The recent Helen and Rob storyline, which is still playing out in the world’s longest running soap, The Archers, has shocked its listeners. The writers have taken an 18 month break from storylines which revolve around farm yard animals to highlight the fact that domestic abuse is just as likely to occur in affluent middle class homes as it is in others. It’s clearly been a valuable storyline in terms of raising awareness of domestic abuse, which many call a silent epidemic. So far over £110,000 has been raised for Refuge, a charity for women and children who are the victims of domestic abuse.
Could Helen’s story have been different? Could anything have been done to protect her from Rob’s abuse and prevent her from getting to the point at which she felt she had no alternative other than to kill Rob to protect herself and her son? The storyline culminated in Helen stabbing Rob in a scene akin to that Eastenders’ Little Mo murdering Trevor in the kitchen with the iron, but against the middle class background of scenic Ambridge rather than dreary Walford.
As a victim of domestic violence Helen could have sought protection from Rob by applying to the family court for a Non-Molestation Order and Occupation Order. As Rob’s wife and the victim of domestic abuse Helen would have been entitled to apply for both of these orders.
A Non-Molestation Order is effectively an injunction which prohibits the person who has been abusive continuing to behave in this way. Practically that can mean stopping them contacting the victim or their family directly or indirectly or coming within a certain distance of the victim or their home. If they breach the order it is a criminal offence and they can be arrested. It is possible to make an emergency application without having to notify the abuser. The court will normally make the order on the same day and in their absence. If that happens it is necessary to go back to court on a later date so that they have a chance to respond.
For people who are not lucky enough to own an organic cheese shop like Helen and do not have the financial resources to fund either of these orders, legal aid is available in certain instances. Recent case law provides that victims now only need to provide evidence that the abuse happened in the last 24 months, which was previously 12 months.
As with Helen and Rob, often those being abused live with their abuser and have no where else to go. So a Non-Molestation Order can be of limited help on its own. It is also possible to apply for an Occupation Order. Occupation orders can provide protection to prevent an abuser from continuing to live in the home or regulate the terms of their continued occupation of it. The court can attach a power of arrest to the order so the Police can be made aware of any breach and have the power to arrest the abuser for that breach. Again it is possible to make an application for an Occupation Order as an emergency and without having to let the abuser know. If that is the case the same emergency timescales and requirement to return to court apply as they would for a Non-Molestation Order made in this way.
When deciding whether to grant an Occupation Order the court applies two tests. The first is a ‘balance of harm test’ which assesses whether the victim or any child will suffer significant harm if the order is not granted. If that test favours not granting the order, then the court can apply a second test which requires it to look at the housing needs of the parties to the application and their children, their respective financial needs, the effect of any order on the health and wellbeing of any children and their conduct towards each other.
An Occupation Order is a short term measure. It will be necessary to come to an overall agreement as to how the home and any other assets will be dealt with if the couple are going to separate.
If you require any advice or assistance on any of the issues raised in this blog please contact a member of our family team.