Some victim support organisations consider behaviour which can be common in a relationship under strain within their classification of domestic violence. Examples include disrespect, interrupting telephone calls, not listening or responding when talked to, lying, being jealous, breaking promises or sulking. While such behaviour is clearly wrong, a label of domestic violence may be inappropriate.
People alleging domestic violence may qualify for free legal assistance, although from April 2013, they must provide evidence in support of their claim before legal aid will be granted. See our separate guide on Domestic Violence:Domestic Violence
While the allegations may be unfounded, that in itself does not mean that your ex-partner is not genuinely fearful or anxious. Try to bear this in mind. Facing any allegation is painful, and an allegation that someone thinks your child could suffer harm while in your care can be incredibly hurtful. If the Court decides the allegation needs to be investigated, that is all it is, a decision to investigate, and best viewed as an opportunity to confirm the reality of the situation.
When an allegation is made against you that suggests potential for harm to either your children or your ex-partner, the Court needs to ensure their safety. In addition to stopping contact or refusing an application for the child to live with you, and depending on the allegation made, the court has the power to:
While an investigation into the allegations is conducted, the Court may make interim orders that state your child lives with your ex-partner, force you to leave the family home or stop or only allow you limited contact with your children. Such decisions will depend on the nature of the allegation, what evidence exists to support the allegation prior to a more detailed investigation being carried out, and the risks involved.
For any serious allegation, you should:
Other options to consider related to investigations, and depending on the circumstances and specifics of the allegations include:
For more information about topics raised in this section, refer to the following guides:
Do not ignore serious allegations, but do not panic either. False allegations are commonplace in family court proceedings. Do however be aware that part of the evidence that a judge will consider is how the parties behave in court. While it is natural to be hurt, stressed or angry at being accused, if you present yourself in such a way in court, this may count against you. Stay calm! If you are struggling to emotionally come to terms with the allegations, consider seeing a counsellor.
We see people damage their cases by becoming entirely focused on proving that their ex-partner is a liar, to the extent that they ignore the fundamentally important arguments which the court needs to hear... why the children´s relationship with you is important, and how that relationship supports their welfare. When responding to allegations, it is important to try to be objective, calm, and use non-emotional language. Again, it is important to make sure that your arguments do not get sidetracked by trivial allegations, or lost entirely by a ´tit-for-tat´ argument with your ex‐partner in court.
Judges prefer to see parents who can put aside their differences, and who focus on the children´s needs and welfare.
If there is any truth to the allegations, seeking appropriate help is often helpful in gaining a positive final outcome. If you have an addiction problem, anger management issues, mental health problems or are struggling with aspects of parenting, there are steps you can take to reassure the court, and accepting there is a problem is often a step in resolving the matter.
It is important to be aware that domestic violence is defined as more than physical abuse. Domestic violence (DV) is commonly held to include physical violence, psychological abuse, emotional abuse and financial control. It is also widely accepted that children suffer harm from witnessing DV.
If there is no evidence to support the allegation, point this out clearly to the Court. You could ask the Court to have CAFCASS carry out an investigation. The police might also be involved in any investigation.
If the court recommends supervised contact in a contact centre, accept the decision, and also the opportunity for your relationship with the children to be observed by professionals who can report back to the court. This is often a useful stage and where no risk exists, ends in normal contact arrangements being made.
For more information on contact centres, refer to our separate guide:Contact Centres
The court has the power to make injunctions to either remove the abuser from the family home and / or to stop them from contacting the alleged victim. Refer to our guides on:
These orders include a power of arrest for the police if the orders are broken. You may find an order made against you ´ex-parte´ e.g. without you being present or having the opportunity to argue against the order being made. In these circumstances, the court should set or allow a further hearing date to enable you to challenge the order. If either an occupation order or non molestation order is made against you, DO NOT contact the alleged victim about this. Doing so might breach the order, which can have serious consequences including jail. Instead, and if you wish to challenge the order, contact the court which made the order (you should be served with a copy) and ask that a hearing date be set where you can present your case as to why the order is not needed.
As an alternative to an injunction, the court may ask you to give an undertaking not to carry out the actions in the future, that you're accused of having done in the past. See our separate guide on undertakings:Undertakings
If you have never been diagnosed with a mental illness or received treatment, make the Court aware of this. If necessary, volunteer for a psychological evaluation and have a Forensic Psychologist carry out the investigation, If you don´t qualify for legal aid, ask that your ex-partner either pay for this, or that the costs be shared. Be aware that the cost of a psychological assessment can run into several thousand pounds. Refer to our separate guide on Psychological Assessments for more information:Psychological Assessments
A cheaper alternative is to have your GP provide you with a written medical opinion, but be aware that you should ask the court´s consent for such information to be admitted as evidence. Be aware that your ex-partner or their legal team may challenge whether a GP is sufficiently qualified to make a diagnosis of mental illness or personality disorder. If you are seeing a counsellor, similarly, you might consider them to write a letter to the court to be included with your evidence.
In our experience, where there is no prior history of mental illness, allegations of mental health problems are not worth pursuing, unless there is clear evidence of serious behavioural problems.
Mental illness is also commonplace. 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems during their lifetime, and 1 in 6 people are experiencing some form of mental health problem in any given year. Having a mental illness does not necessarily mean a person is a less capable parent. At the time of separation, depression and stress are natural reactions to one of life´s most difficult events. If you are struggling emotionally while separating (which is entirely understandable, and very normal), please refer to our guide on Managing Stress:Managing Stress
If you´re accused of drug or alcohol addiction, consider paying for a forensic drug or alcohol test to confirm your innocence. You, or your solicitor can arrange this. Ask that the test be based on hair samples, as hair records a history of substance abuse over a far longer period than urine or blood test. Each centimetre of hair growth records roughly one month of abuse history (or shows you to be ´clean´ for that period of time). When a substance is ingested it is absorbed into the blood and circulates around the body. Every hair follicle has its own blood supply and the drug or alcohol transfers from the blood to the hair and is absorbed into its core. With regard to alcohol testing, hair samples help in showing chronic and excessive alcohol abuse (and may be used in conjunction with blood tests and clinical assessment).
Be aware though that you will need the court´s consent before arranging a drugs test, or the court may refuse your request to admit the results as evidence.
For the purpose of the test, hair samples can be taken from any part of the body (if you are follicly challenged!).
Concateno/TrichoTech is one company that carries out drug and alcohol tests for family court proceedings (and social services). If you are organising a test yourself, they will either arrange for one of their representatives to take the sample, or you might consider having your GP to take the sample (as an independent, they are less likely to be challenged as to the hair sample being yours). If using a GP to collect the sample, they, and not you, should post the sample to the testing company. The link below takes you to the Concanto/TrichoTech website:Concateno/TrichoTech
A clear, forensic test result is an effective tool in challenging the validity of allegations.
Be very careful about what you post on social websites. Do not mention your ex-partner at all. Be aware that you might be found guilty of contempt of court if you publicise details of your court case which might identify the child concerned, and that any website you post details to could similarly run foul of this law (section 97 of the Children Act 1989). Details of who you can discuss your case with are included in our guide on Courts and Confidentiality:Courts and Confidentiality
If accused of verbally denigrating your ex-partner, you might consider asking if there are written statements provided by the people your alleged to have spoken to. If these statements support your ex-partner´s allegation, consider asking that these people be called as witnesses. If the Court agrees, the witnesses can be challenged and cross-examined by your solicitor or barrister (or by yourself, if you are not represented).
You might consider asking that a Guardian ad Litem be appointed to represent your children´s wishes, and/or that an independent child psychologist interview your children. You will need the Court´s permission for this and must not seek to organise this without the court´s consent. The Police and CAFCASS or Social Services are likely to be involved in any investigation.
The role of the Guardian ad Litem, and circumstances in which they may be appointed are included in our separate guide:Guardians Ad Litem
If you face an allegation of poor parenting ability, consider asking the court to accept statements from people in a position to comment on your parenting skills. A report from the Health Visitor (for babies and toddlers), playgroup, a General Practitioner, school reports, and statements from friends and family may be of assistance. If CAFCASS carry out an investigation, suggest they contact these people to gain impartial opinions as to your parenting ability.
If you have been the children´s primary carer, and these allegations have not been made prior to separation, question why these allegations are being made now? The Court should also consider this.
When presenting your ability to provide adequate care, set out how your children´s health, stage of development, behaviour and involvement in outside activities compares to that of their peers.
Where accusations of poor parenting arise from the accuser´s anxiety, consider the following courses of action:
Such a step is helpful for a number of reasons:
Your motivation is not to prove the other parent is a liar, but to recognise that they have anxieties, and to respect their feelings, even if you consider any allegations to be (and if they are) groundless.
Links to the organisations mentioned in this section are provided below:
First, you need to establish if this is actually true. You can ask the Court to have CAFCASS meet the children, and provide a ´Wishes and Feelings´ report to the court.
If the children are saying they do not wish to see you, it is important to establish why!
Please refer to our separate guides on Parental Alienation and the role of the Guardians Ad Litem
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Michael Robinson © 2014
Family law information for parents whose children are resident in England and Wales
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