Children are particularly at risk in family environments where domestic violence or abuse is a feature. There is a consensus amongst the global medical, psychological, and social welfare communities that the emotional development of children exposed to domestic violence may be seriously impaired. The harm arises whether the children are exposed directly to the violence, or whether they experience it indirectly – seeing it, hearing it, or seeing a parent in the aftermath of abuse. The research supporting this view is accepted beyond serious debate.
Courts therefore take the potential for harm to children through domestic violence extremely seriously. Judges are required to consider at every stage when dealing with children cases whether domestic violence is an issue, and the factual and welfare issues that arise if it is.
When there has been a history of domestic violence or domestic abuse in a family, it is vital that the children are protected from further harm during contact with the violent parent. Appropriate safeguards to manage contact safely must be put in place.
A pattern of domestic violence is not an automatic bar to children having contact with a parent in the future. However, that pattern will inform the court about how contact is best managed. For example, is there a need for behavioural or other therapy by the violent parent before contact can take place safely? Are other forms of contact – indirect – better to enable the link to remain whilst ensuring children are protected? The domestic violence history will be looked at to decide whether contact should occur, and if so on what terms.
In the event contact with a violent parent is thought appropriate, there are many practical safeguards which can be deployed. These include:
These measures can also be used in conjunction with the orders under the FLA and / or the PHA.