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If you have been affected by domestic abuse, we are 100% committed to providing the legal assistance you need. Our team has helped many people take emergency legal action to protect themselves from domestic abuse and safeguard their occupation of the family home.
If you are concerned that you, your children or other family members are in immediate danger of domestic abuse, call 999 for assistance for the emergency services.
Whatever your situation, the approachable and understanding team at JMW can help. Find out more about our services today by calling us on 0800 652 5577 or by completing our online enquiry form, which will enable us to give you a call back at a time suitable for you.
Freeing Yourself from Domestic Violence and Abuse
When domestic abuse occurs, you can take legal steps to help bring it to an end and protect yourself. Any legal action should be taken without delay. Domestic abuse can take many different forms and can include behaviour such as:
- Physical violence
- Psychological abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Economic/financial abuse
- Coercive control
If you are experiencing domestic abuse, you may be able to obtain a non-molestation order from the court to help protect you and any children in your care.
We can help you make an informed decision as to whether a court order is appropriate in your case, which is sometimes known as 'injunctions'.
A non-molestation order is designed to stop a current or former partner or a relative, doing certain things, such as using or threatening violence against you, harassing, pestering or intimidating you, or, in some cases, contacting you at all. The terms of the order will depend on the situation. The court will look at all the circumstances of the case, including whether an order is necessary to secure your health, safety and wellbeing and that of any relevant child.
You will need to give details of the incident or incidents that have led you to the conclusion that an order is needed and the descriptions will need to be reasonably detailed and specific as to time and place. Your solicitor will discuss with you whether any supporting evidence is needed, such as photographs or copies of text messages.
In some cases, the court can make an order regulating who can and cannot live in the family home. This is called an occupation order. You may be in an abusive relationship and wish for your partner to be excluded from your property, or you may have been excluded from your own home and wish to return.
The order might say that a particular person is no longer allowed to live in a house they once shared with their former partner or, in another situation, the order could say that a person who has been excluded from a property is allowed to move back in.
The precise wording of the order will be specific to the situation. However, an order specifying where someone can or cannot live is potentially very dramatic in its effects on the lives of the people concerned. The court, therefore, does not make these orders lightly and there will need to be solid evidence as to the harm that would be suffered if the order was not made.
I am experiencing domestic abuse and want to understand my options. Where should I start?
Contact the police if you feel you are unsafe or otherwise at risk. There are also domestic abuse helplines that may be able to assist you, such as Women's Aid or the Men's Advice Line. If you make contact with us we can assess whether orders could be put in place to protect you and consider your wider family circumstances, including possible divorce proceedings, financial matters and arrangements for children. Subject to an assessment of your financial position, you may be entitled to assistance with the costs you will incur for a solicitor to represent you in the form of legal aid if you are able to produce evidence of domestic abuse. Although we do not have a contract to offer this service, we can refer you to respected firms of solicitors that do.
Is there anything I can do to keep my ex away from my home? He keeps threatening me.
Yes. Depending on the seriousness of the communications and any other behaviour, you may be able to obtain a non-molestation order (to protect you personally) and/or an occupation order (to keep your former partner away from the home).
What is an undertaking?
An undertaking is a solemn promise made to the court. If the promise is broken, the giver of the promise can be fined or imprisoned for contempt of court. In the context of applications for non-molestation or occupation orders, undertakings are sometimes offered by the person against whom the order is sought.
They solemnly promise that they will, for example, stay away from the applicant without the need for a non-molestation and/or occupation order to remain in place. The court will only approve an undertaking in place of an order where it is safe to do so.
What is a non-molestation order?
A non-molestation order is made when an individual needs protection from the behaviour of another person, such as a current or former partner, someone they have been in an intimate relationship with, or a relative. You need to apply to the family court to get a non-molestation order, which is sometimes known as an injunction.
It is up to the judge to decide the precise wording of the order but it usually prohibits the use or threat of violence against a named individual or children in their care. It may also prohibit the person from harassing, pestering or intimidating you and may stop them contacting you or going within a certain distance of your home or place of work.
It is a criminal offence to breach a non-molestation order, even if the action leading to the breach is not illegal in itself (e.g. going within a prohibited distance of an individual’s home).
How long does it take to get a non-molestation order?
If there is an urgent need for protection, the court can grant an order on the day the application is made. The circumstances of an urgent case may mean that the order needs to be made by the court without giving notice to the other party of the application. When deciding whether or not to make an order applied for “without notice”, the court will consider whether there is a risk of significant harm to the person applying or a relevant child, as well as the likelihood of the person applying being put off by any need to wait, and the risk of the other person trying to evade service (e.g. avoid court papers being given to them).
After an order is made without notice, there will need to be a follow-up hearing (called the return date) to give the other person a chance to object to the making of the order. If they do object and it is not possible to agree a way of compromising the proceedings safely, the court will arrange a further contested hearing at which each side will give evidence and the judge will decide what order to make. This may be several months in the future. In the interim, some form of non-molestation order will usually remain in place.
An application for a non-molestation order can be made on notice, that is, the other person is sent a copy of the application before an order is made. The court will aim to deal with the application within a few weeks but the timescales will depend on the seriousness of the situation and the capacity of the local family court.
How long does it take to get an occupation order?
Like non-molestation orders, occupation orders can be made with or without notice. If an order is made without notice, the person who seeks the order (the applicant) will get an order on the same day their application is made, if their application is successful. If the application is made with notice, the court will receive the paperwork from the applicant, provide copies of it to be served on the other party and set a date for a hearing. This can take a few weeks, depending on the seriousness of the situation and how busy the local family court is.
The big difference between non-molestation and occupation orders is that occupation orders are rarely made without notice, even if the applicant is successful in getting an immediate non-molestation order. The reason is that an occupation order can have devastating consequences for a respondent - potentially making them instantly homeless - and the court will be extremely reluctant to do this without giving the respondent a chance to put their case forward and respond to what the applicant has said in their application.
Occupation orders are not only used to require someone to leave their home where certain criteria are met. They can also be used to regulate which parts of a dwelling each party can occupy and when. They can also enable someone who has been unlawfully excluded from their home to return to it.
Orders requiring someone to leave their home are rarely made without a full hearing unless the facts are very extreme and there are urgent welfare factors present. Orders enabling someone to get back into their home could be made without notice if the situation was urgent. An order regulating occupation could be made with or without notice, again depending on the severity and urgency of the situation.
Can domestic abuse be verbal?
Yes. Domestic abuse is not restricted to the use or threat of violence. It can encompass a range of abusive behaviours in a domestic context that can lead to a person directly or indirectly suffering harm. This can include psychological and emotional abuse without the use of actual violence. It can also include economic abuse, recognised as a specific category of abusive behaviour in which a person attempts to restrict a partner or relative’s financial autonomy. The Domestic Abuse Bill, which is currently on its way through Parliament, adopts a broad, modern definition of domestic abuse.
What is coercive control?
Coercive control, known in law as controlling or coercive behaviour, is a complex pattern of abusive behaviour that has a serious impact upon the person suffering the abuse. The behaviour may be subtle and can escalate over time and have devastating psychological and/or physical consequences. It may or may not include the actual threat or use of violence.
Since 29th December 2015, a specific offence of “controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship” has been available to prosecutors dealing with domestic abuse. However, these behaviour patterns arise in the context of family as opposed to criminal law, both in financial matters and disputes involving children, even if the police are not involved or no prosecution is planned.
Examples of coercive control include:
- Causing someone to feel worthless and excessively dependent on their abuser
- Monitoring various aspects of a person’s behaviour: where they go, who they see, what they do online, how they dress, what they eat, and so on
- Isolating someone from family or friends or discouraging them from accessing medical or other services
- Economic abuse and exerting inappropriate control over another adult’s finances
Coercive control may be present alongside other, possibly more easily recognisable, abusive behaviours.