A victim of domestic abuse may obviously live with the perpetrator of the abuse, whether they are married to them or not. Clearly, continuing to live with an abuser will leave the victim at risk of further abuse.
In such circumstances the victim will need protection from the abuser, by having the abuser physically separated from them. The way to obtain such protection is to apply to a family court for an occupation order.
An occupation order is a type of injunction, which regulates who may occupy the victim’s home. It is usually applied for alongside a non-molestation order, which prohibits the abuser from molesting the victim.
Occupation orders are most commonly used to require the abuser to vacate the home, although as we will see, they can do other things as well.
There are several different circumstances in which an occupation order may be used, including where both parties are still living in the home, where the abuser has forced the victim to leave the home, and where the abuser is not presently living in the home.
Occupation orders can cover each of these situations.
Exactly what an occupation order can do, and how long it will last, depends upon the legal rights of the parties in relation to the home. This is a complex area, and a discussion of the complexities is beyond the scope of this post. However, the main ways in which an occupation order can protect a victim of abuse are as follows:
Order the abuser to leave the home – Where the abuser is still living in the home, the order may state that they must leave, by a specified date and time.
Prevent the abuser from returning to the home – Where the abuser has already left the home, the order may state that that they must not return save, possibly, for specific purposes, such as collecting children for agreed or court-ordered contact.
Exclude the abuser from an area around the home – Orders preventing the abuser from returning to the home may also prohibit the abuser from approaching within a certain distance of the property.
Require the abuser to allow the victim back into the home – Where the abuser has forced the victim to leave the home, the order may require them to allow the victim back into the property.
Restrict the abuser from part of the home – Sometimes the court may decide that the abuser may remain in the property, but will restrict them from parts of the property, such as the victim’s bedroom, so as to keep them apart from the victim as much as possible. Obviously, what the court can do here will depend upon the size and layout of the property.
Prevent the abuser from interfering with the victim’s occupation of the home – Such a provision might state that the abuser must not obstruct, harass, or interfere with the victim’s occupation of the home, including any garden at the property.
Set out who should pay expenses in relation to the home – These expenses might include the mortgage or rent, the cost of repairs to the property, and other outgoings in relation to the property, such as council tax and gas and electric bills.
How the court decides what order to make
Again, exactly how the court decides whether to make an occupation order, and what to include in the order, depends upon the legal rights of the parties in relation to the home.
In general, however, the court will consider all of the circumstances of the case, including: the housing needs and resources of both parties and any children, the financial resources of both parties, the likely effect any order, or not making an order, will have on the parties and any children, and the conduct of the parties in relation to each other.
If it appears to the court that the victim or any relevant child is likely to suffer significant harm because of the conduct of the abuser if an order is not made, then the court will make the order, unless it appears that the abuser or child is likely to suffer similar or greater harm if the order is made.
Anyone suffering domestic abuse should seek expert legal advice as to whether they may be able to obtain an occupation order and, if so, what provisions the order should contain.