Finding Safety from Domestic Abuse: Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders

This article explores your legal options if you’re experiencing domestic violence, threats, or intimidation within your family home. It focuses on two types of injunctions available in family courts: non-molestation orders and occupation orders.

Protection from Violence and Harassment: Non-Molestation Orders

A non-molestation order prohibits your partner or spouse from harming or threatening you or your children. It can also cover intimidation, harassment, and pestering. The specific provisions depend on the type of harassment you’re facing.

Who Can Apply?

If you’ve been in an intimate relationship, even if it’s no longer ongoing, you might be eligible. This includes spouses, civil partners, cohabitants, fiancés, relatives, housemates, parents of children living in the home, and those in long-term intimate relationships. A family lawyer can confirm your eligibility.

The Application Process

To apply, you’ll need to fill out a court form and provide a detailed witness statement outlining the incidents. Depending on the urgency and safety concerns, the court may grant the order without notifying the other person (respondent). The respondent can then respond with their own statement. A hearing will be scheduled to determine the outcome.

The Court’s Decision

The court prioritizes the safety and well-being of you and any children involved. They’ll consider evidence of abuse and the need for protection. Molestation in this context encompasses physical, sexual, or psychological abuse with a serious impact on your health. A non-molestation order lists the prohibited behaviours for the respondent. It can be temporary or permanent.

Controlling Occupancy: Occupation Orders

An occupation order determines who can reside in the family home (or specific areas) and may restrict someone from entering nearby areas. It doesn’t affect ownership rights, just occupancy.

Who Can Apply?

Former or current spouses, civil partners, cohabitants, or those with legal rights to occupy the property (owners or tenants) can apply.

The Application Process

Similar to non-molestation orders, you’ll need a court form and a detailed witness statement explaining your reasons for seeking the order. The respondent will likely receive the application and have a chance to respond. A hearing will be held to decide on the order.

The Court’s Decision

The court uses different tests depending on your relationship with the respondent and your legal claim to the property. In some cases, they consider a “balance of harm” test, weighing the potential harm to individuals if the order is granted or denied. Other situations require the court’s discretion based on all circumstances. A family lawyer can explain the specific test relevant to your situation.

The Occupation Order

This order specifies who can live in the home and who is excluded. It may also include obligations regarding repairs, maintenance, and rent or mortgage payments. The order’s duration depends on your circumstances, typically lasting 6 or 12 months with the possibility of renewal.

Alternatives to Court Orders: Undertakings

Instead of a court order, you and the respondent can offer undertakings. These are binding promises to the court and carry the consequence of contempt of court (including potential imprisonment) for breach.