Coronavirus and Domestic Abuse – Can I Still Seek Help From The Family Courts?

The Pitfalls of Applying for a Divorce Without Legal Assistance

What action can I take if I am suffering from domestic abuse?

The Government has brought in strict social distancing measures during this Coronavirus pandemic to help prevent the spread of the virus. This may be very difficult for victims of domestic abuse who may not feel safe in their home. There has been a rise in domestic abuse linked to the Coronavirus outbreak. Domestic abuse includes not only physical violence but also emotional and psychological abuse.

The Government is clear that the household isolation instruction as a result of the Coronavirus does not apply to you if you need to leave your home to escape domestic abuse or to ask for help.

Can I apply for a Non-Molestation Order?

The Courts have issued guidance about what work will be treated as priority work. Applications for Non-Molestation Orders (an injunction made under the Family Law Act 1996) are treated as priority work.

What is a Non-Molestation Order?

A Non-Molestation Order is an Order prohibiting a person from molesting another person. Molestation involves any form of physical, sexual or psychological molestation or harassment that has a serious impact on the health and wellbeing of the other person. You can apply for a Non-Molestation Order against someone you are having or have had a relationship with, a family member or someone you are living with or have lived with.

Will a Non-Molestation Order be made?

The Court has a wide discretion whether to grant or refuse relief sought. The criteria to be considered by the Court are all the circumstances including a need to secure your health, safety and wellbeing.

How do I apply for a Non-Molestation Order?

You can apply for a Non-Molestation Order digitally if you are not represented by a solicitor. Details of how to apply can be found here:

What will happen if a Non-Molestation Order is not complied with?

It is a criminal offence if a Non-Molestation Order is breached without reasonable excuse.

What other Orders can I apply for?

You can also apply for an Occupation Order which is an Order regulating who lives in the family home.

What is an Occupation Order?

Occupation Orders are also made under the Family Law Act 1996. An Occupation Order is an Order regarding rights of occupation in the family home. The Court can require one party to leave the family home or exclude one party from a defined area or the vicinity of the family home.

Will an Occupation Order be made?

The Court considers the balance of harm test first as set out below:

‘If it appears that the Applicant (i.e. the person applying for an Occupation Order) or any relevant child is likely to suffer significant harm attributable to the conduct of the Respondent (i.e. person the application is made against) if an Order is not made it is mandatory for the Court to make an Occupation Order unless it appears that the Respondent or any relevant child is likely to suffer significant harm if the Order is made and that harm is as great or greater than the harm likely to be suffered by the Applicant.’

The Court determines that if the Applicant is not likely to suffer significant harm attributable to the conduct of the Respondent, it enters the discretionary regime. The criteria to be applied by the Court in deciding whether to exercise its powers are all the circumstances including:

  1. The housing needs and housing resources of each of the parties and of any relevant child.
  2. The financial resources of each of the parties.
  3. The likely effect of any Order, or decision not to exercise powers, on the health, safety and wellbeing of the parties and any relevant child.
  4. The conduct of the parties.

The Court will also take into account the existence of credible alternative accommodation for the other party and may rely on the other party’s greater financial resources.

What happens about the payment of mortgage, rent or outgoings?

Where an Occupation Order is sought the Court has the power to enforce obligations on to either party. These obligations include payments towards the rent, mortgage or other outgoings including repair and maintenance.

What happens about furniture?

The Court can grant either party possession or use of furniture or contents of the dwelling-house and Order either party to take reasonable care of furniture.

Government guidance

The Government has issued guidance for victims of domestic abuse which also sets out where help can be found:

How are the Courts dealing with family cases?

The Courts are dealing with most cases remotely. Please click the link below to see our Legal Update setting out how the Courts are dealing with family cases:

Coronavirus – How will this affect my Court case in the Family Court

If you would like advice on family law matters or any other issues please contact us to arrange a telephone/video appointment. Either call us on 01323 727321 or fill in the contact form below:

Please click here to fill in our contact form

Please note the above is for information purposes only and is intended to be a short summary.  It should not be treated as a comprehensive guide and should not be acted on without qualified legal advice.

Author: Alexandra Funnell. Co-Head of Family Department, Partner