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Child law  |  Court  |  Domestic Abuse  |  Family law

Should a domestic abuser have contact with their children?

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Walker Family Law
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If a parent has been found by the court to have seriously abused the other parent, or even their children, should the court then still be able to allow them to have contact with the children, or should the finding of abuse mean that there should be no contact?

It is a difficult question, and an MP, who herself has personal experience of court proceedings dealing with this situation, is proposing a change to the law.

The MP is Kate Kniveton. Before we look at what she is proposing, we need to look at the law as it is at present.

The present law: safety first

Judge Lieven established current law in final hearing of Ms. Kniveton’s case.

In the case, which concerned arrangements for Ms Kniveton’s child, the court had made some very serious findings of domestic abuse against the father, including that he had physically and verbally assaulted Ms Kniveton, and even that he had raped her.

Despite these findings, the court initially decided that the father should continue to have contact with the child, at a contact centre, and even that Ms Kniveton should pay half of the contact centre fees.

In her judgment Mrs Justice Lieven explained the law as it stands at present, which states that where there are findings of domestic abuse the court should only make an order for contact if it is satisfied that the safety of the child and the parent with whom the child is living can, as far as possible, be secured before, during and after contact, and that the parent with whom the child is living will not be subjected to further domestic abuse by the other parent.

Mrs. Justice Lieven halted direct contact between child and father due to safety concerns for child and Ms. Kniveton.

The proposed law: A presumption of no contact

In the light of her experiences Ms Kniveton, who feels that the present law came “dangerously close” to letting her down, is now calling upon the government to change the law to bring about a presumption of no contact between an abusive parent and their children.

Whether such a presumption is introduced remains to be seen, but Justice Minister Mike Freer has confirmed that a review into the current presumption of parental involvement, which states that it is generally in a child’s best interests to have a relationship with both parents, will be published by “late spring or early summer”.

Should laws on contact between domestic abusers and children be strengthened, as Ms. Kniveton suggests, or kept the same?

A difficult balancing act

Clearly, the safety of the child and the abused parent must be protected at all costs, as is the case with the law as it stands at present, and a presumption of no contact would fit in with this.

But on the other hand the welfare of the child is paramount, and there may well be cases where the child’s welfare dictates that they should continue to have contact with a parent, despite the fact that that parent has been found to be abusive. In such cases a presumption of no contact could work against the child’s welfare.

We will leave the last word to Ms Kniveton.

Speaking in the Commons she said: “Despite the court confirming that my child’s father was abusive, a rapist, it was decided that contact should continue through a contact centre and that I should pay for 50% of the cost of that contact.

“I couldn’t believe that anyone felt that my child, whom I’d been fighting to protect, would benefit from further contact with such an abusive and violent man, and that I, someone who had been subjected to that violent behaviour, should not only facilitate that contact, but also pay towards it.”

How can we help?

If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, seeking legal help promptly is crucial for your safety and well-being.

For more information about domestic abuse and how we can help, see this page.