Allegations of domestic violence in private client proceedings

The separation of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt hit headlines in September 2016

Child arrangement orders and child welfare and not serious domestic violence

One story widely reported was Angelina Jolie’s allegation that Brad Pitt had physically assaulted one of their six children during a private air flight. It has since been reported that Mr Pitt has been cleared of any criminal charges.

So….how would such an allegation be dealt with in the family courts of England and Wales when an alleged perpetrator has been cleared of any criminal charges?

In this scenario we must assume that one parent is making an allegation of serious domestic violence against the other. As such, the parents have not been able to agree the arrangements for their child(ren) and a court application has been made to determine factors such as where the child(ren) shall live and what contact arrangements there shall be between the child(ren) and the non-resident parent.

In any Court proceedings relating to children, the first step will usually be an appointment when both parents will be asked to attend Court and meet with a Children and Family Court Adviser (a “CAFCASS” officer) in order to see if an agreement can be reached without any further Court involvement. If no agreement is reached, the Court may direct the parents to attend specialist parenting courses or domestic violence courses and may order CAFCASS to prepare a report. If an agreement still cannot be reached, the Court will usually timetable the case for a final hearing, whereby the Judge will hear evidence and make a decision.

However, where one party has made an allegation of serious domestic violence, the Court may require there to be an additional fact finding hearing before the final hearing.

During a fact finding hearing the Judge will consider the evidence on the balance of probabilities (including, for example, oral evidence from both parents and third parties and police and social services records) and make a decision as to whether the allegation is proven or not. In other words, whether it is more likely than not that the allegation is true. There is, therefore, a lower Burden of Proof in family proceedings and the Court can proceed with a fact finding hearing even in the event that the police have decided not to take further action against the alleged perpetrator.

There is strict guidance concerning whether a fact finding hearing should take place and it is up to the Court to rigorously apply the guidance and decide whether such a hearing is necessary. Generally a fact finding hearing will be necessary if in the absence of such findings of fact; a final decision cannot be made by a Judge at a final hearing.   

At the end of a fact finding hearing the Judge will deliver a detailed Judgement. Depending on the findings made, the Court may commission CAFCASS to prepare a report before a final hearing on what contact/living arrangements would be in the best interests of the child(ren) in light of the findings. Alternatively the Court may timetable the case straight through to a final hearing.

Hunt & Coombs Solicitors is able to offer representation for parents when allegations of domestic violence have been made. If you require help and advice and  would like to discuss further how Hunt & Coombs can help you, please contact our Family Law Team on 01733 882800 or email info@hcsolicitors.co.uk .

Author

Sophie Scotcher, Solicitor in the Family Team

sophie.scotcher@hcsolicitors.co.uk

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This article has been prepared for general interest and information purposes only; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. While all possible care has been taken in the preparation of this article, no responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by the firm or the authors.