Domestic Abuse, Child Contact and the Family Courts – what impact did lockdown have on women, children and young people?

For many women, leaving an abusive partner does not mean the end of the power and control exerted by the perpetrator.

After safety, one of the biggest issues can be child contact. Women are expected to facilitate this either informally as part of a verbal agreement or more formally if contact has been set by a family court. During lockdown. women were tasked with arranging video or telephone calls and visits with dad. Mums were often scared to challenge this and worried about the repercussions if they did. They worried about facing verbal abuse from their ex partner, or his/her family and friends or that their decisions would mean the court would view them as creating barriers between parent and child. Virtual contact was intrusive as it gave the abuser visual access to the woman’s home.

Covid-19 brought other issues such as fears that children wouldn’t be returned after contact as ongoing restrictions meant that ex-partners could say they had to self-isolate for 14 days, claiming they had symptoms of the virus. Or children could be taken to visit several households while on overnight contact or even left in the care of another adult from another household. Women feared their children weren’t safe during contact when some dads continued to flout the social distancing guidelines.

For too long the misconception has existed that mothers hold all the power in the family courts. Too often the reality is the opposite with vulnerable mothers left powerless, endangered and belittled. Family courts and children’s services were used by perpetrators to continue their controlling behaviour over their victims. The family court process has been described as “traumatic” by women and the impact of unsafe child contact in families where there has been, or still is, domestic
abuse can be devastating.

Child contact has always been a way in which men who abuse their partners continue to try to control them after they have left. As Women’s Aid workers, we strive to support women and children through the process, through the highs and lows, challenges and achievements.

For more information on child contact and family courts see the links below.

Scottish family court advice now published – Shared Parenting Scotland

Family law – gov.scot (www.gov.scot)

Family Court Process in Scotland: 5 Steps to Child Custody (custodyxchange.com)

Family court process to be more child friendly – gov.scot (www.gov.scot)