Experiencing domestic violence is unacceptable, and your safety is paramount. If you or your children are in immediate danger, call the police. To protect against future violence, you can seek a non-molestation order from the courts. This legal injunction prohibits your abuser from harassing or harming you and your children. In this article, we cover everything you need to know about non-molestation orders and how to apply for one. Consult a family law solicitor for guidance and support throughout the process. Remember, you have the right to safety and protection.
How effective is a non-molestation order?
When a court issues a non-molestation order, it basically proclaims that the abuser (in this case, your partner or ex-partner, or even an ‘associated’ individual) cannot take any harmful action against you, or puts you or your children in harmful ways. The order prohibits him/her from approaching you (victim), use violence or abuse you, act in a threatening manner, or even visit any property that you own. Generally, it prohibits the abuser from doing anything that would amount to harassment or cause distress to you, including frequent and unwanted contact, either through phone calls, social media, or text messages.
When a non-molestation order is breached, either by the abuser or another person acting on his or her behalf, then the victim (in this case, you) can contact the police who will arrest the perpetrator and present them to a court of law. If found guilty of a breach of non-molestation order guidelines, the perpetrator will face charges for a criminal offence, where he or she can be dealt with by a fine or imprisonment of up to 5 years, or sometimes even both. Even though a minor breach may not attract such a custodial sentence, any serious or persistent breaches certainly will.
Moreover, apart from seeking the non-molestation order, you can also seek to remain in the family home, and that means excluding the abuser. In such a case, what you need is to seek an occupation order, which aims to give you and your kids some stability and peace of mind. This order is granted in the case of an ‘associated person’. But for your spouse, if the abuse is too much to bear, and you can’t live with him/her under the same roof, the judge can issue an order to remove the abuser from the family home. However, these kinds of orders can be complicated at times which is why you need to seek the right advice beforehand.
Who can apply for a non-molestation order?
Application for a non-molestation order can be made by associated persons. Now, a person is deemed associated with another if they were or have been married to each other or civil partners, cohabitants (living together as a couple) or former cohabitants, or, have or have had an intimate personal relationship with each other. This list also includes individuals who have agreed to marry or enter into a civil relationship with each other, individuals who have a child together – whether adopted or biological – or a relative. Remember, all these apply to both same-sex and mixed-sex partners.
When should I seek a non-molestation order?
If you have been suffering from domestic abuse and the abuser falls under the category of an ‘associated person’, you should apply to a family court for a non-molestation order. You don’t deserve to be abused, more so suffer physical assault, leading you to fear for your own life. So, in the unfortunate event that a spouse or an associated individual is physically or emotionally abusing you, it is important that you act expeditiously and obtain the order. If you feel that he or she might harm you in the near future, you also need to obtain the order. Remember, prevention is much better than cure! Therefore, never hesitate. The sooner you apply for a non-molestation order, the better for you or your children, as it will be able to control the conduct and behaviour of the abuser.
How do you challenge a non-molestation order?
There are those who are capable of misusing this civil injunction in an attempt to gain an unfair advantage over the other party in matters that touches on them both such as children proceedings, access to legal aid, immigration or social housing purposes, or even out of vindictiveness. Now, if you are a respondent in such an unfair situation, you can apply with the court, where you will be allowed to present your case. In so doing, better ensure that you have enough evidence to support your case. If enough evidence is presented, the judge might dismiss the non-molestation order. In some instances, the judge might accept undertakings or cross-undertakings.
Normally, a non-molestation order is not effective until it is served to the respondents. If you are the respondents and aren’t satisfied with the issuance of the order, there is always a hearing date set by the court where you can go present your counter-arguments against the necessity of a non-molestation order. And if the date isn’t indicated, you can request the court of the same. If the court decides an undertaking or cross-undertaking is what is needed in the case, then the non-molestation order will be easily dismissed. And if the court is convinced and believes that the order isn’t at all necessary, it will be dismissed, even without the necessity for undertakings. This is to tell you that a non-molestation order can’t be improperly obtained. You will need to have enough and justifiable grounds to obtain one.
When a hearing date is set, and both parties are in attendance, then there is a chance for the court to consider an undertaking (a formal promise to the court), especially when the respondent doesn’t agree with the application. Please note that this undertaking, or promise to the court, doesn’t at all mean that the respondent is admitting to what he or she is being accused of, or that the court believes he or she is guilty. Moreover, the fact that an applicant applies for a non-molestation order doesn’t absorb them of any wrong doings in the future, meaning they could as well end up abusing the respondent instead. So, to curb this, the parties can commit to a cross-undertaking where both the applicant and the respondent promises not to harm or commit any violent acts against each other. Breaching such a commitment, or better yet, an undertaking has the same effect as breaking a court order and may amount to a jail sentence.
Some helpful dos and don’ts
- Ensure that you understand the terms of the non-molestation order. For maximum protection, it is important to understand every aspect of the order. After all, how would you know that the respondent is breaching the order if you don’t know anything about it?
- Have a copy of the non-molestation order at all times, for reference.
- In the event of domestic abuse, ensure that you provide as much information about it as you can in your application. Also, ensure that the evidence is as clear and concise as possible.
- It is also important that you keep contact details that you use to call for help in case the respondent has breached the order.
- Something else, never ever forget how important you are. Never ever put up with an abusive partner, or in an abusive relationship. Do something about it, today!
- Never dismiss the severity the abuse has for you or your children.
- Don’t make an application to gain an unfair advantage over the other party. Only obtain a non-molestation order as a protective measure.
- Lastly, never hesitate to seek help from a qualified family solicitor if you are in trouble.
Frequently Asked Questions
A non-molestation order is a legal order issued by a court in the UK under family law. It aims to protect individuals and their children from molestation, harassment, and domestic abuse by establishing boundaries and restrictions on the respondent’s behavior.
A non-molestation order sets out specific provisions that prohibit the respondent from engaging in certain actions, such as approaching the applicant, contacting them, or entering specific locations. It creates a legally enforceable framework that aims to prevent further harm and ensure the safety of the applicant and any relevant children.
Molestation can encompass a wide range of harmful behaviours, including physical violence, assault, threats of violence, verbal abuse, harassment, stalking, or coercive control. It can also include actions that cause fear, distress, or harm to the applicant, both physically and emotionally.
A non-molestation order is time-limited. Typically, it is made until a further court order and its length is reviewed at the return hearing. But where a court orders that the non-molestation order remains in force, it’s usually for about 6-12 months. However, the victim can always ask for an extension prior to the order’s expiry, if he or she still feels the need to continue with the protection, and the court deems it necessary.
Before you even begin the process of application, you first need to determine whether the order should be made ‘ex parte’ or ‘on notice’. An ex parte application is one where the respondent isn’t notified. This is done in cases where the court considers the applicant, or any other relevant party involved in the application is at risk of significant harm if an order is not issued immediately. However, there is a lot that goes into consideration before issuing an ex parte order – there is a lot you need to prove. On the other hand, an on-notice application is one where the respondent is notified or is served with the application plus all the supporting documents before the order is made.
Now, with that, here is a step by step guide on how you can obtain a non-molestation order:
- You will first obtain a non-molestation form which you will fill and then draft a statement to go with the application. The application will detail the specific orders you are seeking from the court, while the statement will set out the reasons why the application is being made.
- If it’s an ex parte application, then the hearing takes place in hours’ time – normally, the next day. After presenting your case, the judge will consider the application and will then make an order as he or she sees fit. Of course, the order will be made in absence of the respondent, who will then be served thereafter. Once served, the order immediately becomes effective, and he or she will be obliged to obey. But the respondent is given a chance to appeal if he or she isn’t satisfied. There is a further hearing date that’s known as the return date hearing, which the respondent is notified about, and allowed to attend and present his or her case. Thereafter, the court will decide on the course of action to take.
- If it’s an on-notice application, then the statement and the application will be filed to the court, where the court will then set a hearing date, and then send back a notice of a hearing date. Then, the notice plus supporting documents will be served to the respondent, who will have the right to attend the hearing and present his or her case.
- After the applications have been made, then the proceedings will follow where all the parties involved will put their case before the judge. After that, the case might proceed in three ways:
- The judge may issue a further order that would last for a period of 6 to 12 months and will be served to the respondent, regardless of whether he or she is in attendance or not.
- The respondent, in an attempt to settle the case, may offer an undertaking. And pursuant to section 46 of the Family Law Act 1996, and if satisfied with the evidence presented, the court may accept the undertaking. An undertaking can be accepted at the early stages of the proceedings, thereby preventing both parties from having to present any evidence in court, or having to attend the final hearing, which is a lot of work. Also, even though the police can’t arrest the respondent for breaching an undertaking as they do for a non-molestation order breach, he or she would still be charged with contempt of court and might be sent to prison.
- The third course of action would be for the court to determine how the case will conclude, in the event that no agreement is reached between the parties. The judge may also direct that the parties provide further evidence and will then list the case for a long hearing where the parties will present their evidence. After that, the judge will make a final decision on the case, which will be binding to all the parties involved.
Breaching a non-molestation order is a serious offense with legal consequences. The respondent can face criminal charges, fines, imprisonment, or both. It is crucial for the applicant to report any breaches to the authorities promptly and provide evidence of the violation.
If someone requires assistance in obtaining a non-molestation order, it is advisable to seek the guidance of a family law solicitor who specialises in domestic violence cases. There are also support services and organizations available that can provide guidance, counseling, and practical assistance throughout the process.
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