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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

8. How a court order protects you

A court order tells your partner what he or she must and must not do. If they break this order, you have the right to bring the case back to court and ask for your partner to be punished. If they disobey the order or undertaking, 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 straightaway so that you can decide what to do next.

The judge can fine your partner, or imprison him or her, sometimes just 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.

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' with the order, this makes it stronger because it means that the police can arrest your partner if he or she breaks the order. The police (not you) should then take your partner back to court. However, 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 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 of - 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, you may be thinking about divorce proceedings. If you have children, you may need to sort out any argument between you and your partner about where they are going to live ('residence') or visiting arrangements ('contact'). You may need to start legal proceedings about who owns your home.

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' on 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 you do not think they will leave the country, tell your solicitor. He or she can take steps to get an emergency court order for their return. If the children are taken out of the country, the Child Abduction Unit may be able to help. 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 Legal Services Commission (LSC). It was written in association with Imogen Clout, a solicitor specialising in family law.

The leaflets are regularly updated but the law may have changed since they were printed so the information in them may be incorrect or out of date.

Leaflet version: January 2016

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Last updated on 19 January 2016

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