Domestic violence is a problem that most people don’t often think about, but one which nonetheless still happens. Victims of domestic abuse are amongst the most vulnerable people in society and require as much protection as possible.
Our family law department have vast experience in dealing with this very difficult problem and have undergone specialist Women’s Aid Domestic Violence training to support and advise victims of domestic violence. It is incredibly reassuring for you that you will have access to a solicitor who can understand what you are going through and how difficult it has been for you to seek help.
Domestic violence can take many forms including physical and emotional abuse. It is difficult to break the cycle of abuse but seeking help from a solicitor is the most effective step to make sure that you don’t suffer any further abuse.
The Courts in Northern Ireland offer protection for victims of domestic abuse and your solicitor can advise you on the best approach to take. The two most common remedies to domestic violence are Non-Molestation Orders and Occupations Order.
A Non-Molestation Order will prohibit an abusive partner or former partner from using violence, threatening violence, harassing or intimidating you in future.
It is often necessary for our family solicitor to apply for this on an emergency basis ‘ex-parte’ which means your partner does not know about the application initially. This can be granted for a short time until a hearing date in listed in court. Your partner will then be served papers and they will then be made aware of proceedings. Remember at this stage you will be protected by the Order which has an immediate power of arrest should they breach it.
The Order can specifically state that such a person cannot ‘harass, annoy or intimidate you whether directly or indirectly or through a third person.
Within the legislation you must be an ‘associated person’ to be able to apply. The range to people who can apply are listed below:
- People who are/have been married to each other;
- Cohabitants/former cohabitants;
- Certain relatives, e.g. father, mother, brother, sister, daughter, son;
- Persons who have agreed to marry;
- Persons who have a child together.
If you are living with a parent, we will consider making an Occupation Order Application at the same time as the Non Molestation Order. This would have the effect of excluding the defendant from the family home or to prevent them from coming within a certain distance of the family home. For example, the Court may order that the Defendant does not come within 100 metres of the plaintiff or her children.
This is extremely useful when children are living with you and need to be protected from witnessing incidents of abuse and domestic violence.
If you are applying for an Occupation Order and do not have a legal entitlement to occupy the property, the court must apply a ‘balance of harm’ test (that is a test to determine who will suffer the most harm if an Order is not made).
How We Can Help
Our solicitors understand the sensitive nature of domestic abuse cases and will ensure that all matters are kept confidential. The advice and representation that our solicitors offer will differ on a case to case basis. However, they will usually take the following approach when dealing with cases of this nature:
1. Initial Consultation – Talking about domestic abuse can often be one of the most distressing aspects of the whole process. Our family law solicitors are extremely experienced and will know exactly the approach to take when you tell them what has happened.
2. If the matter needs to be addressed urgently, which is often the case with domestic abuse cases, then your solicitor will make an ‘ex parte’ Application for a Non-Molestation Order and/or an Occupation Order. This is an emergency Order that can be applied for in the absence of the defendant. If the application is successful, the Judge will put a temporary Order in place and set a review date for Hearing.
3. If the Judge grants the ‘ex parte’ Application the next step will be to serve the Order on the defendant. Your solicitor will then consult with you and take a detailed statement of evidence to put before the judge at the review Hearing. This will include details of the abuse you suffered, and any harm caused to you.
4. Review Hearing – The Judge will review your statement of evidence at the review Hearing and, if the defendant intends to defend the matter, will review any evidence put forward by their solicitors. Having considered the circumstances of the case, including potential risks posed to the plaintiff, the Judge will decide whether to uphold the Order or retract it. In certain cases, the Judge may alter the Order to reflect the level of risk posed to the plaintiff.
In an attempt to decode the legal jargon, we have devised a hypothetical scenario which outlines how a domestic violence case will generally be handled by our expert solicitors:
Lorraine came to PA Duffy and Company for advice on legal remedies to prevent any further domestic abuse from her ex-partner, Paul. She had just ended a 2-year relationship where she had been the victim of consistent emotional and physical abuse. An expert family law solicitor met with Lorraine and determined that she was at risk of immediate harm and it would therefore be advisable to make an emergency application for an ‘ex parte’ Non-Molestation Order.
Lorraine’s solicitor managed to have the case listed the next day in Court and instructed an expert family law solicitor to put forward the case to the Judge. The Judge granted a temporary Order based on the evidence that Lorraine had been abused on numerous occasions and that Paul posed a significant threat to her. A review date was listed for 6 weeks later.
In the meantime, Lorraine’s solicitor drafted a statement of evidence which set out the various incidents of domestic violence and detailed the threat that was posed to Lorraine. On the review date the Judge then considered this evidence, as well as evidence put forward by Paul’s solicitor that he did not pose a threat and should not be subject to a Non-Molestation Order. The Judge was satisfied that Paul posed a significant threat to Lorraine and that the Order should be kept in place.