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How do you apply for one of these orders? 

The courts will do there best to help a personal applicant; and you do not need a solicitor to apply for an order.  But for someone who is going through a tough time at home, and whose self confidence may have been dented, having a solicitor or barrister who knows there way through the system and will give them advice and support can be invaluable.  An applicant will not necessarily have to pay; she may be eligible for legal aid (she will be eligible for completely free advice and assistance if she earns less than £2,625 a year and has under £3,000 savings, and will qualify for some assistance if her annual income is under £7,777 and her savings are under £6,750). 

A non-molestation or occupation order can be sought at a number of levels within the court system.  For example, if someone has already started divorce proceedings in the High Court, it may be convenient to ask that court for an order.  If they have not already been to court somewhere else, their local magistrate’s court will also be able to make an order. 

What if there are children in the family? 

The new law also affects the law relating to children.  When one parent has been violent to the other, a non-molestation order is in place and they have separated, the possibility of future violence is one which the court will have to consider when making a contact order on behalf of a violent parent.  Research has shown that it is usually best for the children to have an ongoing relationship with both parents after separation or divorce, and that many fathers who are violent to their partner are not violent to their children????  However, research has also shown that children can be badly scarred by witnessing violence between their parents (for example, when their father returns them from a contact visit), and the court will be eager to minimise the risk of this kind of harm. 

Where social services have become involved because someone in the house is physically or sexually abusing a child, until now the court had power to allow social services to remove the child from the house.  Under the new law, however, the court can order the abuser to leave the house, provided that there is another appropriate adult prepared to remain in the house with the child. 

What happens if an order is broken?

Breach of a non-molestation order or an occupation order where a non-molestation order is also in place is a criminal offence, with a maximum penalty of three months in prison or a substantial fine.  The police have a power to arrest someone caught breaking an order, and will not hesitate to do so.  In 1993 the RUC policy statement on domestic violence made it clear that police regard domestic violence as a crime, and will treat it just as seriously as an assault on a stranger in the street. 

If someone feels so unsafe that they leave their home, does that affect their rights? 

Of course a court order is not the answer for everyone; some orders are breached, and some people may know that seeking an order will exacerbate an already dangerous situation.  If someone feels so unsafe that they feel it necessary to leave home, they should do so.  They may feel safer living with another family member, but Women’s aid can provide emergency accommodation for a woman and her children.  Someone who is thinking about leaving home should consider the need to make arrangements for their children too, and should seek advice from their solicitor.  However, the fact that someone leaves their home to escape violence by their partner will NOT affect their property rights in the house in subsequent divorce proceedings. 

What happens if someone is too frightened to bring court proceedings? 

If someone is too frightened to bring court proceedings, they should still seek advice and support about the violence they are suffering.  Women’s Aid or other support groups will have met many people in the same position in the past, and most police stations now have a Domestic Violence Liaison Officer who will also be able to give advice about safety. 

Does the law protect people who are not “associated persons”?

People who are not “associated persons” fall outside the remit of the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Order, but that does not mean they are unprotected.  Violence against anyone is a crime, and the police will prosecute.  The person may seek an injunction in the civil courts (a “non-molestation order” in all but name).  They also have protection from violence and behaviour short of it in the Protection from Harassment Order 1997, which makes harassment both a criminal offence and something an individual can be protected from by a civil court injunction.  Damages from harassment are also available.  Harassment includes violence, but also the sort of behaviour commonly called “stalking”.  People who may want to use this law might include someone who had recently finished a relationship, and whose former boy/girlfriend was harassing them, but who had neither been engaged nor living together, and so could not claim the protection of the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Order. 

Does the new law just deal with violent families? 

The Family Homes and Domestic Violence Order does not deal with all cases of “non-stranger” violence, but equally, is relevant to family disputes which do not involve violence; for example, where there is a dispute about who should live in a house.  These disputes are likely to be quite complicated, and the parties should also seek legal advice.

Is the old law still relevant at all? 

You may still hear reference to “Personal Protection Orders” and “Exclusion Orders” if someone talks to you about domestic violence.  Theses where the orders granted by the magistrate’s court under the old law, and are equivalent to non-molestation and occupation orders (although only available to spouses and cohabitants).  If someone has one of these orders, they are still effective, but when they run out (they can last for a maximum of two years and six months respectively), any further orders will be made under the new law.


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