UK Family Law Good Guidelines
Guidelines for Good Practice proposed by the Children Act Sub-Committee of the Advisory Board on Family Law
PLEASE NOTE: This is for information for people in England and Wales and is not a formal legal guide. People should ALWAYS take proper legal advice on their own situation. Valid as of June 2006.
A Useful Court Case:
On 22nd November 2005, after considerable concerns about child safety where there has been domestic violence, the Court of Appeal once again published their Guidelines on Contact and Domestic Violence so that all family courts understand the law better. The link is: http://www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk/judgmentsfiles/j3553/ali_guidelines_1105.htm
and I have summarised it below, in English rather than legalese! It may help people to understand their rights and responsibilities for child contact when there has been domestic violence. Remember, though, that you must get proper legal advice for yourself.
Courts (usually County Courts, not criminal courts) are supposed to take into account any allegations of domestic violence as soon as possible, not years afterwards.
The court should, at the earliest opportunity, consider the allegations made (and any answer to them from your partner) and decide whether (if its true) it would make it likely that the child would be in danger during contact.
If the other parent denies being violent/abusive, the court should work out how to find out the facts, fast. They should also give clear instructions (using section 11(1) of the Children Act 1989) on whether or not there should be a speedy court hearing about this so they can find out what probably really happened.
They may choose to make an order for interim contact pending the final hearing in other words, set up an arrangement for contact until they do the full court case. But they must make sure whatever they choose is in the interests of the child; and in particular that the safety of the child and the resident parent can be secured before during and after any such contact. This is important, because this isnt just about the safety of the child. If the resident parent is scared witless for a very good reason, or in danger, it will affect the children too, and the courts are better at realising that now.
The court then normally asks for a report from a children and family reporter (CAFCASS) on child contact. They will visit both parents separately, and also talk to the children before going back to the courts with their report.
If its a very tricky case, or if they think the childrens views are different from both mum and dad, they may decide the children can have their own solicitor. They can also decide that the case should be transferred to the County court; or transferred to the High Court.
Directions to CAFCASS
If the courts decide to allow Contact before a full hearing
They have to take into account the matters set out in section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989 (" the welfare check-list" ); This is, basically:
The court must consider the likely risk of harm to the child, whether physical and / or emotional, if contact is either granted or refused.
The court must also consider, if it decides contact is in the interests of the child, how to go about this. Whether it should be supervised, and if so, who by. The court must do what they can to ensure that the child and the resident parent are as safe as possible before during and after any contact.
The court should also consider whether it should use section 42(2)(b) of the Family Law Act 1996 to make a non-molestation order in other words, order that the other parent must not go near the family or harass them.
The court should also consider whether the parent asking for contact should seek advice and / or treatment before contact can happen, or to help the court find out the likely risk of harm to the child from that person at the final hearing.
The final hearing
The court should, wherever possible, find out the facts of what happened regarding domestic violence. They dont need to prove it to Criminal Law standards. They can instead work out the probability of it being right, and its effect on the child and the resident parent.
The court needs to consider the welfare checklist again. See above. It also needs to make sure the child and resident parent are safe before, during and after contact.
The court needs to check whether or not the reason the parent is seeking contact is really a desire to do the best for their child, or whether they are using the courts and contact as a way of continuing violence or intimidation or harassment of the other parent. Some do. If they do, its possible to get the courts to stop them in some cases.
The courts should find out if the parent seeking contact understands the effect of past and future violence on the other parent and the children concerned.
and in particular whether that parent has the ability to change and/or to behave appropriately. A violent parent demanding to see the children is not enough. The courts may expect them to show how theyre going to change, and to prove that they are safe now.
Matters to be considered where contact is ordered in a case where findings of domestic violence have been made
If there has been violence, but the courts hear all the evidence and think that contact can still happen in some way, the courts should still carefully decide:
Information about local facilities
1.8 The court should find out what facilities are available locally to the court to assist parents who have been violent to their partners and / or their children, and, where appropriate, should force violent parents to use those facilities.
1.9 The court should always explain how the facts it heard about domestic violence have influenced what it decided for child contact; and in particular where the court has found domestic violence but still makes an order for contact, the court should always explain why it takes the view that contact is in the best interests of the child.
Separate Waiting Areas at Court
The court guidelines finishes by saying, Although not part of our formal guidelines, we think that all courts hearing applications where domestic violence is alleged should review their facilities at court and should do their best to ensure that there are separate waiting areas for the parties in such cases and that information about the services of Victim Support and other supporting agencies is readily available.
Quite right too.
In This Section:
Useful Books on Domestic Violence and Children available from the UK:
Child Contact: Law and Practice includes a chapter on Domestic Abuse
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