Grandparents play an important role in children’s lives and research has shown that they can have a positive impact, particularly on adolescents and when families are going through difficult times. Their involvement is strongly associated with reduced adjustment difficulties in all family types, but particularly so amongst adolescences from divorced or separated families. When a parental relationship comes to an end, it often has far reaching implications in respect of the child/ren’s ongoing relationship and access to their wider family, such as grandparents. It is a sad reality that grandparents do not have an automatic right to contact with their grandchildren. However, family courts do recognise the often invaluable role that grandparents have to play in their grandchildrens lives and it is very rare that the court would refuse a grandparent access to grandchildren unless there is a safeguarding issue that would prevent that access taking place and/or unless there are practical/logistical reasons that would mean any contact would not be in the child/ren’s best interests (having regard to the welfare checklist in s.1(2) of the children act 1989). Can I make an application to the court? Only people with parental responsibility, for example parents, step-parents or guardians can make an application for a Contact Order (see s.10(4) and (5) of the children act 1989 for full details). Grandparents are not automatically entitled to apply for a child arrangements order, and they must obtain the permission of the court (“known as applying for leave”). When deciding whether the grandparents should be given permission, the court will consider (see s.10 (8)-(10) of the children act 1989 for full considerations):- The nature of the proposed application that the grandparent wishes to make Their connection with the child Whether the application might be potentially harmful to the child’s well-being in any way. If one or both parents raise objections, there is likely to be a full court hearing where all the parties can put forward… [...]
While the overwhelming assumption is that domestic abuse victims are female, research from Mankind Initiative highlights some concerning statistics:
Owing to regressive ideas of what abuse looks like, male victims of domestic abuse find it harder to access help. Nearly half of male victims fail to tell anyone they are a victim of domestic (only 51% tell anyone). They are nearly three times less likely to tell anyone than a female victim (49% as opposed to 19%).
National Legal Service Solicitors has helped more than 3,000 victims of domestic abuse in the last year. We feel strongly that each victim should be seen as an individual and helped accordingly irrespective of their gender.
Positive Steps Undertaken
In September 2017, The Crown Prosecution Service published its first ever public statement recognising the needs and experiences of male victims of offences including rape, domestic abuse, harassment, stalking and child sexual abuse. The CPS statement covers
Over the years I have assisted many male victims of domestic abuse and it is my experience that despite there being lots of positive campaigning around domestic abuse, there can remain a prejudice in the court arena. This was more so around 10-12 years ago, when I remember vividly, that I was helping a male victim to obtain a non molestation order and there were linked children act proceedings wherein we were trying to keep the child of the family safe from the mother’s abuse. Despite clear photographic evidence of injuries to the male victim and supporting statements from doctors and teachers, the Judge that heard the case did not accept the risks posed by the mother to my client or the child. In fact, a comment was that the mother’s outburst were as a result of her “latino temperament”, a comment that haunted me for some time as what flowed was that the father went from being primary carer of the couple’s child, to the Judge changing the arrangements on the ground, giving the mother the majority time each week, and my client went from being primary carer for 5 years, to having an order detailing the 3 nights a week he would care for the child.
That was one of the most extreme cases I have ever dealt with and I have continued to do all I can to assist male victims whenever they have approached me but I have continued to face difficulties. Even securing legal aid can be troublesome if you have a male victim (the “true applicant”) but the respondent issues cross applications and makes representations about your funding. Again, photographs of injuries had to be sent as justification and that case was another example where there was disbelief that a woman of relatively small stature could cause the violence and injuries alleged in my client’s witness statements. We need to continue giving male victims a voice and we need to educate everyone that domestic abuse can be committed by women. The law is there to protect the victim, we have to have our eyes open to who the true victim is when we are dealing with this area of law.
Domestic abuse can go unidentified by families, friends, and even victims themselves. Some victims fail to comprehend they were subjected to abuse, controlling and coercive behaviour until it is too late and can have a devastating impact on families, particularly young children.
The draft Domestic Abuse Bill was recently published, as it is revealed domestic abuse issues cost England and Wales approximately £66 billion a year during 2016/2017. It was projected approximately two million adults are subjected to domestic abuse each year and so warrants some of the strongest measures to prevent offenders and safeguard victims. However, is the draft Bill feasible within family courts? Does it safeguard children whom have suffered domestic abuse?
The purpose of the draft Bill is to deliver adequate protection for victims of domestic abuse and bring perpetrators to justice and to provide further guidance in relation to the following provisions:
As part of the new Domestic Abuse bill, the government will redefine what abuse is. Lay persons will commonly assume domestic abuse is limited to a specific incident. In recent years, the government formally recognised ‘coercive control’. However, the draft Bill includes ‘economic abuse’ as a recognised form of domestic abuse. This will include control of bank accounts and money.
Protection orders are an important instrument for keeping victims safeguarded and preventing the continuation and/or escalation of abuse. Currently, the Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO) aims to protect victims of domestic abuse.
However, the inconsistent Domestic Violence Protection Order will now be replaced by the Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (“DAPO”). The court may enforce requirements to safeguard victims from domestic abuse without any limitations on the Order. It may also comprise requirements, such as, orders to attend parenting courses, perpetrator programmes or substance misuse programmes, in addition to, prohibiting contact between the parties.
More significantly, an application for a DAPO is not limited to the person associated to the perpetrator. This major amendment allows local authorities, probation services or other support workers to obtain a DAPO as such this broadens the scope for those whom are seeking to apply for protection under the family justice system and may limit the risk of further harm attributable from the perpetrator.
The practice of perpetrators currently cross-examining victims causes a significant risk of further controlling and manipulate behaviour. In some cases, victims do not wish to pursue an application for protection due to the risk of further mental harm as a result of the current justice system.
The draft Bill is determined in its effort to provide security to victims of domestic abuse and amalgamate the family and criminal justice system. The government’s set of proposals are welcomed, particularly putting a focus on perpetrator’s culpability and putting families at the forefront. However, the practice of judges cross-examining witnesses on behalf of a party is also questionable in respect of judicial independence and upholding the rule of law.
For many years, victims and their families were expected to be uprooted whist perpetrators would remain unchallenged. However, the new draft Bill has developed significant and meaningful changes to help better support victims of domestic abuse and will allocate funding to support children.
What happens next?
The Domestic Abuse Bill will be scrutinised by a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament, highlighting any amendments that need to be made. After this, it will continue through the House of Commons and the House of Lords before being passed for Royal Assent. Hopefully, the Bill is enacted as a matter of urgency, as this is an issue that cannot afford to wait.
At the National Legal Service we are aware that stress and poor mental health can have a major effect on people. As a firm that specialises in family law we often deal with clients who are going through a difficult time. A lot of our work consists of supporting victims of domestic violence and we do our best to support them through what is a stressful process.
In turn, we support our own employees who are constantly faced with cases that are complex and involve clients that are vulnerable. We have a relaxed atmosphere where by the staff feel as though they can speak to one another on their teams regarding any difficulties they may have with their cases. We are also aware that all staff have a life of their own outside of work and that can add to the elements of stress that can impact work life.
Mental health to us is equally as important as physical health and it is vital that we focus on the well-being of our staff and our clients. We ensure that everyone in our team knows that they have a part to play at the making the workplace a positive one.
In the future, we hope to put in to place coffee mornings and other activities whereby the staff can take a break and just engage with one another. We hope that this will lead to building stronger relationships at work so that as a firm we can support each other better to stay physically and mentally well.