How do I leave an abusive relationship? Taking the first legal steps

No one should feel like they can’t leave an abusive relationship for legal reasons. The figures for domestic abuse in the United Kingdom show that 1 in 4 women will be affected in their lifetime, whilst 1 in 6 men will also experience some form of abuse at the hands of their partner. Whilst it accounts for 16% of all reported violent crime, it is also important to be aware that it is not just physical violence, it can also be financial abuse or a multitude of coercive behaviours.

The first steps

If you feel that you are in an abusive relationship that you can no longer survive in, the first step is filing for a non-molestation order. This is a civil order that can be obtained by anyone who has been the victim of domestic abuse. There are a few different reasons that someone might consider taking out a non-molestation order. These can include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Controlling behaviour
  • Intimidating behaviour
  • Harassment

Someone who is a victim of this kind of behaviour can apply to the court for a non-molestation order against someone who is legally defined as an ‘associated person’. This can include not just spouses and ex-spouses but also:

  • Civil partner/ex-civil partners
  • Cohabitees/Former cohabitees
  • Family members

The order means that the accused cannot take certain actions against the victim, such as approach them or visit their house. It can also be ordered that they do not contact the victim on the phone or on social media. There is a time limit on how long this order lasts, but you can apply for an extension before it expires if you feel that you would still need protection.

Further steps – What is an occupation order?

Domestic abuse is the most common reason for homelessness in the UK, but an occupation order can be used to grant someone access back into their property. They can also be used to keep certain people away from a property and its surroundings. They are usually served against abusive partners.

Occupation orders help to ensure that victims can live in the property safely and peacefully, without fear of the abusive ex-partner returning.

The order can be tailored to include who is responsible for maintaining the property and who should be paying, or contributing to, the mortgage or rent and bills.

In order to be able to apply for an occupation order, you must be able to show that you are in some way associated with the person that you want to file the order against. This means having a relationship with them of some kind, whether they are your partner, ex-partner, relative, cohabitant or someone you have been involved with in court proceedings before.

You must also be able to prove that you are legally entitled to live in the property, either as an owner, joint-owner or tenant. You can also apply if you were married to the owner or the legal tenant.

When deciding whether to grant you your occupation order, the judge will consider:

  • The housing needs of you and your family
  • The behaviour and conduct of both you and your partner
  • Your financial situation
  • The impact the occupation order will have on everyone involved, also known as the ‘balance of harm.’

In some cases, the judge may decide it’s necessary to impose both an occupation and a non-molestation order, especially when the case involves a particularly aggressive or violent offender.

When dealing with a situation like this, expert family law solicitors are the best professionals to help you get the best possible outcome and move on with your life.