The interaction between domestic abuse and child arrangements

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Co-parenting with an ex-partner can sometimes be emotionally draining and practically challenging. It goes without saying that navigating parenthood when there is domestic abuse involved is extremely difficult and adds an additional layer of emotional complexity when it comes to things like arrangements and contact.

Often a parent who has experienced domestic abuse at the hands of the other parent will subsequently want to deny the abuser contact with their child. But, can they do this? Will the presence of domestic abuse between parents in itself be enough to deny the abuser contact with their child?

Can I stop my abusive partner from seeing their children?

In short, there is no blanket ban on a domestic abuse perpetrator having contact with their children. If the court is convinced that facilitating contact between the perpetrator and their child will be in the child’s ‘best interests’, the Court may still make an order to this effect.

How does the Court decide what contact arrangement is appropriate?

As with all disputes involving children, the child’s welfare will be the Court’s ‘paramount consideration’. When determining what is in the best interests of the child, the Court will have particular regard to factors outlined in the ‘welfare checklist’ found at Section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989. These factors include:

  1. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his/her age and understanding);
  2. Her/His physical, emotional and educational needs;
  3. The likely effect on him/her of any change in her/his circumstances;
  4. Her/His age, sex, background and any characteristics of her/his which the court considers relevant;
  5. Anyharm’ which she/he has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
  6. How capable each of her/his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the Court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting her/his needs;
  7. The range of powers available to the Court

However, when dealing with child arrangement matters in the context of domestic abuse, the Courts must also have regard to Practice Direction 12J. Practice Direction 12J requires the Court to apply each of the above factors (a) – (g) with reference to the domestic abuse which has occurred and any expert risk assessment obtained.

The Court will also consider the following relevant factors, listed at paragraph 37 of Practice Direction 12J:

  • The effect of the domestic abuse on the child and on the arrangements for where the child is living;
  • The effect of the domestic abuse on the child and its effect on the child’s relationship with the parents;
  • Whether the parent is motivated by a desire to promote the best interests of the child or is using the process to continue a form of domestic abuse against the other parent;
  • The likely behaviour during contact of the parent against whom findings are made and its effect on the child; and
  • The capacity of the parents to appreciate the effect of past domestic abuse and the potential for future domestic abuse.

The Court will therefore be extra cautious when making child arrangements orders against the backdrop of domestic abuse and will consider the impact any arrangement may indirectly have on the parent whom has been victim to domestic abuse. This holistic approach is summarised at paragraph 36 of Practice Direction 12J:

The court should make an order for contact only if it is satisfied that the physical and emotional safety of the child and the parent with whom the child is living can, as far as possible, be secured before during and after contact and that the parent with whom the child is living will not be subjected to further domestic abuse by the other parent.”

Whether direct contact is appropriate will therefore entirely depends on the circumstances of each case, and in some cases, the Court may impose additional safeguarding measures such as ordering that contact is supervised.

How we can help

Our team of specialist family lawyers are adept at dealing with both children matters and case involving domestic violence. We will handle your case with practical expertise and immense emotional sensitivity to ensure that both you and your child feel supported and safe. Please contact us for a confidential discussion about your individual situation.

Rosa Schofield is a Solicitor within our London team of specialist family lawyers, mediators and collaborative lawyers.

Helpline Services

If you feel that you are at any risk of immediate danger then you should call the police.

The following helplines are also available:
National Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0808 2000 247 – https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/
Rights of Women – 020 7251 6577 – https://rightsofwomen.org.uk/get-advice/
Women’s Aid – https://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/

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