Former Spice Girl Melanie Brown – Mel B – has been in the headlines lately, with her impending divorce from her estranged husband detailing an alarming number of allegations of domestic abuse over a prolonged period of time.
While their 10-year marriage appeared happy, it is now clear that things were very different beneath the surface. And for many people, this will ring alarm bells: a seemingly happy relationship which hides abusive and controlling behaviour.
Unfortunately, many incidents of domestic abuse go unreported. Even so, a staggering 943, 628 incidents were reported to the police in the year to March 2015 (Crime Survey for England and Wales 2016). Around 4.5 million women and 2.2 million men aged between 16-59 have been victims of domestic violence.
Sobering statistics. But how does this begin? Of course, very few people enter into a relationship knowing it will be abusive. In fact, many abusive relationships begin with strong displays of love and affection. Over time, this can escalate into jealousy and possessiveness.
What is domestic abuse?
Any single incident or pattern or incidents of controlling, coercive, violent, abusive or threatening behaviour. It can be physical, sexual, emotional or financial. Relationships are affected and shaped by many factors, such as high expectations and stress, which can in turn lead to these kinds of behaviours.
Victims of domestic abuse can often feel dependent on their abuser. Sadly, abusers often isolate their victims from their natural sources of support, deprive them of their independence and manipulate their everyday behaviour.
Coercive behaviour includes threats, humiliation, intimidation and assault, all used to harm, punish or frighten the victim.
Nobody should feel they have to live under these conditions. If you think you are the victim of domestic abuse or you are concerned for your safety or that of your children, please please take action. Refuge offers a national helpline and other support services. And a family solicitor can help you find the right legal remedy for your own particular circumstances.
Non-molestation orders. We would almost always advise one of these and it can be made against an ‘associated person’. So this could be a spouse or civil partner, former spouse or civil partner, cohabitee or former cohabitee, certain family members and people you have had an intimate relationship with.
These will prevent the other party from using or threatening violence against you or intimidating, harassing or contacting you.
If you’re in immediate danger, you can get such an order ‘without notice’, which means that the other party won’t be told you have made an application. This can result in an interim non-molestation order, with a hearing a few weeks later with the other party present.
Occupation orders. These are made when one party wishes to leave the family home or has been refused access to the property. The court can apply a number of criteria here, such as excluding one party from the property, allowing the applicant to stay in the property (or part of it) and regulating either party’s occupation of the property. You can also make an application for an occupation order against a family member.
While you can make these orders ‘without notice’ this is rare, as this means depriving a person of their home without the opportunity to respond. However, it can happen under exceptional circumstances.
Occupation orders are serious and complex, and a court takes a lot of factors into account before granting one, including:
- Housing needs and resources of each of the parties and their children
- Each party’s financial situation
- The health, safety and wellbeing of either party or any child if an order is not granted
- The conduct of the parties