For many of us, our home is our castle. A sanctuary of safety, familiarity and if we are lucky, of peace and relaxation. But for some, their “home” is a lonely and volatile place, and one where they feel physically unsafe.

Living with an abusive partner is, at the best of times, a challenge that many people feel unable to escape. But being confined to your home under the current “social distancing” regulations may feel like an impossible task. This guide aims to provide information on the options that may be available to you.

Please remember that emergency response services such as the police and refuge centres remain operational during this time. If you are at immediate risk of harm in your home, dial 999 in the usual way.

 

Consider your options – Do you need to remain “at home”?

Whilst the Government guidance is clear that we should stay in our homes other than for essential travel and grocery shopping, your safety is of paramount concern. In circumstances where we are being actively encouraged to work remotely, consider whether this could be an opportunity to leave an abusive relationship and stay with friends or family away from your usual area of residence. You must of course consider the risk to those that you intend to stay with, and we would not recommend staying with a friend or family member who falls within the “vulnerable” category. However, at a time where you may no longer be tied geographically to your place of work, consider whether you can safely leave the abusive home and move into a safer place to self isolate, away from your abusive partner.

If you cannot leave the home, can your partner be reasonably expected to leave?

When police are called to a domestic incident, they will often ask one party to leave the home temporarily to avoid a further incident occurring. If this is the case, you can apply to the Family Court for an Occupation Order, extending the period of their exclusion from the home for up to 6 months. Such applications are still being considered urgently by the court via telephone or by virtual hearings using applications such as Skype or Zoom. However, excluding a perpetrator from their home is an order of last resort, and the court will need to be satisfied that the perpetrator has alternative accommodation, or could reasonably afford to rehouse during the time that they are excluded from the property. You should note that an Occupation Order does not change the ownership rights over a property, and so you will still need to take steps to resolve any financial claims that arise in relation to the home. We would recommend that you instruct a solicitor to do this, to avoid having to contact the perpetrator directly.

You may also be permitted in limited circumstances to apply for an Occupation Order without prior involvement of the police, or either party having been temporarily removed from the home. Please speak to one of our solicitors for advice about your particular circumstances.

What if the perpetrator doesn’t live with you, or continues to abuse you even after you/they have left the home?

It may be advisable when applying for an Occupation Order, that you also apply for a non-molestation order to limit how the perpetrator can contact you. This will usually mean that they can only contact you through a solicitor who will write to you on their behalf, or if you have appointed your own solicitor, they can contact your solicitor. If the perpetrator disobeys the non-molestation order, they can be arrested by the police without the need to return to the Family Court. If you already have a non-molestation order which has or continues to be breached, contact your local police force to report the breach, or in an emergency call 999.

If you do not need an Occupation Order because you are already living separately, but the perpetrator continues to intimidate, harass or pester you, you can still apply for a non-molestation order. In these circumstances, you will need to provide evidence of the ongoing abuse by way of police reports, photographs, videos or messages. In some circumstances, it may be appropriate to send a solicitor’s warning letter to the perpetrator before applying to the court, asking them to stop all contact with you. If the perpetrator ignores the warning, you can proceed with your application.

For more information or to speak to one of our team in confidence, please call 01245 221699 (Danbury, Essex) or 01883 343460 (Caterham, Surrey).