4th March 2024|In Latest News

Ultimate guide to getting legal advice for domestic abuse

Getting legal advice for domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is more common than you might think. Around 1 in 5 adults in the UK will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, and with 88% of partner abuse victims reporting non-physical abuse during 2022-23, it’s important to recognise the signs to look out for and understand the steps you can take to protect yourself.

Alongside helping you to understand what abuse looks like, legal advice can ensure that you are supported and protected during an incredibly difficult time – something which you shouldn’t underestimate.

Domestic abuse is widely unreported. Less than 24% of domestic abuse crimes are reported to the police, so it’s vital that you seek legal advice to help you understand your rights and benefit from essential support. 

For individuals experiencing domestic abuse, leaving a partner can come with significant risks. The statistics are alarming for women who are in the process of leaving, or who have left, an abusive relationship. 

To help you take the right steps, we’ve produced this guide to getting legal advice for domestic abuse.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

  • What is domestic abuse?
  • First steps to getting legal advice for domestic abuse
  • What is a non-molestation order and how do I obtain one?
  • What is an occupation order and how do I obtain one?
  • Legal advice for domestic abuse – your finances and separation
  • Looking after your children
  • Additional support
  • Legal advice for domestic abuse – key takeaways


What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse is a pattern of behaviour that someone uses to gain power or control over you. It can appear years into a relationship or even after you’ve split from someone. Recognising what domestic abuse looks like is important in helping you understand your rights and safeguarding yourself.

The 2021 Domestic Abuse Act recognises a range of behaviours that constitute domestic abuse and recent proposals to change domestic abuse law mean that coercive and controlling behaviour could soon be considered as equally harmful as physical violence.

  • Coercive control – this can cover a range of behaviours from isolating you from family and friends, monitoring your time, controlling your finances and denying you access to money, and telling you where you can and cannot go. 
  • Emotional abuse – examples of emotional abuse include constant criticism and negative comments towards you, being blackmailed or made to feel guilty, undermining or gaslighting you, and verbally threatening or intimidating you.
  • Stalking and harassment – following you to work or places you are visiting, tracking you by phone or private investigator, harassing you in-person or via social media or phone, or turning up uninvited to your home are all signs of stalking and harassment.
  • Physical abuse – harming you by pulling your hair, pinching, punching, kicking or any other physical contact that’s unwanted or hurtful all constitutes physical abuse.
  • Sexual abuse – rape, sexual assault, or being coerced into doing something you don’t feel comfortable with are all examples of sexual abuse.
  • Religious abuse – not being allowed to talk to people outside of your religion, being forced to marry, not being allowed to wear certain clothes or having your freedoms restricted for religious reasons are all considered religious abuse.
  • Female Genital Mutilation – being forced to have a procedure to remove your external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.

An abusive relationship aims to take away your autonomy and power. 


First steps to getting legal advice for domestic abuse 

If you think that you’re in an abusive relationship, regardless of whether you feel like you’re in danger or not, we’d encourage you to contact the police as a first step. This helps to create a record which can be invaluable when presenting a case of abuse to the court. Even if the abuse doesn’t constitute a criminal offence, this first step can be important in establishing a pattern of behaviour to prove abuse. 

Report domestic abuse | Police.uk (www.police.uk)

If you don’t feel safe and are in immediate danger, always call 999. If you’re unable to speak on the call then the operator can prompt you to enter 55 which is a signal that you need urgent help and are unable to speak. This is only on a mobile and you must stay connected on the call. Don’t hang up. 

Aside from contacting the police, which you may feel unable to do, there are some additional steps we’d recommend taking to help you set out a case of domestic abuse against you and to protect yourself.

  • Keep a diary – a simple diary that outlines a chronological timeline of abuse and incidents can help you to prove patterns. Include any incidents that made you feel unsafe, confused or harassed in line with our guide to domestic abuse above. If you are unsure whether to include something, note it down anyway. Your diary can be quickly converted into a witness statement if required. If you can’t keep a paper diary in the house, you can email notes to a separate email account or friend and then delete it. Always keep your passwords safe.
  • Keep any evidence you may have – evidence is not essential in protecting you from domestic abuse (and we’ll explain more on this later) but if you do have videos, photos, text messages, voicemails or witness statements from other people then these can help to speed up legal proceedings if necessary and keep you safe.
  • Find a solicitor – getting legal advice for domestic abuse from a trained solicitor ensures you have an expert in your corner who will help you take effective legal steps to keep you, and any children you might have, safe. Try to find a solicitor who has experience in family law and domestic abuse as they will have a better understanding of what courts look for when seeking protection and prosecution. They can also advise you on local support networks and charities that might be able to help you.
  • Seek support – domestic abuse is traumatic and removing yourself from an abusive environment can be exhausting and dangerous. 43% of women killed by a current or former partner had left or were in the process of leaving their relationship. Having the right support is vital. Reach out to domestic abuse charities, your family and friends, and seek help from a counsellor with experience of trauma or domestic abuse. It’s also worth mentioning you can talk to your GP about domestic abuse, and they will keep your records confidential. 
  • Obtain a non-molestation order and/or an occupation order – these can be essential for your protection from domestic abuse and give strict instructions to the perpetrator on what they can and cannot do. If they fail to follow the order then they can be arrested.


What is a non-molestation order?

A non-molestation order is an order issued by the court that forbids your abuser from threatening, intimidating, harassing, visiting and communicating with you or coming within a certain distance from you. They are invaluable for offering protection to victims of abuse where there isn’t enough evidence for police to begin criminal proceedings.

You can seek to obtain a non-molestation order for any aspect of abuse – financial, controlling behaviour, emotional abuse, physical abuse, verbal threats, or harassment for example. Generally, a non-molestation order lasts for a year but it can be longer in certain circumstances. 

If you are being abused and the police are unable to help you, then getting the help of a solicitor to apply for a non-molestation order should be your next step. 


How do I obtain a non-molestation order?

We’d always recommend enlisting the help of a solicitor to obtain a non-molestation order. You can apply for one directly, but an experienced solicitor (particularly within family law and domestic abuse) will be able to offer guidance on what needs to be included in your witness statement, the process and help you to achieve a positive outcome. It can also be advantageous to use a solicitor if your privacy at home has been violated and/or you do not have access to a computer or the internet. If an application is made by you, you will be called the applicant and the other party the respondent. 

Compiling a witness statement

You will need to submit a witness statement as part of your non-molestation order application – this is the most important aspect. At this stage, you don’t need to have videos, photos or any other evidence. They are helpful and can be included if you have them, but your witness statement alone can be enough to obtain an order. 

Getting support from an experienced solicitor will help you to write a witness statement that includes the things a judge will look for, and require, to obtain a non-molestation order. If you have been keeping a diary of events and incidents, then you can quickly turn this into a witness statement with the help of your solicitor. 

Non-urgent non-molestation order requests

For non-urgent non-molestation orders, a review hearing of your application is usually held within a coupleof weeks. The judge determines whether an order should be in place based on the balance of harm test.

The balance of harm means that the court must decide the likelihood of significant harm to either party and/or your children if an order is made, against the likelihood of significant harm if the order is not made.

Under current guidance, the order must be made if there is a risk of significant harm to the applicant and/or your children unless: 

  1. the respondent or any relevant child is likely to suffer significant harm if the order is made; and
  2. the harm likely to be suffered by the respondent or child in that event is as great as, or greater than, the harm attributable to conduct of the respondent which is likely to be suffered by the applicant or child if the order is not made[1].

Urgent non-molestation order requests

Non-molestation orders can be obtained within a few days if your safety is at risk. A judge will review your witness statement on the same or the next day and will use it alongside any accompanying documentation to reach an outcome. The accused party will be served the order by a third party (a bailiff or process server, for example) if it is granted. Your solicitor can hide your address on your application, submitting a separate form to the court with your address on to protect you from being found by the perpetrator. 

If an urgent non-molestation order is granted, a return hearing is scheduled (usually 2-3 weeks after the order is granted), to give time for the accused to review, and challenge the order if they want to, and for the judge to assess with more evidence.

In urgent cases, there is no need to inform the other party that you intend to apply for an order which protects you from further escalation.

The ideal outcome of a non-molestation order is that the respondent agrees to it on a “no admission” basis. This avoids litigation and saves both of you time and money. 


Can a non-molestation order be contested?

Yes. Non-molestation orders can be contested by the accused party. During a review hearing, if the order was previously made on an urgent basis and the respondent challenges it, the judge is likely to keep the order in place until a final decision. They will need to submit a witness statement to the court and a more comprehensive final hearing will be scheduled. This is when any evidence you may have will be examined through cross-examination to determine if the order should be upheld. 

If the judge upholds the order (in favour of the victim), then you can potentially recover your legal expenses (or a portion of) from the opposing party as contesting a non-molestation order takes longer and incurs more legal expenses. The judge will decide the amount that is to be paid to you.

Instead of contesting the order, the accused party can offer an “undertaking” to the court. This is a formal promise to the court, similar to a non-molestation order but without power of arrest, that they will refrain from any harassing or abusive behaviour towards you. An undertaking is a civil matter rather than a criminal one, which means that upon the breach of the terms of the undertaking, you will have to take the matter back to Court. However, a breach of a non-molestation order is a criminal offence and the police can arrest the perpetrator. 

Beware of being asked to accept an exchange of undertakings where the accused asks you to also agree to leave them alone. This can be a cynical way of your abuser trying to besmirch your character and use it against you in future court hearings. Always seek legal advice before agreeing to anything.

In some circumstances, . If the balance of harm test is not met, or the evidence available in favour of a non-molestation order is limited, the court can accept an undertaking. The judge then warns the respondent that their promise to the court should not be taken lightly and upon a breach, they can be fined or imprisoned for contempt of court. The difficulty is that you have to prove that the breaches were taking place, and significant and the judge will have to decide during another hearing. 


Can my children be protected by a non-molestation order?

Yes, your children can be included under the protection of a non-molestation order if there is concern about their safety.


What is an occupation order?

An occupation order stipulates who can live in, and enter, the shared or family home where you have lived with your partner. 

Gaining an occupation order can be important in cases of domestic abuse to ensure both yourself and any children that may live with you feel safe in your home. 

Essentially, it orders one party to leave the family home. 

An occupation order can also limit the use of common areas within the house and say that the parties cannot enter each other’s bedrooms. Although these orders are not so common as they often create more issues but in certain circumstances can be helpful.


How do I obtain an occupation order?

There are strict criteria for obtaining an occupation order to ensure the safety of all parties involved.

It’s essential that you seek legal advice before applying for an occupation order so that you understand your position and the potential outcomes for you and your children if you have them. An experienced solicitor will be able to guide you through the process and help you towards a positive outcome.

Compiling a witness statement

You will need to compile a witness statement to accompany your application to the court. This gives you the opportunity to explain why you need the order and the risks you feel you face if your partner remains in the home. If you are seeking an occupation order, it would be helpful to think about where the other party could go so they don’t become homeless. 

Non-urgent occupation order requests

You and your ex-partner will be present at the hearing which mostly takes place face to face. If you are worried about your safety, you can ask the court to put in some safety measures in place such as screen, so you don’t need to see the respondent. The balance of harm test, which applies to non-molestation orders, is also applicable in obtaining an occupation order. The applicant needs to show demonstrable, serious harm to themselves or your children in the house and the court will determine the harm of remaining in the home against the harm that could occur as a result of the order. The judge will also consider the financial positions of both parties, ensuring that the leaving party has feasible arrangements for relocation that are affordable.

The leaving party may be asked to continue to financially contribute to the household, ensuring mortgage payments and bills are paid for the duration of the order. 

Occupation orders last six months as a general rule, but they can be longer and in some cases indefinite depending on the circumstances.

In some cases where the balance of harm test is met and the court is willing to make an occupation order, but the only issue is that the respondent has nowhere to go, some financial assistance to the respondent may result in you successfully obtaining the occupation order. 

Urgent occupation order requests

You can ask for your application to be seen quickly if you feel you are in immediate danger. You will have a hearing without your ex-partner where an order or an interim order may be issued. If you are issued with an interim order then you will need to return to court for a final hearing where your ex-partner will need to be present. The courts are very rarely grant urgent occupation orders as they would not have heard at all from the respondent and ousting someone out from their home may appear to be draconian and unnecessary unless the evidence available is pressing. 


Can an occupation order be contested?

Yes, they can be contested however it is expensive and time-consuming to challenge an occupation order. It’s also worth noting that an occupation order is a civil matter, rather than a criminal one,.In most cases, where there is an occupation order, it is likely that you would have a non-molestation order as well. Sometimes the police can assist to remove the respondent from the property if they are difficult.  


Legal advice for domestic abuse – your finances and separation

It’s important for you to know that the financial implications of separation and divorce are separate legal proceedings. If you are married or in a civil partnership, then you will need to pursue the divorce process and financial agreements through the courts directly or via a solicitor. 

Your financial agreement can be done via mediation, direct negotiation (but this may not be possible when domestic abuse is present) or with the assistance of solicitors.

When domestic abuse is present, we would always advise getting the help of an experienced solicitor. Domestic abuse can be incredibly difficult to cope with and recover from, and having expert help can be invaluable in helping you navigate a safe path out of your relationship.

If you aren’t married, thendifferent rules would apply to you rather than the law relating to married couples. . Always get legal advice to help you understand your rights.


Looking after your children

Visitation rights for your children, their living arrangements, and specific prohibitions like not visiting your child’s school are separate legal proceedings and need to be pursued alongside a non-molestation or occupation order.

Whether you are married or not, these can be pursued regardless. If you are concerned about your child’s ongoing safety and need help to put arrangements in place, we recommend finding an experienced family solicitor to help you.


Additional support

In addition to helping you with the legal aspects of domestic abuse and submitting forms to the courts, a good family solicitor will also be able to support you with the following, which can be invaluable in helping you through a difficult time:

  • Safety plans for visiting your home if you have left and need to return for any reason
  • Help with visiting your GP or other services discreetly if you are still in an abusive relationship
  • Advice on keeping an emergency bag ready and what to include
  • Guidance on maintaining a diary of the abuse and what to include
  • Connections to local and national domestic abuse charities
  • Access to mediators and local counsellors who can help you 
  • Explicitly obtaining consent from you to keep you safe. Solicitors are unable to breach client confidentiality without your consent – even if you express feeling unsafe. You can give your solicitor permission to break that confidentiality if you have genuine concerns for your safety, or others around you, so that they can act on your behalf if you are unable to do so.


Legal advice for domestic abuse – key takeaways

  • Many relationships can be abusive without escalation to physical violence – if you feel something is wrong then get help from the police or a solicitor.
  • Power and control are often present in family law – having a solicitor in your corner is essential to offer protection and help.
  • A non-molestation order can help to protect you from harm (physical and mental) and a solicitor can help you build an application based on their experience and knowledge of the courts.
  • You do not need evidence in order to apply for a non-molestation order.
  • An occupation order can help protect you in your home and prevent your partner or ex-partner from visiting your home.
  • Your finances and divorce (if you are married) proceedings are separate legal proceedings so get help from a solicitor for this alongside any non-molestation or occupation order proceedings.
  • Visitation rights for children, their living arrangements and specific prohibitions are also separate legal proceedings.
  • Building a strong support network and accessing help can ease the impact on your mental health from attempting to do it all alone.
  • And finally, knowledge is power. Even if you are still with your partner, don’t feel guilty about getting legal advice.

Can we help you? Please call us on 0333 344 6302 or contact us through our enquiry form. All initial enquiries are free and without obligation.

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