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Legal Assistance for Domestic Abuse Sufferers

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Domestic abuse can destroy families and lives and we at Family Law Group are aware that not everyone knows who to turn to for legal assistance. Megan Edwards, solicitor at Milton Keynes Family Law examines what options legal options there are, what support networks are available and whether Legal Aid might be available to assist.

What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse is now defined as being any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse. This can therefore encompass the following types of abuse:

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Sexual
  • Financial
  • Emotional

Domestic abuse is ferociously prevalent. In particular, there has been a surge of cases since the COVID-19 pandemic with victims not being in a position to escape from their abuser.

In 2019, The Office for National Statistics published the following worrying statistics:

  • Almost one in three women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime
  • Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales alone
  • In the year ending March 2019, an estimated 1.6 million women and 786,000 men experienced domestic abuse

 

If I am experiencing domestic abuse, what are my options?

With domestic abuse being so prevalent,  it is important to know what your options are in terms of securing protection. At Family Law Group we understand that taking the first step towards dealing with domestic abuse and protecting yourself can be incredibly difficult, but it is important that if you are experiencing domestic abuse, you take steps to protect yourself and your family.

If you are at imminent danger or risk of harm, it is imperative that you contact the police to ensure your immediate safety.

Family Law Group can provide you with advice regarding your options, which include urgent applications to Court for a Non-Molestation Order and/or Occupation Order.

A Non-Molestation Order can prohibit the perpetrator from behaving in certain ways towards you and contacting you. An Occupation Order can regulate the occupation of the family home and exclude the perpetrator from occupying or entering the property. Both of these Orders can be applied for with notice to the perpetrator, or in the most serious of cases, without notice to them.

 

Legal Aid Assistance

One of the first and biggest questions on someone’s mind may be how am I going to afford legal advice?

Legal Aid may be available to you, which will help you pay for legal advice and representation in Court. In order to qualify for Legal Aid you will have to demonstrate to the Legal Aid Agency that you cannot afford to pay for legal representation yourself, and that your case is so serious that there are merits in making a Court application.

Please note, that Legal Aid is not automatic for victims of domestic abuse.

Difficulty often arises however in demonstrating that you cannot afford to pay for representation yourself, and as such access to legal advice and representation can often be limited for some people.

Proving to the Legal Aid Agency that you cannot afford to pay for legal representation yourself does not just concern your income. The Legal Aid Agency will also look at any capital you may own which includes any equity held in your home if you own your property. This unfortunately often results in people not being eligible for Legal Aid; despite in some cases the equity being tied up in a jointly owned home with the abuser which cannot be released.

The Law Society has called on the government to provide more help and support for victims of domestic abuse. With domestic abuse being so prevalent the need to end Legal Aid barriers has never been higher.

The Ministry of Justice promised, in 2019, to review the means testing criteria for Legal Aid for vulnerable victims, but it was announced earlier this year that this would be temporarily put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is of course disappointing given the surge in domestic abuse cases as a direct result of COVID-19.

For those who do not qualify for Legal Aid, here at Family Law Group we offer incredibly reasonable and competitive fixed fee structures across all our offices. 

If you are directly impacted by Legal Aid barriers and you are not in a position to pay for legal advice, it is important that you do not let this deter you from seeking help from the Family Courts. You can apply for protection without a solicitor. We appreciate that this of course will appear daunting but it is possible for the Court to put protective measures in place such as screens and separate waiting rooms. You may also be able to have the assistance of a McKenzie friend to act as a form of support and to assist you in Court by taking notes.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse, do not suffer in silence. You are not alone, and here at Family Law Group we are here to support you every step of the way. Please contact one of our offices to speak to a member of staff to arrange an appointment to discuss matters confidentially.

Important contacts

In cases of an emergency situation, please contact the police. If you call the police but are unable to talk and you are calling from a mobile dial 55, this will mean that the call will still be put through to the police and they will be notified that you are in a situation that makes talking or whispering difficult. Some other important contacts for support and help include:

  • Refuge 24 hour helpline: 0808 2000 247
  • Womens Aid: helpline@womensaid.org.uk
  • 24 hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247
  • Men’s Advice Line: 0808 8010327

If you wish to have a confidential talk with a solicitor about any of the issues raised in this blog, please contact Megan Edwards on 07827 787174 or at megan.edwards@familylawgroup.co.uk

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