A series of shocking killings of children by abusive fathers has finally prompted a change in rules governing the way family courts handle custody battles involving parents with a history of domestic violence.
Until recently, courts tended to presume that the involvement of both parents in a child’s life would be in their best interest. This meant that in some cases judges ignored the threat a parent might pose to the child or partner - with fatal consequences.
Domestic Violence charity, Woman’s Aid, found that 19 children have been killed in the last 10 years by their violent fathers after being granted contact.
It has campaigned to change guidelines for judges in the family court - called Practice Direction 12J – which had put an emphasis on children having contact with both parents – irrespective of apparent risks.
What rules have changed and what does it mean?
- End of ‘contact at all costs’ approach
Courts will now carefully weigh up the risks posed by a parent - taking into consideration threats, violence or other warning signs - before granting access.
Before the change which came into force on October 2, 2017, the court had stuck with the principle that it was beneficial to a child that both parents have contact - a ‘contact at all costs’ approach.
This should ensure that the courts carefully consider the risk before they grant visiting rights to both parties.
- Protecting victims from perpetrators
The fear of coming face to face with their abuser, had been one of the most traumatic parts of the family court process for victims of domestic violence.
But, thankfully, the changes now also mean courts should put special measures in place to ensure no one has to meet their alleged perpetrator in court.
If you are a victim, you can now ask for arrangements to be made for separate entrances and exits to the court building and the right to a separate waiting area.
- Requirements for court orders
Courts should now also make a record of any allegations of domestic abuse - and at the earliest opportunity. This is to ensure it is taken into account before deciding if a parent should have access to a child.
Despite the changes in the law, it’s important to have someone on your side to make sure you have the right safeguards in place if you’re going through this process.
As experts we are able to go further and make sure you get the support needed to get a brighter outcome.
Should you require any advice in relation to children matters or domestic abuse, please call Slater and Gordon Lawyers on 0800 049 2700 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help you