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'BIGGEST CHANGE' TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE LAWS

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'Part IV of the Family Law Act, which comes into effect tomorrow, represents the most significant strengthening of ...
'Part IV of the Family Law Act, which comes into effect tomorrow, represents the most significant strengthening of the civil laws dealing with the scourge of domestic violence that we have seen for the last 20 years,' the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, said today.

For the first time the new law provides a single set of civil remedies to deal with domestic violence, and also regulates who is allowed to occupy the family home, through two specific types of order, the occupation order and the non-molestation order. It also extends the categories of people entitled to apply for these orders, to enable those other than spouses and cohabitants to seek protection from the law.

'The government is fully aware of the extent of the misery domestic violence can cause,' said Lord Irvine. 'It is essential that the courts have the power to take early, effective action to tackle domestic violence whenever a case comes before them, and that the police can intervene rapidly when court orders are ignored. The new law will make that possible. I believe they will be widely welcomed as an important step forward in the fight against domestic violence.'

The Act introduces two types of order:

The occupation order

An occupation order decides who is allowed to occupy the home, and can direct another party to leave the home. In making any order, the courts will consider all the circumstances of the case, and in

particular:

-- the housing needs and resources of the parties and children

-- the financial resources of the parties

-- the likely effect of an order (or lack of one) on the health, safety and well being of the parties or any child

-- the conduct of the parties

The non-molestation order

A non-molestation order prevents the respondent from molesting the applicant or a relevant child. It can prohibit particular actions and behaviour or molestation in general.

'Associated persons'

Until now only current spouses and cohabitants could apply for orders. Under the new Act, 'associated persons,' including the following, may also apply for orders:

-- former spouses and cohabitants

-- those who live in the same household in a non-financial relationship (for instance, flatmates)

-- certain relatives, including parents, children, grandparents, brothers, sisters, in-laws

-- engaged couples

An 'associated person' other than a spouse, ex-spouse, cohabitant or ex-cohabitant may only apply for an occupation order where they are already entitled to occupy the property, for instance through ownership or part ownership, tenancy or joint tenancy.

Powers of arrest

Police powers of arrest have been strengthened. Where the court makes an order, and it appears that the respondent has used or threatened violence against the applicant or a relevant child, then the court must attach a power of arrest unless it is satisfied that the applicant or child will be adequately protected without such a power.

Protection of children

The Act also provides important addition to the Children Act 1989, enabling the courts, in certain circumstances, to add an exclusion

requirement for the protection of children when making an emergency protection order or interim care order. This will permit the removal of a suspected abuser from the home instead of having to remove the child.

Notes

1. The Family Law Act received Royal Assent on 4 July 1996.

2. The reforms of the laws on divorce under the Act are expected to

come into place during 1999.

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