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26 Domestic Violence, Abuse and Harassment

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1 Introduction

2. What can I do if someone in my family is abusing me?

3. Practical things to do if you have been abused

4. Taking legal steps

5. What the police can do for you

6. What a solicitor can do for you

Your solicitor should advise you about what you can do, and the best choices for your situation. You may not need to get an injunction to be safe from a violent or abusive partner. Sometimes a strongly worded letter from a solicitor can stop your partner abusing you again.

Your solicitor should check whether you can get public funding (legal aid) to pay for any court proceedings. Whether you can receive public funding depends on how much you earn and how much money and property you have, though for domestic abuse cases the usual limits do not apply. It also depends on your case and whether you need a solicitor to apply to the court for you. You may have to pay some of the costs. See the Gurkha Free Legal Advice leaflet ‘A Step-by Step Guide to Legal Aid: help with paying for civil cases’ for more about this.

Some solicitors may tell you that you cannot have public funding if you can use the police instead, but this is not true. If you want to apply for a court order to protect yourself from domestic abuse, and need public funding to do so, the application form for public funding asks whether you have reported the matter to the police.

The form also asks if you have considered whether a warning letter from a solicitor to your partner will stop his or her behaviour. In some cases this may be better than an injunction and, if so, you won’t be given public funding.

However, a warning letter alone may not be right for you, for example because you need to bring civil proceedings to deal with the ownership of your home. In this case, your solicitor needs to explain this on the form. If you don’t qualify for public funding, you will have to pay your solicitor out of your own money (or represent yourself). Legal advice and representation can be expensive, so ask your solicitor to give you a realistic estimate of the costs at the start.

How do I get a court order?
If it seems that you need a court order to protect you (and your children) for the future, you can apply to the court for an injunction. You apply by filling in a form and making a written statement describing what has happened. If you need to, you can ask the court to keep your address secret from your partner.

You have to swear that your statement is true. (You may hear this statement described by its old name ‘affidavit’.) Once this is handed in to the court, the court fixes a day for a hearing. You must give your partner at least two days’ notice of a hearing, and the papers must be given to him or her personally.

Your solicitor (if you have one) will fill in all the forms and arrange for the papers to be ‘served on’ (personally given to) your partner. You will need to be at the hearing.

Your solicitor will tell you where to go and arrange for you to be represented at court.

If the situation is so serious that you need an order immediately, you can apply to the court on the same day, without telling your partner. This is called applying ‘without notice’ (some lawyers use the old expression ‘ex parte’). If you apply ‘without notice’, you can generally get an order about the way your partner should behave (a ‘non-molestation order’), but not an order about who can live in the home (an ‘occupation order’). If you get an order this way, it must then be served on your partner and the judge will fix a day in the near future for a hearing that you must both attend.

What if I can’t get public funding and I can’t afford a solicitor?
The process of applying to court to get protection from domestic violence is meant to be straightforward, so that people can act for themselves. Your local Family Proceedings Court or county court office will be able to give you the forms you need to fill in and a leaflet, ‘Part IV of the Family Law Act 1996: How can it help me?’ You can also download these forms and the leaflet from the Courts Service website (see ‘Further help’).

If you apply in the county court, you will have to pay the application fee (currently £60). If you can’t afford this, you can fill in a form asking for it to be waived. You may be able to apply to the Family Proceedings Court (the family part of the magistrates’ court) instead. If you do this, you don’t have to pay a fee. However, in many parts of the country the Family Proceedings Court will send you to the county court. Before applying, you can phone your local Family Proceedings Court to ask whether it does this.

If you want to take action without using a solicitor, the organisation Rights of Women has a book, ‘The DIY Domestic Violence Injunction Handbook’, with information and advice. See ‘Further help’, for Rights of Women’s contact details.

7. Court orders you can get to protect you

8. How a court order protects you

9. What if the person abusing me is not my partner?

10. How can I help someone who is being abused?

11. Terms used in matters to do with domestic abuse

12. Further help

13. About this leaflet

This leaflet is published by the Gurkha Free Legal Advice (LSC). It was written in association with Imogen Clout, a solicitor and mediator specialising in family law.

Leaflet version: August 2008