Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has caused seismic changes to all of our lives, including our family life. During the lockdown we have all been required to isolate in our homes, forcing families to spend prolonged periods of time together. Combined with the disruption to our normal routines, for some this has resulted in a pressure cooker effect, leading to heated disputes. It has been reported by Refuge, a domestic abuse charity, that there has been a 25 per cent increase in calls for help during the lockdown.
It can be a particularly scary time if you live with a violent or abusive partner. For couples who have separated, we have also seen that difficulties organising child contact arrangements can be another source of abuse.
If you find yourself facing abuse, you may feel that at present you have few choices. Julie Dann family law expert at Warners Solicitors discusses below the options you do have. Help can be obtained, even during the lockdown and Julie would urge you to speak to someone for detailed advice. If you don’t feel able to talk on the phone, then you can email Julie on [email protected]
The Police are prepared – dial 999, press 55
If you are experiencing abuse or violence and worried about your immediate safety your first step should be to contact the Police.
If you are not able to find a private space to talk to make such a call, then you can use the ‘silent solutions’ system. This is accessed by dialling 999. When the operator asks what service you require, enter ‘55’ on your keypad. Without you having to speak, this is detected by the operator who then contacts your local Police force as an emergency.
The Police are continuing to deal with all domestic abuse incidents during the pandemic and more than 4,000 arrests for domestic abuse were made across London alone in the six weeks up to 19 April.
You are not a burden to them, and it is important that you know you will still get help even during these difficult times. The Police can arrest your partner and could place bail conditions against them. These conditions typically restrict them from being able to see you, offering immediate protection.
Legal advice on your options
If you are residing with an abusive partner, even where the abusive behaviour has started during the lockdown, you do not have to endure it.
All forms of abuse can significantly impact your wellbeing and those of any children living with you. Whether that abuse is of a physical nature or it is psychological, we can provide you with advice and representation in order to ensure you and your children are safe.
This may mean seeking a court order, known as an occupation order, which would enable you to reside in the house without your partner. Depending on your individual circumstances we may also recommend applying for a non-molestation order. This is a different type of court order which acts as an injunction prohibiting your partner from behaving in an abusive manner towards you.
Problems with child contact arrangements
Even where you no longer live together, it is not uncommon for formerly abusive partners to still continue to exert control using arrangements for the children as a tool to do so. Sadly, we have also seen this type of behaviour increase during the Covid-19 crisis.
Abusers are mistaken if they believe that little can be done during the lockdown to prevent their behaviour. This is not the case. If you are concerned about your rights and compliance with any current court order or agreement do not hesitate to contact us. We can advise you if the previous arrangements can continue safely in compliance with government advice, or if an alternative arrangement should now be looked at.
We can negotiate with your former partner or their representative in order to take the heat away from you dealing directly with them. If you would rather deal directly, then we can arm you with the correct information and legal position before you enter any discussions.
If no agreement can be reached, and an application needs to be made to the court or an existing order needs to be amended or extended, we can also advise and represent you during that process, even during this lockdown.
Abusive contact from a former partner
Abuse may happen at a distance and, with more time available during lockdown, some former partners have turned to the phone, email and social media to continue a campaign of harassment.
If this is something that you are facing, then we advise you to keep a written record of any abusive phone calls or exchanges that occur and if you have received abusive messages it is important to keep a copy of them. You may find it easiest to screen shot these messages and e-mail them to your solicitor. These can be used as evidence should a court order be required.
Contact us for advice
Your mental health during this pandemic is every bit as important as your physical health. If you are encountering more domestic disputes which you feel are getting out of hand, do not hesitate to contact us for some preliminary advice. At Warners we are still operating remotely, and our family team are on hand to assist you through this difficult time.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.