Parental contact and domestic abuse
At the moment, we believe children’s rights aren’t always upheld in cases of court-ordered contact where domestic abuse is alleged. For example:
- courts can decide that a child has to maintain regular contact with an abusive parent— even if this is against that child’s will, and
- children don’t always get a meaningful chance to have their opinions heard around contact arrangements.
Research we commissioned has shown that children’s views aren’t always heard in court proceedings around contact. The research's analysis of court data showed that:
- in 42% of cases where there were allegations of abuse, background court reports weren’t taken, and
- in 45% of cases where there were allegations of abuse, children’s views weren’t taken.
When background reports aren’t taken, a child’s view that they wouldn’t want contact is less likely to be heard— so this assumption that they do is more likely to determine the outcome of a case.
What needs to change
We think that a few things need to change in Scots law to better protect children who have been abused.
Contact shouldn’t be assumed to be beneficial
Right now, courts can assume contact with a parent is beneficial to a child— even if there’s evidence that parent is domestically abusive. This assumption has the biggest impact on younger children, as their views are least likely to be heard. We think that where there's a history of domestic abuse, contact with a parent should only be awarded if:
- evidence is provided that contact would be safe, and
- evidence is provided that contact would be in the best interests of the child.
People who take children’s views should be trained around participation and domestic abuse
It’s currently the case that people who take children’s views in court proceedings aren’t always trained in how to best take these views into account. We think that:
- everyone who takes children’s views should be trained in the benefits of participation for children,
- everyone who takes children’s views should be given materials to support participation in practice,
- very young children should have access to a specialist service of professionals trained in hearing their views, and
- professionals have an in-depth understanding of domestic abuse and the impact it has on children.
Children should be able to talk safely about abuse
We think children should be able to tell courts they’ve been abused without worrying about their abuser finding out.
Currently, when a court appoints a reporter to find out a child’s views. When a reporter meets a child:
- there are no processes in place to make sure that child knows why the reporter’s visiting,
- there are no processes in place to make sure that child has had time to think about what their views might be, and
- there are no processes in place to make sure a reporter has experience of working with children or training around domestic abuse.
Children also aren’t told what their views will be used for or who they may be shared with. They’re not told what they can do if they’re not happy with a ruling the court makes— such as an order for contact with an abusive parent.
We think that these processes need to change for children to be comfortable expressing their views.
More on domestic abuse