What is domestic violence?
violence is the physical, emotional, sexual or mental abuse of one person
by another, with whom they have or have had an intimate relationship. Most reported cases of such
violence are by men against women and we refer to the abused as female in
this leaflet. However, women
too can be guilty of violence against men and this information is
applicable to both male and female domestic violence.
assaulted by someone you know or live with is just as much a crime as is
violence from a stranger. Everyone has the right to protection under
Who does the 1998 law protect?
Under the new law, the court can make an order in
favour of a much wider range of people, called “associated persons”. As well as spouses and cohabitees it includes:
Other family members
People who are parents or have
parental responsibility for the same child
Former spouses or cohabitees
People who used to be engaged to
each other (they will need proof of engagement).
People who are living in the same
household other than as lodger or tenant”. This could cover, for example a
group of friends sharing a house or a gay or lesbian couple.
What can the court do for them?
Under the new law, the court has two main powers. It can grant a non-molestation
order, which prohibits the other party from molesting the applicant or
another associated person. Molestation
is a wider term than violence (although violence is included). It includes any behaviour which
will upset or annoy the applicant, so it may include things like stalking,
making nuisance phone calls, or damaging their property. The applicant does not have to
prove that the other party has been violent; but the evidence does have to
be sufficient for a judge to hold that an order is necessary to protect
The court’s second main power is to grant an
occupation order. This is
available to a narrower range of people than a non-molestation order,
because it can involve putting the other party out of their home. It is available to a partner,
cohabitee, former partner or former cohabitee or to someone who is an “associated
person” and has an interest in the house – like being a co-owner or
having their name on the rent book.
Does the new law just deal with violence in
Family Homes and Domestic Violence Order does not deal with all cases of
“non-stranger” violence, but equally, is relevant to family disputes
which do not involve violence; for example, where there is a dispute about
who should live in a house. However, the applicant will have to
show that the situation is quite serious to get an order putting the
respondent out of the house
How can I apply for one of these orders?
It is advisable
to go to a solicitor who specialises in family law. The Law Society or
Women’s Aid can help to find one in your area. You may be eligible for
What if there are children in the family?
When one parent
has been violent to the other, a non-molestation order is in place and
they have separated, the possibility of future violence is one which the
court will have to consider when making a contact order on behalf of a
services have become involved because someone in the house is physically
or sexually abusing a child, the court can order the abuser to leave the
house, provided that there is another appropriate adult prepared to remain
in the house with the child.
What happens if an order is broken?
Breach of a
non-molestation order or an occupation order is a criminal offence, with a
maximum penalty of three months in prison or a substantial fine. The police have the power to
arrest someone caught breaking an order, and will not hesitate to do so.
What happens if I leave my home due
to violence? Will this affect my rights?
Of course a
court order is not the answer for everyone; some orders are breached, and
some people may know that seeking an order will exacerbate an already
dangerous situation. If you
feel so unsafe that you feel it necessary to leave home, you should do so. You may feel safer living with
another family member or friend. Women’s Aid can also provide emergency
accommodation for women and their children.
If you are thinking about leaving home you should consider the need
to make arrangements for your children too, and should seek advice from a
solicitor. However, the fact
that you leave your home to escape violence by your partner will NOT
affect your property rights in the house in subsequent divorce
What happens if someone is too
frightened to bring court proceedings?
If someone is
too frightened to bring court proceedings, they should still seek advice
and support. Women’s Aid or
other support groups will have met many people in the same position in the
past, and most police stations now have a Domestic Violence Liaison
Officer who will also be able to give advice about safety.
How can the police help?
other agency has the authority of the police as law enforcers. Effective intervention by police officers can break the cycle
of abuse and misery. It can
act as a deterrent to perpetrators. There
are specialist trained Domestic Violence Officers who will be able to
offer support and advice and they can be contacted through your local
police station. They will
also be able to offer support during any legal proceedings.
Arrestable offenses- what happens next?
The more serious offences are tried by
County Courts or the Crown Courts.
magistrates courts are said to deal with less serious offences, they have
power to hear cases up to and including fairly serious crimes of violence,
and many domestic violence cases are heard here. If an abuser is taken before a magistrate
following arrest, then the court will either remand him in custody or
release him on bail. This will depend on the seriousness of the charge and
other factors, as well as police recommendations. Bail conditions can be set which
can include staying away from the victim or the victim’s home and
In an emergency DIAL 999
If a person is being abused
by a partner or ex partner they have the right to leave home and get
temporary accommodation. This
will not affect their right to return home or rights in the tenancy or
ownership of their home.
A woman (with or without
children) fleeing from an abusive relationship can get emergency or
temporary accommodation by contacting Women’s Aid or their local Housing
Executive Office or the Homeless Advice Centre.
What can the Housing Executive do?
The N.I Housing Executive
has a legal duty to provide temporary accommodation when a person becomes
homeless due to domestic violence. Get advice on what to do from Women’s
Aid, the Citizens Advice Bureau or a solicitor.
Women living in B&B accommodation, refuges
and hostels maybe eligible for housing benefit. The Northern Ireland Housing
Executive (NIHE) administers this benefit.
Claims should be made as soon as possible as they cannot be
The financial position of abused women remains
unsatisfactory, as most families have to depend on the state benefit
system. For women in refuges
and others facing marital breakdown, sorting out the financial aspects can
be a daunting and time-consuming exercise.
It is important that women are informed of their entitlements and
supported through the process.
The Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Women’s Aid and
the Department of Health & Social Services can provide advice on
is also available from local independent advice centres and some women’s