Domestic abuse allegations in two thirds of contact cases

Cafcass and Women’s Aid research finds domestic violence allegations in two thirds of child contact cases

Published on 28th July 2017

Domestic violence is alleged in almost two thirds of child contact cases, according to research by Cafcass and Women’s Aid.

Domestic abuse was alleged in 62% of cases with fathers more likely to be the subject of allegations than mothers, the study of 216 child contact cases found.

“The sample cases provided a complex picture of domestic abuse within family proceedings and it was uncommon for domestic abuse allegations to feature in isolation from other safeguarding concerns,” said the report.

“This demonstrates the substantial challenge for courts in determining which cases can safely proceed to contact with the child,” the report added.

The report found:

  • It was less common for unsupervised contact to be ordered in cases featuring allegations of abuse (39%) than cases without (48%)
  • Cases featuring allegations of abuse were more likely to conclude with an order for no direct contact (19%) than cases without (11%)
  • Cases featuring allegations of abuse were more likely to conclude with an order for contact that was supervised or monitored in some way (11% and 6% respectively)
  • In the cases where domestic abuse was alleged and unsupervised contact was ordered, unsupervised contact had been taking place between the applicant and the child either at the time of the application to court (67%) or within the six months prior to the application to court (33%)
  • Where known, orders at the first and final hearings were made with the consent of the parties in 89% and 86% of cases respectively.

“Women’s Aid and Cafcass caution that contact taking place before proceedings and consent may not always equate to an ‘agreement’ about contact and may instead be indicative of a context of coercion or fear,” said the report.

The qualitative work in the study highlighted the impact for children of experiencing domestic abuse and other harmful parental behaviours such as excessive drinking or violence.

Younger children were receiving support at school to improve their attendance and help with socialisation, while older children were receiving more specialist support, such as counselling.

In some cases featuring multiple risks, the local authority was working with the children either as ‘children in need’ or more formally under a child protection plan, the report found.

Children who had experienced domestic abuse had strong views about contact, particularly older children who were less likely to want to have contact with a parent who had been physically violent towards them or a member of the family, the report concluded.

A statement from the chief executive of Cafcass Anthony Douglas and Women’s Aid chief executive Katie Ghose said: “This research illustrates the complexity of responding to domestic abuse allegations in the family courts. In publishing we are seeking to inform rather than criticise the work of those in the family justice system. We hope that the research findings are a platform from which we and others can further understand and define the issues.

“The goal must be that victims of domestic abuse are safe and not subjected to further harm following any court proceedings. We encourage others to follow the collaborative spirit in which this research was produced: it is vital if we are to achieve this goal.”

Allegations of domestic abuse in child contact cases



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