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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

7. Court orders you can get to protect you

8. How a court order protects you

A court order tells your partner what he or she must and must not do. Breaking a non-molestation order is a criminal offence and the police can arrest your partner and take him or her to court on a criminal charge. This is a recent change in the law.

If your partner breaks an occupation order or undertaking – by, for example, refusing to leave the home – you have the right to bring the case back to court and ask for your partner to be punished. It is up to you to decide to bring the matter back to court – no-one else will enforce the order. If your partner breaks the order, you should tell your solicitor straight away so that you can discuss what to do next.

If your partner breaches an occupation order the judge can fine or imprison them. This could be for a few days or for months, depending on what he or she has done. A judge will not always choose imprisonment if something else may work better to protect you in the future. The judge may also extend the court order.

If your partner has given an undertaking and does not keep their promise, the judge can punish this too.

If you get a ‘power of arrest’ attached to an occupation order, this makes it easier to enforce because it means that the police can arrest your partner if he or she breaks this order. The police (not you) should then take your partner back to court.

In this situation, you will need to attend court to tell the judge what happened and how you want your partner to be punished. The judge must attach a power of arrest to your occupation order if he or she believes that your partner has used or threatened violence against you. You cannot have a power of arrest if your partner has given an undertaking.

What happens after the hearing?
You will get a printed copy of the order made by the judge. Make sure your solicitor gives you a copy, which you should keep with you at all times. You or your solicitor must make sure that your partner receives a copy too.

It is important that your partner is handed the order personally, because the order will only be effective if you can prove your partner knew about it. If you have a power of arrest on the order, you or your solicitor should make sure your local police station has a copy of the order. The order generally lasts for a fixed period – three months, for example.

If necessary, you can go back to court at the end of the period to get another order to keep you safe.

Can I get other court orders?
If you are married or in a civil partnership you may be thinking about divorce (called ‘dissolution’ for civil partnerships). And if you are not married or in a civil partnership you may still need to decide what happens to the family home and other assets.If you have children, you may need to sort out where they are going to live (‘residence’) or visiting arrangements (‘contact’). All of these issues have to be dealt with through other legal proceedings. Your solicitor can advise you about whether you can get public funding to cover these things.

What should I do if I fear that my partner will take the children away?
You should tell your solicitor at the start of the case. You can then decide whether the court should be asked to make orders about the children or their passports. An organisation called Reunite can offer information and help to parents who fear that their children have been abducted or may be abducted. See ‘Further help’ for Reunite’s phone number.

What if my partner snatches the children?
If you think your children are likely to be taken out of the country, tell the police immediately. They can issue a ‘port alert’ to try to stop them leaving. The police will need a full description of your partner and the children. Photographs would be useful. Tell your solicitor as soon as possible as well. If the children are taken out of the country, the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit may be able to help.

If you do not think the children will be taken out of the country, tell your solicitor. He or she can apply for an emergency court order for their return. See ‘Further help’.

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

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