What legal protection can you get if you are being abused by your partner? During Cohabitation Awareness Week 2017 (27 November to 1 December), Shelley Workman, family lawyer at Coodes Solicitors explains the options for someone who is being abused by a partner.
Domestic abuse often involves violence between married couples but of course also includes violence towards unmarried partners, family members and children. For women aged between 19 and 44, domestic violence is the leading cause of death – greater even than cancer and road accidents.
An extremely high percentage of those who suffer domestic abuse are women but of course many men are victims as well. Whether you are married or cohabiting, in a same sex or heterosexual relationship, you have exactly the same legal protection against domestic abuse.
Applying for a court order
Offences in relation to domestic violence are covered by Part IV the Family Law Act 1996 which has been amended by the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004. Many forms of domestic abuse are also offences against the person. This is a criminal offence which will carry a jail term or a fine depending on the seriousness of the offence.
Whether you are married or not, if you are suffering domestic abuse you can apply to obtain a court order called an injunction. Depending on the circumstances, this could be an occupation order or a non-molestation order. Occupation orders regulate who can live in the family home and can also restrict an abuser from entering the surrounding area. An occupation order is often used when someone does not feel safe continuing to live with their partner or if they have left because of violence, but then want to return home.
A non-molestation order is aimed at preventing a partner or ex-partner from using or threatening violence against that person or their child. It also prevents someone from intimidating, harassing or pestering that person.
Who qualifies for protection against domestic abuse?
The act states that to qualify for the protection you must be an ‘associated person.’ This means that you and your partner or ex-partner must be related or have an association which each other in one of the following ways:
- You are or have been married to each other
- You are or have been in a civil partnership with each other
- You are or have been cohabiting
- You live or have lived in the same household
- You are related
- You have formally agreed to marry each other even if the agreement has ended
- You have a child together
- You are both involved in the same family proceedings – for example divorce or children matters.
The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (DVCVA) recently amended the definition of cohabitees to include same-sex cohabitees. The DVCVA also introduced a new category of associated persons, namely those who have or have had an intimate personal relationship with each other which is or was of significant duration. An intimate relationship is not necessarily limited to a sexual one and ensures that both heterosexual and same sex couples who do not live together and do not have children together but have been involved in a relationship for some time can apply for an injunctive order. As yet there have been very few cases so it is not yet clear what a ‘significant duration’ is.
If someone is in immediate danger
If an individual is in immediate danger then an application can be made to the court on the same day without the need of the abuser being told in advance. The court will have to consider whether the applicant is at immediate risk of harm and there will have to be a return to court for a full hearing once the abuser has been served with the notice. Injunctions are commonly for a specified period of time, usually 12 months. They can also be renewed or they can be made “until further notice”.
Breaching an occupation order is a civil offence so the abuser will face charges in the civil court and could be arrested. Breaching a non-molestation order is a criminal offence.
People living with a partner should be aware that they have the same rights as married couples. If they are the victim of domestic abuse they should seek legal advice to secure protection for themselves and their children.
For advice on any of these issues, please contact the Family Team at Coodes Solicitors on 01726 874700.