Should violent parents be granted contact with their children?
Steps are being taken by senior judges to end the presumption that parents must see their children if it can be evidenced there has been domestic abuse that would put the child or parent with whom the child lives at risk.
The proposed reforms come as a result of campaigning by the charity Women’s Aid, who identified 19 children that had been killed over the last ten years by violent fathers who had secured contact through the Courts.
The changes include a demand for all Judges to undergo further training on domestic violence in an attempt to ensure parents and children are protected.
One of the most senior Family Court Judges, Mr Justice Cobb, has undertaken a review of the current law with regard to Child Arrangements Orders with consideration as to domestic violence and harm and, in particular, in relation to the rules about cross-examination of an alleged victim of domestic violence by an unrepresented alleged perpetrator. The findings of the review and the proposed amendments to guidance in respect of the law can be accessed here.
The proposed amendments relate to Practice Direction 12j – Child Arrangements and Contact Order: Domestic Violence and Harm and can be summarised as follows:-
- There should no longer be a presumption that a parent should be involved in a child’s life if that involvement would place the child or other parent at risk of suffering harm from abuse.
- The Court process should not be used in an abusive, coercive, controlling or harassing manner by an abusive parent.
- The Courts should give more careful consideration to waiting arrangements at Court prior to Hearings and also safer arrangements for alleged victims to be able to safely enter and exit the Court building.
- Alleged victims should be provided by protection from cross-examination by unrepresented alleged perpetrators.
- In cases where domestic abuse has been provided, the Court must obtain a safety and risk assessment undertaken by a specialist domestic abuse practitioner working for an appropriately accredited agency.
- When a risk assessment has concluded that a parent poses a risk to a child or the other parent, even contact via a supported contact centre or supervised by a parent or relative is not appropriate.
- More consistent and clear language has been introduced, by the adoption of a common test of ‘protection from risk of harm’; ‘harm’ is specifically defined within the Practice Direction, using the language contained in Section 31(9) of the Children Act 1989.
In conclusion, it would appear the new guidance is suggesting that when it has been proved a parent has subjected either the parent who has care of the child or the child to domestic abuse, they should not necessarily be afforded contact with the child.
If you have been subjected to domestic violence and are dealing with issues as to the other parent seeing your child(ren), please do not hesitate to contact the Domestic Violence and Abuse Department (DVAD) at Emery Johnson Astills.
Legal Aid may be available to families who meet the relevant evidential and financial criteria. If an assessment is required as to Legal Aid eligibility, a member of the DVAD at Emery Johnson Astills will be more than willing to undertake this for you.
The DVAD at Emery Johnson Astills specialises in cases concerning domestic violence, for example where it is necessary to obtain a Non-Molestation Order (Injunction) to provide protection for a parent and child(ren) of the family and also cases where there has been domestic abuse and the perpetrator is seeking contact with the child.
If you need help and advice regarding either obtaining a Non-Molestation Order or in respect of a parent who has subjected you to domestic abuse having contact with your child(ren), please contact the DVAD at Emery Johnson Astills by telephoning 0116 255 4855. Alternatively, if you have been served with a Non-Molestation Order or accused of domestic abuse and are seeking contact with your child(ren), we are also able to assist and advise you.