Domestic Abuse in Children Cases
Separated parents, who are involved in court proceedings concerning their children, should be aware that if there are allegations of domestic abuse then the court may order that there be a fact finding hearing.
The purpose of such a hearing is to enable the court to hear evidence concerning the allegations in order that it may form a view as to whether the allegations are, on the balance of probability, true and, if so, what impact any findings by the court should have on the arrangements for the children going forwards. To use an obvious example, if a parent is found by the court to have over chastised his or her children, during episodes of alcohol consumption, then this will enable the court to consider what safeguards should be put in place in order to ensure that this does not happen again.
The importance of such hearings was highlighted, a number of years ago, following a series of cases which demonstrated the potential harm to children that may arise from domestic abuse within a family, regardless of whether the child is directly involved in any particular incident of abuse and whether the abuse takes a more subtle form than physical abuse.
The court now defines domestic abuse as not only physical violence or threatening behaviour but also controlling behaviour, which can encompass psychological or financial abuse.
The withdrawal of financial support, following separation, by the economically stronger parent to the dependant parent, who may have the care of the children, may have a significant effect on the dependent parent, who may be in a constant state of worry as to whether they will be able to pay the bills, put petrol in the car and feed the children. If this forms a pattern of the economically stronger parent seeking to undermine the financially weaker parent this will be of considerable concern to the court. This illustrates that the abuse does not, therefore, need to be physical in nature and may take various forms.
The practice, therefore, of delving into the past by the court, in order to enable it to decide what is best for the children, may expose a number of skeletons in the cupboard.
This is, of course, not to say that there will be fact finding hearings in all cases. The court will take a pragmatic approach and will recognise that the process of separation is extremely stressful, and difficult, for many people and during the course of which things may be said or done that one or both of the parties may subsequently regret.