

“We’re absolutely delighted the government is criminalising post-separation abuse via an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill.

“By doing so, victims will receive the recognition they need and deserve. Post-separation abuse is a devastating form of coercive control and the economic abuse elements of this can continue for decades.”

And Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, chair of the domestic abuse charity Refuge said:

“This is a significant moment for women experiencing domestic abuse who have been threatened with the sharing of their private intimate images and we are thrilled that the government has recognised the need for urgent change. Our research found that 1 in 7 young women have experienced these threats to share, with the overwhelming majority experiencing them from a current or former partner, alongside other forms of abuse.”

The Bill is in the final stages of its passage through Parliament, and it should not now be long before it becomes law.

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If you are a victim of domestic abuse you should seek expert legal advice, at the earliest stage. We can find you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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It is sadly not uncommon for issues of alleged domestic abuse to be raised in applications relating to arrangements for children. For example, a father may apply to the court for contact, only to have the mother oppose the application on the basis of allegations that he had been ‘guilty’ of domestic abuse.

Obviously, the court must investigate the allegations, and decide whether they have a bearing on the issue of contact. But it is a fine line to tread: on the one hand, such allegations must be taken seriously, on the other hand the court must not allow false or exaggerated allegations to interfere with the child’s relationship with (in the above case) their father.

The question of how the family court should approach domestic abuse in cases involving arrangements for children is currently being considered by the Court of Appeal.

Last week the Court of Appeal heard four linked appeals by mothers involved in proceedings relating to their children, in which the mothers had raised issues of domestic abuse. All four mothers raised concerns about how the court below had approached those issues.

As the four cases raised similar questions, it was decided that the Court of Appeal should hear them together.

The hearing has now ended, and the Court of Appeal is expected to hand down its judgment in the next few weeks. If it considers it necessary, it may also provide further guidance upon how the courts should approach the issue of domestic abuse in cases involving children.

There is already guidance that the courts should follow. This requires the court to consider at all stages in children proceedings whether domestic abuse is an issue, and if it is to investigate the matter at the earliest opportunity, and decide what effect, if any, it should have upon arrangements for the children.

However, there are some who believe that the guidance is not being followed, or that it does not go far enough.

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Domestic abuse is obviously a very serious issue in cases relating to children, which can have a significant bearing upon the outcome of the case. Accordingly, whether you are the victim or the alleged abuser you should seek expert legal advice, at the earliest stage. We can find you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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Family Law Cafe’s accessible team of legal experts from various disciplines expedites the customer’s case and keeps them informed and in control 24/7 through a unique and secure online portal. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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The Ministry of Justice has announced a ‘major overhaul’ of how the family courts deal with domestic abuse.

The overhaul is in response to a report by a panel of experts which looked at the risk of harm to children and parents in cases involving disputes between parents about the arrangements for their children. The panel raised concerns that victims of domestic abuse and children were being put at unnecessary risk.

The new measures announced by the Ministry included:

– Giving an automatic entitlement for special measures in the courtroom for victims of domestic abuse going through the family courts, such as separate waiting rooms, separate building entrances and protective screens to shield them from their alleged abuser in court.

– Giving judges stronger powers to prevent abusers repeatedly dragging a victim back to court over child arrangements.

– Trialling an investigative, problem-solving approach in private family law proceedings, in order to reduce conflict. This could see judges decide what evidence to investigate, rather than both parties presenting their cases against each other.

– Reviewing the presumption of ‘parental involvement’ and whether the right balance is struck between the risk of harm to children and victims, with the right of the child to have a relationship with both parents.

Commenting on the measures Dame Vera Baird QC, Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales said:

“This panel of experts has dug deep to understand, and address, the serious harm to domestic abuse victims and their children caused over many years by the presumption of contact, and the intensely adversarial process present in the family courts.

“With children’s voices rarely heard in these proceeding and even more rarely heeded, victims and children are in need of better protections from abusive perpetrators.

“I welcome the report, its recommendations, and the implementation plan which will help to address these, and other concerns. It has my full support. And I call on the government to action this as a matter of urgency.”

You can read the report here.

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If you would like to know more about protecting yourself from domestic violence and abuse, Family Law Café can put you in touch with an expert family lawyer – for further information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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For the last two weeks we have all been ‘locked down’ due to the Coronavirus restrictions, forced to stay in our homes, save for specific purposes. This is obviously a trial for everyone, but for some it can be much worse.

What if the partner with whom you are having to stay at home is abusive? What can you do to protect yourself in this situation?

Leaving home

Obviously, if you are suffering serious abuse at the hands of your partner then you will not want to stay under the same roof as them. But can you leave home?

As we all know, or should know, the Coronavirus restrictions mean that it is an offence to leave home without “reasonable excuse”. We all also know that “reasonable excuse” includes obtaining basic necessities, taking exercise and seeking medical assistance. However, it also includes two other reasons, which may be relevant to a victim of domestic abuse:

1. Leaving the house to access “critical public services.” This includes social services and services provided to those at risk; and

2. Leaving the house to avoid injury or illness, or to escape a risk of harm.

Further to this, Home Secretary Priti Patel has confirmed that: “whilst our advice is to stay at home, anyone who is at risk of, or experiencing, domestic abuse, is still able to leave and seek refuge.”

Obviously, the police are enforcing the lockdown. However, they have been issued with guidance which specifically acknowledges that it may not be safe for everyone to stay at home.

So, in short, you can leave your home without breaching the Coronavirus restrictions, if you believe you will be at risk of harm due to an abusive partner.

But where can I go?

If you have a friend or family who you can stay with, all well and good (although you may still need to comply with self-isolation rules). But what if you don’t have anywhere to go?

Well, refuges and other forms of emergency accommodation are still open, and the Government has specifically stated that they do not need to close, unless directed to do so by Public Health England or the Government.

However some refuges may not be able to provide self-contained spaces where people can self-isolate, or ensure suitable space for social distancing, which may limit the service they can offer. Further, emergency accommodation may have to close if too many staff members need to self-isolate or if suitable social distancing measures cannot be implemented.

For further information about the availability of accommodation near to you, contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline.

What other steps can I take to protect myself?

It is still possible to apply to a court for a domestic violence injunction, despite the Coronavirus restrictions.

Such injunctions take two forms:

1. A non-molestation order, which prevents another person from harming you or a child; and

2. An occupation order, which will indicate who can live in the family home and can direct another person to leave the home.

Whilst some courts have been temporarily closed due to the Coronavirus outbreak, there are still courts open that will deal with urgent injunction applications. Most injunction hearings will take place by telephone.

If you are in immediate danger, then you should still call the police, on 999.

Further advice and help

The above is just some general advice. For more detailed advice, or if you wish to instruct a lawyer to obtain an injunction on your behalf, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click the ‘Sign up’ button at the top of the page, and fill in the form.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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An enhanced version of the Domestic Abuse Bill has been introduced to Parliament by the Government. The Bill, which aims to strengthen protection for victims of abuse, had been introduced in the last Parliament, but failed to complete its passage through Parliament before the General Election.

To recap, measures in the Bill include: introducing the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse, which will include economic abuse; establishing a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to champion victims and survivors; introducing new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders; and prohibiting the cross-examination of victims by their alleged abusers in the family courts.

As we reported here, the Government has already announced that Nicole Jacobs will be the first Domestic Abuse Commissioner.

Enhancements to the Bill include requiring local authorities in England to provide support and ensure safe accommodation for victims and their children, and improving on the ban on alleged abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family courts, by applying it to all family proceedings where there is evidence of domestic abuse.

Commenting on the Bill Home Secretary Priti Patel said:

“An astonishing 2.4 million people in England and Wales have suffered domestic abuse. That is unacceptable, and the reason why it is so important to shine a light on this crime.

“The Domestic Abuse Bill is a monumental step to empower victims and survivors, provide protection and tackle perpetrators at the earliest stage.

“Through this bill and bolstering law enforcement, we will be able to keep millions of victims safe.”

Family Law Café welcomes the re-introduction of this important Bill, and hopes that it will swiftly pass onto the statute book.

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Rosie Duffield, the Labour MP for Canterbury, has given a harrowing account of her experience of domestic abuse, in a debate in the House of Commons.

The MP was speaking during the course of the second reading debate on the Domestic Abuse Bill, which will introduce a comprehensive package of measures to tackle domestic abuse.

Ms Duffield described how she suffered verbal abuse, humiliation and financial control at the hands of her former partner. She said:

“Domestic violence has many faces and the faces of those who survive it are varied too. Sometimes there are no bruises. Abuse is very often all about control and power.”

She said that at first her relationship with her partner had been full of romantic gestures. However, over time he changed, using verbal intimidation and criticism, and sometimes not speaking to her at all. She said that expressions such as “You’re mine for life” can sound menacing, and are used as a warning over and over again. She described a repeating pattern of reward, punishment, promises of happy ever after, alternating with abject rage, menace, silent treatment and coercive control. Eventually the abuse spilled out in public, with him shouting at her at constituency events, causing her extreme humiliation.

She was only able to bring an end to the abuse by taking away her partner’s house keys, thereby locking him out of her home. She concluded by saying:

“You realise it’s not your fault. He is left alone with his rage and narcissism.

“If anyone is watching and needs a friend, please reach out if it safe to do so and please talk to any of us, because we will be there and hold your hand.”

The Speaker of the House, John Bercow, said that Ms Duffield’s speech had been “simultaneously horrifying and as moving a contribution” as he had heard in his 22 years in the Commons.

The speech is a reminder that domestic abuse can happen to anyone, and can take many forms. Whatever form it takes, no victim has to suffer. If you would like to learn about protecting yourself from domestic violence and abuse, Family Law Café can help. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area.

Image of Rosie Duffield: Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced that Nicole Jacobs will be the first Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales.

Ms Jacobs will initially work as the designate Commissioner, as the post has technically not yet been created. It was due to be created by the Domestic Abuse Bill, but the Bill fell when Parliament was prorogued. The Government has pledged to re-introduce the Bill in the next Parliamentary session. [UPDATE: The Supreme Court has, of course, now decided that Parliament was not in fact prorogued. Hopefully, this will mean that the Bill will now continue its passage through Parliament.]

The Commissioner will be tasked with encouraging good practice in preventing domestic abuse; identifying both those at risk of abuse as well as those perpetrating it and improving the protection and provision of support to those affected by domestic abuse. They will also be able to publish reports that hold statutory agencies and the government to account.

Ms Jacobs was the former Chief Executive Officer at charity Standing Together Against Domestic Violence and has more than two decades of experience working to reduce domestic abuse. Responding to her appointment, she said:

“Establishing the Office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner shows the government’s commitment to reducing harm and improving the lives of those who experience domestic abuse.

“It is an honour and a privilege to be appointed as the first Commissioner and I intend to raise the voices of victims and survivors of all ages, status and background and ensure that we shine a light on practice that fails them.”

Family Law Cafe wishes her well, and hopes that her appointment will improve the response to the scourge of domestic abuse.

If you would like to know more about protecting yourself from domestic violence and abuse, Family Law Café can help. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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Image of Nicole Jacobs reproduced from the GOV.UK website, Crown copyright, licensed under the Open Government Licence.

Several newspapers are today carrying a story about a wife who is apparently unable to obtain a divorce, despite her husband being jailed for seriously assaulting her. The story goes that her husband, who is currently serving a three years and three months prison sentence at HM Prison Manchester, commonly known as ‘Strangeways’, is preventing the divorce by not consenting to it. But is it really the case that a husband in this situation can prevent a divorce?

We don’t have all of the relevant facts of this particular case, so we cannot comment upon it in detail. What follows are a few basic principles.

As the law on divorce currently stands anyone wishing to take divorce proceedings must prove that the other party has committed adultery, that the other party has behaved unreasonably, that the other party has deserted them for two years, that they have been separated for two years and the other party consents to a divorce, or that they have been separated for five years. It will be noted that the consent of the other party is only required for a two year separation divorce, although in other cases the other party can seek to defend the divorce.

Clearly, a serious assault of the type suffered by the wife in the reported case would amount to unreasonable behaviour. The husband could seek to defend the divorce, but as a court has already found him guilty of the assault then it would be extremely unlikely that any defence would be successful.

Of course, if the reform of the divorce laws to introduce no-fault divorce goes ahead, then all of this will be academic – there will be no need to prove adultery, unreasonable behaviour, etc., and the other party would not be able to defend the case.

There is one other matter that could be delaying the divorce: that the husband is refusing to acknowledge receipt of the divorce papers. In that case, the wife only needs to prove that he has received them, and she will be able to proceed with the divorce.

In short, if a wife has suffered serious abuse at the hands of her husband then she should be able to get a divorce. The husband could seek to delay the divorce, but it is very unlikely that he could prevent it.

As we said, we cannot advise specifically upon the case in the newspapers. However, there does appear to be a moral to take from it: obtain expert legal advice before issuing divorce proceedings. Family Law Cafe can help you find that advice. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area.

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A public call for evidence, or consultation, has been launched on how the family courts protect children and parents in private law children cases concerning domestic abuse and other serious offences. The call for evidence is part of a three-month project overseen by a panel of experts, aimed at throwing a spotlight on how the family courts manage the safety and well-being of children when there is a risk of domestic abuse.

Specifically, the call for evidence will focus on private family law proceedings. Amongst the questions it will ask are:

• How Practice Direction 12J, which relates to child arrangement cases where domestic abuse is a factor, is being applied. This includes its interaction with the presumption that involvement of both parents in the life of the child concerned will usually further the child’s welfare.

• How ‘barring orders’ are being used. These prevent further applications being made without leave of the court. Such applications could be used to re-traumatise those who’ve faced abuse.

• What is the impact on the child and parent victim where child contact is sought by someone alleged to have, or who has, committed domestic abuse or other relevant offences.

Justice Minister Paul Maynard said:

“Domestic abuse destroys lives, which is why survivors and their children must have every confidence that they will be protected in the family courts.

“Just this week we introduced legislation that will ban abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family courts, and throughout our review we will be engaging with victims across the country to make sure we are doing all we can to protect them further.

“The review – ordered by ministers in May – will also consider the level of encouragement victims are given to raise concerns, the standard of domestic abuse information shared with courts, as well as looking to better understand the different types of coercive control.”

You can find the consultation here.

If you are involved in a children case in which domestic abuse is a factor, you should seek expert legal help. Family Law Cafe can provide this. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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Family Law Cafe’s accessible team of legal experts from various disciplines expedites the customer’s case and keeps them informed and in control 24/7 through a unique and secure online portal.

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