Domestic Abuse and Divorce

While most people know of the term ‘domestic abuse’, fewer are aware of what it constitutes, or the legal recourse available to those who may be suffering from it. Identifying and reporting domestic abuse can be a daunting prospect, but there are actions you can take. Here you will find guidance on how to recognise domestic abuse, and how to get legal help in the form of an injunction or a divorce.


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What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse is legally defined as:

any incident or pattern of incidences of controlling, coercive, or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between individuals aged 16 or over who are or have been associated with one another.

Abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, age, race, religion or sexuality. It can encompass, but is not limited to, psychological, sexual, financial and emotional abuse, as well as physical abuse.

Individuals associated with each other could be married or in a civil partnership, have agreed to enter into a married or civil partnership, have lived together as a couple, or have had an intimate personal relationship of a significant duration. They could also be relatives of, parents of, or have parental responsibility for, the same child.

One in four women and one in six men in England and Wales are likely to experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. 20 per cent of children in the UK have been exposed to domestic abuse.

A person suffering from domestic abuse may experience embarrassment or shame relating to their experiences, or they may not wish to get their abuser into trouble by reporting them. Many may be fearful of the repercussions from their abuser if they speak out. However, harmful behaviour is never acceptable, and is never the victim’s fault. The law offers protections in such cases, and there are steps to take if you, or someone you know, is in such a relationship.

Can I get an injunction against an abusive partner?

There are two types of injunction that the family court can provide in cases of domestic abuse.

Occupation order

This is used to exclude somebody from your home. It can be used to order someone to move out or stay away from the home; to keep a certain distance from the home; to stay in certain parts of the home at certain times, or to allow you back into the home if you have been locked out. It can also provide financial protections, such as ordering your abuser to continue to pay the mortgage, rent or bills.

When determining whether or not to issue an occupation order, the court will consider factors such as:

  • the financial resources of both parties
  • the housing needs of both parties (including any children)
  • the effect that making or not making the order will have on both parties and their children
  • the behaviour of both parties towards one another.

Non-molestation order

The other injunction that the court can issue is known as a non-molestation order. This is used to prevent someone from being violent, threatening violence, or harassing or intimidating you or your child.

It can also prevent someone from contacting you by telephone, online, or in person, or contacting you at your place of work. If you are not married and the abuser has no legal entitlement to the home, it can also prevent the abuser from going there. You can apply for this injunction even if you are still living with the abusive person.

The court will take into account factors such as your health, your safety and the well-being of you and your children when considering whether or not to grant such an order.

Can I divorce because of domestic abuse?

To apply for a divorce in England and Wales, you must provide the court with one of five reasons or ‘facts’ relating to why your marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’.

These reasons are:

  • adultery
  • unreasonable behaviour
  • desertion (for a minimum of two years)
  • two years separation (with consent)
  • five years separation (no consent required).

Domestic abuse falls under the category of unreasonable behaviour.

If you are filing for divorce because of abuse, you will state on your divorce petition that your spouse has been abusive to you during your marriage.

Bear in mind that you can only file for divorce based on unreasonable behaviour within six months of the last incident. If you continue to live together for longer than six months afterwards, you can no longer file on this basis.

It can be expensive to get help, but a victim of domestic abuse cannot be expected to stay in a violent situation for financial reasons. Legal aid exists for this reason.

To qualify for legal aid, you will need to provide evidence of the abuse. You can ask for evidence from bodies including:

  • the courts
  • the police
  • a multi-agency risk assessment conference
  • social services
  • a health professional
  • a refuge manager
  • a domestic violence support service
  • your bank
  • your employer or education or training provider
  • your benefits provider.

You can request the evidence by sending them a sample letter, and they will fill in the details for you.

Evidence may include the following:

  • that the abuser has been arrested, convicted, or has received a police caution for a relevant domestic violence offence
  • that the abuser has been issued a domestic violence protection notice, police bail for a domestic violence offence, or a relevant protective injunction
  • a copy of a finding of fact (made in the UK) that domestic violence has taken place
  • a letter from a health professional, independent domestic violence adviser, independent sexual violence adviser, local authority or housing association or organisation providing domestic violence support services
  • a refusal or admission to a refuge from a domestic violence support organisation
  • a multi-agency risk assessment conference
  • financial abuse.

The evidence you need will depend on whether you or your children have been victims. There may be some fees involved.

Note that not all solicitors offer legal aid, even if you have demonstrated that you are eligible. You will need to find a legal aid lawyer.

Where to get help

If you are suffering from domestic abuse and fear that your life is in danger, call 999. There are emergency services trained specifically to deal with domestic abuse within a marriage and ensure your safety.

There are also charitable organisations that can help. Some of the most common charities with expertise with domestic abuse include Refuge, Living Without Abuse, Women’s Aid, AVA and ManKind. The services they provide are confidential, so your privacy will be protected.


Do you need help with your divorce?

Get in touch now with one of our panel of specialist local family solicitors.

If relevant, please include below the name of the other party (so the solicitor can check they have not already provided advice to your partner):

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