The Archers continued……Domestic abuse in child contact cases

Further to my earlier article concerning the much loved BBC Radio 4 drama “The Archers”, Rob Titchener pulled through after Helen Archer was unsuccessful in stabbing Rob to death. But what happened next and how does this impact family law?

Just when it looked like it was all over for Rob, the episodes that followed the stabbing showed how the efforts of doctors and paramedics saved his life. Helen was consequently charged with wounding with intent and attempted murder, but was found not guilty on the grounds of self-defence. Only after a long and dramatic criminal trial in which Rob’s abusive tendencies were uncovered by Helen and his previous relationships, did Helen finally shake off the label of callous attempted killer.

Although the criminal case concerning Helen and Rob has come to a close, Rob was not wrong when he said that he was forever linked to Helen for “as long as we have a child together”.

The Courts have never taken the view that domestic abuse between parents automatically disqualifies the perpetrating parent from spending time with their children. Instead, the Courts will focus on the child’s welfare, safety and best interests. The law permits Courts to consider allowing a gradual increase in contact (starting with letters and telephone calls and progressing to face-to-face contact) and/or a supervised contact environment to make sure time spent with the absent parent is safe and enjoyable.

Sometimes, however, the Court’s concerns about unacceptable harm can be such, like with Rob and Henry, that the Court will refuse contact altogether. This does not mean that Rob’s parental responsibility for both Henry and Jack is at an end, and he will continue to have the right to be consulted by Helen on major decisions in each child’s life. As Henry is not Rob’s biological child, Helen’s next step may be to apply for his Parental Responsibility Order to be revoked. This is a very rare application which is only granted in the most serious of cases – this one being a possible example.

Negotiating delicate issues of child contact and parental responsibility against a context of domestic abuse and a toxic relationship between the parents is a particularly sensitive matter which family solicitors deal with on a regular basis. If you are responding to an application for contact made by a former partner who you believe has caused you or your children harm, it is important that the Court is made aware of this information at the earliest of stages.

The Archers continues to play a valuable role in providing an important education to the public about how the Courts and the law can work to protect you and your children if you are at risk of harm, and bringing such attention to this under-discussed area can only benefit vulnerable families in their attempts to access help and seek out legal advice.

Our lawyers within the Family and Divorce team are adept at assisting and handling instructions from victims of domestic abuse. In the majority of cases the victims are women but we have also acted for many male victims. 

Jolene Hutchison, Partner and Head of Family & Divorce Department, has assisted victims of domestic abuse for 13 years. If you’d like to speak in confidence to Jolene, you can call her on 01494 478603, or email jfh@blasermills.co.uk

If you, or anybody you know, needs help relating to domestic abuse call the 24hr free phone National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge) on 0808 2000 247 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.