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Domestic Abuse, Child Contact and the Family Courts

All-Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violence: Parliamentary Briefing

This Briefing from the Parliamentary Hearing held on domestic abuse, child contact and the family courts, by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Domestic Violence, highlights the urgent need for an end to cross-examination of survivors of domestic abuse by their abuser in the family court if they do not have legal representation. All survivors must be protected from physical or emotional harm whilst on the family court estate and taking part in child arrangements order proceedings.

Women and children’s experiences of domestic abuse do not end when the relationship with their abuser ends. This APPG recognises that the challenges women face after ending a relationship with a perpetrator of domestic abuse are frequently exacerbated by the treatment they receive when dealing with child contact and the family courts. They are also at increased risk of continued violence and homicide.

Many women report feeling re-victimised and re-traumatised through the family court process. They can find it difficult to access formal legal advice and representation, and now routinely end up being cross-examined by their abuser when they are representing themselves in court as Litigants in Person. We heard clear evidence, which will be explored in this briefing, suggesting that the pervasive assumption that family courts are unfairly biased towards mothers and against fathers is false. This is particularly pertinent when it comes to families where there has been a history of domestic violence.

The impact of unsafe child contact in families where there has been, or still is, domestic abuse can be devastating. Whilst only a minority (one in ten) of parental separations reach the family courts in England and Wales, domestic violence is the most common welfare issue raised.

To investigate these issues further, the APPG on Domestic Violence, supported by Women’s Aid, conducted a Parliamentary Hearing on domestic abuse, child contact and the family courts in order to shed light on the key issues that survivors of domestic abuse and their children are facing in the family courts, and to make some clear recommendations for change.