In 2016, following a report from Women’s Aid, the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby reviewed and re-drafted Practice Direction 12J, which deals with domestic abuse and harm in children matters. The newly drafted Practice Direction comes into force in October 2017.

There have been a number of changes to the direction. The main change is the court’s review of the term “domestic violence”. It now uses the term “domestic abuse” and the definition is much wider and encompassing a lot more areas such as emotional abuse, financial abuse, honour based violence and forced marriage. It is also accepted that domestic abuse harms children.

The Practice Direction sets out guidance and rules for the family court and it’s practitioners to follow. Domestic abuse must be identified at an early stage. If needed, steps should be directed to have a hearing to determine the allegations of domestic abuse. This allows the court to have a factual basis upon which to then decide if a child should spend time with a parent.

The President clarifies that the court will presume that the involvement of a parent in a child’s life will further the child’s welfare BUT the court will consider each case carefully to decide if that presumption would put that child (or its parent) at risk of harm from domestic abuse. The court may need to hear evidence or have a report from CAFCASS. In more serious cases, a report from a psychologist may be needed to consider the risk a perpetrator of domestic abuse poses or the impact of domestic abuse on a parent or child if contact is promoted.

Domestic abuse occurs daily. Its impact on families is far reaching and often devastating. The family Court recognises these issues, and this Practice Direction will go someway to help ensure that families, particularly children are protected.

As a Resolution Accredited Specialist in Domestic Abuse and private law children matters (ie where children should live or who spend time with), I can advise you on any applications to court for a Child Arrangements Order where domestic abuse is an issue. You can contact me by calling 0845 287 0939 or email me through our online contact form.