Protecting Your Children
If you are living in an abusive relationship and you have children, their safety will be your biggest priority. This is a very upsetting and often confusing situation to be in, particularly if your partner is apologetic the next day and promises to change, but this never happens. No matter how much you love your partner and want them to get better, you must always put the safety of you and your children first.
If you feel your children are in danger, speak to a support organisation that specialises in domestic abuse, such as Refuge Scottish Women’s Aid, Abused Men in Scotland or Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline
You will need to have a good support network and somewhere for you and your children to go if your partner becomes aggressive, so talk to a trusted friend or family member who can help you get a back up plan together. It’s important that you have control over your finances and have some spare funds available if you need to make an emergency trip or stay in a hotel or hostel while you are looking for accommodation.
If you need social housing, apply to your local council immediately and explain that you have children who are living in danger. They should help you find emergency housing and put you on a list for a permanent home, providing you meet their criteria – contact them for information.
Reporting abusive partner
Abusive partners often use children as bargaining tools and methods of control, often turning children against the other parent. They may also make threats about harming themselves or your children if you leave them – it is important to remember that this is a form of emotional abuse called coercive control, which is now a criminal offence in the UK. You and your children have the right to live in a safe environment, so don’t be manipulated by threats like this. If you do feel that your partner will carry out these threats and harm your children, it is essential that you report it to the police and remove them (and you) from the situation without delay.
Support from school
Talk to your children’s school to let them know that there are problems at home and ask for their support. This may feel embarrassing and perhaps like you are betraying your partner, but having the right measures in place can help your children achieve their academic goals and live a healthy school life. Schools have counselling services which can be very helpful.
Do I have to let my ex see our children?
Unless the child contact has been decided by a court (see below), you do not have to let your ex see any children you share together. If you feel under pressure to allow your ex-partner contact, call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline so they can talk through your options and connect you with specialist services. You can also seek advice from a family law solicitor. Try to find one with experience in domestic abuse.
You or your ex can apply to the family court for a Child Arrangements Order. This is a court order that sets out who your children live with and where and how much time your child spends with your ex. It can also set out other types of contact, such as through calls, FaceTime or letters.
The court’s decision will be based on what they think is best for the child. Where there has been abuse, the court must consider a range of factors before deciding on the appropriate level of contact for your ex. For example the court might grant reduced, restricted or perhaps supervised contact in some cases. Or the court might say your ex can only see the children in a Child Contact Centre. The order can also ensure that arrangements for drop-off and collection will minimise possible contact with your ex.
It will get better
Always remember that you are not alone – every day thousands of families are affected by domestic abuse, and there is plenty of help available. Organisations such as Refuge and Women’s Aid will help you both emotionally and practically, providing you with the tools you need to keep you and your children safe.
Any kind of abuse is extremely upsetting and damaging to children, but it is important to know that this will not last forever. Children can be very resilient, and with the right support they can go on to live perfectly happy, fulfilling lives. Your love and guidance will get them through, so no matter how bleak things may feel now, together you can overcome this. On Refuge’s website, you can find guidance on how you can support your child to understand what is going on.