Domestic violence is alleged in almost two thirds of child contact cases, research by Cafcass and Women’s Aid has found.
Domestic abuse was alleged in 62% of cases with fathers more likely to be the subject of allegations than mothers. The research by Cafcass and Women’ Aid found 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.
However family justice charity Families Need Fathers has said it is “very disappointed” that a government agency has published a press release favouring the views of a lobbying charity relating to women and girls without any reference to balancing views regarding the widespread abuse of men and boys in the context of the family courts.
“This is a one-sided publication that is clearly intended to influence practice in the Family Courts,” said the statement from FNF.
The report looked at domestic abuse allegations in 216 child contact cases. Where the order at the final hearing was known, 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%), and this was the same 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.
However Women’s Aid and Cafcass warned 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.
The research 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 while older children were receiving more specialist support, such as counselling.
In 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.
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.
“Domestic abuse was a common feature within the sample, alleged in nearly two-thirds (62%) of the cases,” said the report. “Other studies have found that domestic abuse allegations in contact applications varied between 49% and 90% of cases.”
“One of the challenges for courts and Cafcass FCAs, who conduct assessments of risk and child welfare, is that domestic abuse can take many different forms and patterns. Every case is unique, requiring professionals and the court to weigh risk against the benefit of the child having contact with the alleged perpetrator,” it added.
Families Need Fathers however criticised the research for referring to ‘allegations’ of abuse rather than proven cases. “Organisations that primarily support men have been raising concerns about the prevalence of unfounded and, increasingly often, obviously malicious allegations, made in the Family Court and a complete lack of any form of deterrent or consequence for making such claims – despite these technically being a criminal offence of ‘perverting the course of justice’ – understandably a serious offence carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment,” a statement said adding that CAFCASS should be seen to be “calming rather than fuelling gender-based conflict”.
A statement from Anthony Douglas, chief executive of Cafcass and Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “The goal must be that victims of domestic abuse are safe and not subjected to further harm following any court proceedings.”