There is an increasing range of legal orders that can be used to protect survivors of domestic abuse.

The police now have powers to serve a Domestic Violence Protection Notice (DVPN) on an abusive partner who presents an ongoing risk of violence. This will be provided in writing and served to the abusive partner by a police officer.  The order lasts for 48 hours and requires the abusive partner to leave the premises and not contact the victim. This can be extended further (up to 28 days) by a magistrate at court, who can grant a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO).

Domestic abuse can include other criminal behaviours such as assault, stalking, coercive control, criminal damage and sexual crimes. You have the right to be protected under criminal law if your partner has demonstrated any of these behaviours.

In a criminal law case, when a person is sentenced they may also have a restraining order imposed on them. Different restrictions will be placed on the offender, depending on the severity of the case. Find out more about sentencing.

Survivors of domestic violence can apply to civil courts (family proceedings courts or county courts) for an injunction or court order to help protect them. The most common types of court orders are:

  • non-molestation orders
  • occupation orders
  • prohibited steps order
This type of court order is used to stop someone from pestering, attacking, threatening or harassing you or your children. Each order is unique and will take your individual circumstances into consideration. When making the order, the magistrates will take into account your health, safety and well-being, and consider any children involved. The magistrates will also assess how they think an order will help the situation.

Civil courts need less proof than a criminal court, but they still need evidence of a deliberate incident affecting you or a child before imposing a court order. This is where photographs of injuries or property damage can help, as they can form part of the case for an injunction, along with the statement, to show that there has been violence.

If you need an emergency non-molestation order, you can apply for it ‘without notice’. This is helpful if you need immediate protection. Emergency orders can be granted for 28 days – they then go back to court to give the abuser the opportunity to defend the allegations.

It is now a criminal offence if the non-molestation order is broken and you can call the police to report this.

Occupation orders state who can live in a property. Similar to non-molestation orders, they are tailored to your individual circumstances. The orders could say that the abuser must leave the property you live in. Injunctions will state how long this applies for – some orders may be given until further notice if the court feels it’s necessary to protect you or your children.

Any of the following can apply for an occupation order:

  • co-habitants or former co-habitants (does not include tenants, lodgers or boarders)
  • married or formerly married people
  • civil partners or former civil partners
  • relatives – father, mother (includes step-parents), son, daughter, (includes step-children), grandparent and grandchildren, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, niece, nephew, or first cousin
  • people who have agreed to be married or enter into a civil partnership (whether or not the agreement continues)
  • both parents of the same child or people who have or had a parental responsibility for a child.

This includes people who have stayed in an intimate personal relationship. You don’t need to own the property or be the ‘lead’ tenant to obtain an occupation order.

A prohibited steps order is granted by a court when threats have been made by your partner to take your children from you. It stops your partner from taking your child away from your care and control. It does not necessarily stop all contact with the children, but will determine how contact can be safely maintained.
Most survivors of domestic abuse would have a solicitor who would apply on their behalf for one of these orders. Most solicitors would offer you a free initial consultation to help you understand the legal process. These cases are heard at a family proceedings court, and the judges and magistrates are specially trained in family law.

However, you can also apply directly to the court yourself.

You may qualify for legal aid; and can find out whether you will be eligible, where you will also find templates for letters and applications if you decide to represent yourself. Your local domestic violence agency (including Victim Support) can help you complete these applications.

If the court grants an order, it needs to be ‘served’ on the abuser if they’re not at court (i.e. delivered to them in person). The order can only be enforced if there is proof that it has been served on the abuser.

A copy of the order also needs to be given to the local police station so that they are aware that it exists. It may also be useful to provide copies of prohibited steps orders to your children’s school to ensure that they cannot be removed without your permission.