Weekly Family Law Update April 15, 2020

Children disputes and domestic abuse: The last week in family law Lockdown causing surge in children disputes?

It has been reported that lawyers have been “inundated” with inquiries from separated parents arguing about where their children should stay during the Coronavirus lockdown, with some trying to get the other parent sent to prison for breaking existing child arrangements.

The evidence is anecdotal,
but the report says that some parents are using the lockdown as an excuse to
stop the other parent from seeing their children, and that some parents are
seeking to enforce child arrangements where the other parent claims not to have
been able to keep to the arrangements because of the lockdown, or because of
self-isolation rules.

As we have said here previously,
if you feel that arrangements should be altered because of the Coronavirus,
then you should try to discuss and agree matters with the other parent. If you
are unable to reach agreement, then you should contact a lawyer for advice, if
possible before taking any action.

Government support for domestic abuse victims

The Home Secretary Priti
Patel has launched a new public awareness raising campaign highlighting that if
anyone is at risk of, or experiencing domestic abuse, help is still available,
despite the Coronavirus lockdown.

The campaign will encourage
members of the general public to show their solidarity and support for those
who may be suffering, by sharing government digital content or a photo of a
heart on their palm, and asking others to do the same, to show victims that
they are not alone and to convey to perpetrators that domestic abuse is
unacceptable in any circumstances.

From this week, adverts
raising awareness of where people can seek help will run across social media
and materials will be made available to a wide range of partners including
charities and supermarkets.

Additionally, the Home
Secretary announced that the Home Office is working with charities and the
Domestic Abuse Commissioner to provide an additional £2 million to immediately
bolster domestic abuse helplines and online support.

Sandra Horley, CBE, chief
executive of national domestic abuse charity Refuge commented: “Refuge is
grateful for the Government’s support at this critical time. We have worked
around the clock to ensure our national helpline and frontline specialist
services remain open and accessible to women experiencing domestic abuse. What
is needed now, more than ever, is to ensure every woman experiencing domestic
abuse is aware of the confidential support available. We hope the Government’s
campaign will reach the tens of thousands of people experiencing domestic
abuse, helping send the message – you are not alone.”

However, Fiona Dwyer, the
chief executive of Solace Women’s Aid, London’s largest provider of domestic
abuse services, has criticised the £2 million funding. She said that for any
individual charity focusing on violence against women and girls, that amount
would be huge, but “spread across the whole country, it’s pitiful.”

Increase in domestic abuse by female family members

Still on the subject of
domestic abuse, new figures show that cases of abuse involving attacks by women
and girls on family members have risen twice as fast as those by men.

The figures come from the
Metropolitan police, who are investigating a rise in the number of domestic
abuse offences committed by female family members. They show that domestic
abuse offences committed by sisters have doubled from 641 in 2010 to 1,325 in
2018. The numbers have quadrupled for stepsisters and half-sisters from 33 to

Female perpetrators now
account for 28% of cases; up from 19% a decade ago.

Despite the rise in the
number of domestic abuse offences committed by female family members,
ex-boyfriends, boyfriends and husbands remain the predominant perpetrators of
domestic abuse.

The Victims’ Commissioner Dame
Vera Baird commented: “Only a few years ago, the police and the public probably
wouldn’t have considered assaults such as siblings on siblings as domestic
abuse. However, we can see a lot of this type of inter-family abuse does occur.
I would encourage anyone who is experiencing this type of abuse to seek help
and report it.”