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Is there a need for an inquiry into abusive parents' access to children?

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Dozens of parents have told the BBC Victoria Derbyshire programme their abusive ex-partners were granted unsupervised contact with their child.

When parents separate and they are unable to agree arrangements for their children, they may find themselves asking the Court to decide on issues such as:

  • Which parent will care for the child on a day to day basis and where he/she will reside,
  • who the child will have contact with.

In these circumstances, the Court may grant either a Child Arrangements Order (to live with) or a Child Arrangements Order (to spend time with). These Orders are contained in Section 8 Children Act 1989.

For further information about these Orders please refer to our website or contact our Family department at Emery Johnson Astills for assistance.

According to the recent article by the BBC, at least four children have been killed by a parent in the past five years after the Family Court approved contact arrangements. As a result, more than 120 MPs have written to the Government asking for an inquiry into how the Family Courts in England and Wales treat victims of domestic violence.

At Emery Johnson Astills, we have a specialist Domestic Abuse Team, so if you or someone you know is being subjected to domestic abuse we may be able to help you.

The Ministry of Justice has said that ‘a child’s welfare was always the priority and where there is evidence of domestic abuse, the Courts are bound by law to consider the potential harm to the child and this overrides any presumption of parental involvement. These principles are contained in the Children Act 1989 and the Court has to take into account the following.

  • The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child taking into account their age and understanding.
  • The child’s physical, emotional and education needs.
  • The likely effect on the child of any change in circumstances. The Court will see whether the status quo can be maintained for the child’s benefit.
  • The child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics of the child that the Court considers relevant.
  • Any harm that the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering.
  • How capable each of the child’s parents are and any relevant person the Court considers could meet the needs of the child.
  • The range of powers available to the Court.

The Court will not make an Order unless it considers that doing so would be better for the child than making no Order at all. This is called the No Order presumption.

Barrister, Charlotte Proudman has stated that she has witnessed Judges minimising domestic violence, often where the perpetrator is the father. 

A spokesperson for the UK judiciary said ‘that judges are required to consider all the evidence put forward and to reconcile any conflicting interests at a time that they know is exceptionally stressful for all of those involved.’

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) has said that ‘One of our most challenging professional tasks is to assess what level of parental involvement is safe and in the child’s best interests in cases where a parent has a history of domestic abuse…we must continue to reduce the risk of parents harming children by understanding these cases better and looking wider than the Court process.’

Should you wish to discuss the matters mentioned in this article please do not hesitate to contact our Family department at Emery Johnson Astills on 0116 255 4855 (Leicester office) or 01509 610 312 (Loughborough office).

We also have a specialist Domestic Abuse Team at Emery Johnson Astills, so if you or someone you know is being subjected to domestic abuse we may be able to help you.

You can also contact us via our website.