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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 are being 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

Court orders generally fall into two parts:

  • Orders about the way your partner should behave in future - 'non-molestation orders'.
  • Orders saying who has the right to live in the home - 'occupation orders'.

Non-molestation order
This order tells your partner they must not use or threaten to use violence against you, or 'harass, pester or intimidate' you or any children living with you. The order is generally written in wide terms to stop all forms of unpleasant behaviour including, for example, threatening phone calls. It will also stop your partner getting someone else to harass you.

Occupation order
If your partner's behaviour has been serious enough for them to be kept apart from you so as to protect you, then you will need an order saying who can live in the home.

An occupation order can order any number of the following:

  • one partner to leave the home;
  • one partner to let the other return to the home;
  • one partner not to return to the home;
  • one partner to keep away from the home; or
  • one partner to stay out of parts of the home

The court can also make orders about:

  • who will repair and maintain the home;
  • who will pay the mortgage or rent and other costs; and
  • who can use and care for things in the home.

You can't use an occupation order to change the ownership of the property. You may need to sort this out through separate legal proceedings, and you should seek legal advice about this.

What will I have to tell the court?
For a non-molestation order, you will have to tell the court about how the violence or abuse has affected you. If you have received medical treatment because of the violence or abuse, it helps if you can prove this. A doctor's report and photographs of any injuries are useful for this.

For an occupation order, the court needs more information. The judge also needs to know about:

  • your and your partner's housing needs (and the needs of any children you have);
  • how much money you both have;
  • how any order will affect your and your partner's (and any children's) health, safety and well-being; and
  • how you and your partner have behaved towards each other.

If you are not married the judge also needs to know:

  • how long you have been living together;
  • whether you have children or stepchildren;
  • how long you have been separated;
  • whether you are in any other legal proceedings together, such as other court proceedings about your family.

What will happen at court?
Your solicitor (if you have one) should arrange for you to have a solicitor or a barrister at court, who will speak for you to the judge. If you do not have a lawyer, you will speak directly to the judge. The judge will read the forms you have filled in, and your statement about what has happened and what your partner has done.

Your partner will be able to reply to what you have said about him or her. If they have had enough time before the hearing, they may state their reply in writing. If your partner does not really dispute what has happened and wants to sort something out, he or she may offer the court an 'undertaking'. This is a solemn promise about their future behaviour, similar to an injunction. Sometimes you may also be asked to give an undertaking about your behaviour.

The judge does not have to accept an undertaking -it depends on whether it looks as if this will keep you safe enough in the future. See 'How a court order protects you'.

When the judge has heard from both of you, he or she will make an order or set out the terms on which the court accepts an undertaking.

What if my partner isn't there?
Your partner may not be at the court hearing for various reasons:

  • you may have gone to court as an emergency without serving the papers on your partner;
  • it may not have been possible to serve the papers on your partner before the hearing; or
  • your partner has been served with the papers and does not turn up to court.

The judge can make an order if your partner does not come to the hearing.

If your partner has not been served with the papers (because you have gone to court for an emergency hearing or your partner can't be traced), then the judge will fix another date in the near future to give you another chance to serve the papers. The judge may also make a short-term non-molestation order to protect you until that hearing. The judge will not normally make an occupation order if your partner has not been served with the papers, but may do this if it seems the best way to protect you until the next hearing.

If your partner has been served with the papers and has not come to court, the judge will make whatever orders he or she thinks are appropriate 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 Legal Services Commission (LSC). It was written in association with Imogen Clout, a solicitor specialising in family law.

Leaflet version: July 2019

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