National Legal Service’s family solicitors were able to help a concerned mum reunite with her five children after a lengthy case spanning a year, while also obtaining legal protection for her and her children in the face of physical and emotional abuse.
Sarah* had been in an abusive relationship with her former partner for a total of seven years. The two shared parental responsibility for five children. Sarah’s situation worsened when her former partner arrived at her home and removed all five children from her care. He alleged that Sarah had been abusive to the children.
Sarah contacted the police immediately but, due to the father also having parental responsibility, the police were unable to take further action. With a week having passed, Sarah applied to the family court for a ‘without notice’ or ‘ex-parte’ Non Molestation Order (NMO).
An ‘ex-parte’ NMO means the order is applied for without notice – so Sarah’s former partner wasn’t initially informed of her application. An ‘ex parte’ NMO can be especially helpful where the victim feels there is the prospect of further physical or emotional abuse, should be respondent have prior knowledge of the order.
In this instance, applying for an ‘ex parte’ NMO meant Sarah was able to apply for protection quickly and without alerting the respondent. Once obtained and served on the respondent, the NMO afforded Sarah legal protection from her former partner and prohibited him from returning to her home.
Although the NMO was granted, Sarah still didn’t have any contact with the children, who remained with their father.
On 15th July 2022, Sarah returned to court to request a Specific Issue Order (SIO) for the children to be returned to her care, along with an application for a Prohibited Steps Order (PSO) to prevent her former partner from removing the children from her care, or from nursery, again in the future.
In the first hearing the court announced that it was not able to make any orders at that stage, as the safeguarding process remained incomplete. Due to allegations of abuse being made by both parties, including in the presence of the children, the court appointed a Guardian to act on behalf of the children.
Over a period of 6 months, the children remained with Sarah’s former partner. Whilst Sarah was able to have indirect contact via FaceTime, this meant that the respondent was able to instruct the children as to what to say on those calls.
Eventually, Sarah’s ex-partner voluntarily returned the children to her care. The court ordered him to have direct contact with the children once per week with visits to be supervised by his family members. However, there was a lack of consistency in those visits, which negatively impacted the mental health of the youngest children.
A fact-finding hearing was held almost a year to the day after the children were initially removed from Sarah’s care. The court outlined concerns about the evidence given by Sarah’s ex-partner but found all six of her allegations of abuse to be proven. As a result of this finding, the children’s appointed guardian has been instructed to conduct additional safeguarding. The court has prohibited all contact between Sarah’s ex-partner and the children whilst this takes place.
The court additionally extended the duration of Sarah’s NMO against her former partner giving her further protection and peace of mind. The children remain in her care.