Victim of domestic violence

No one has the right to commit acts of physical or emotional violence against you.

There are several types of domestic violence. It may take the form of physical violence, imprisonment, sexual violence (sexual assault or rape), material violence (intentional damage) or economic violence (despoilment, control of essential assets, preventing someone from working) or even the confiscation of essential documents (national identity card, passport, family record book, health record booklet, etc.). It may also take the form of emotional and psychological abuse (see chapter on emotional and psychological abuse).

Domestic violence perpetrated by a spouse or cohabiting partner most often develops in a cyclical and gradual manner, with crisis periods becoming more and more intense and frequent and remission periods becoming shorter and shorter.

Victim of domestic violence in France:

You can take action to stop the violence even if you haven’t yet started divorce proceedings. Under French law, a spouse victim of domestic violence may refer the matter urgently to the Juge aux affaires familiales, family-law judge, in order to have the violent spouse evicted.

Article 515-9 of the Civil Code: “Where the violence perpetrated by a spouse, an ex-spouse, an ex-partner or an ex-civil solidarity pact partner endangers the person who endures it or endangers one or several children, the judge may issue an emergency protection order.”

The judge decides which spouse is to continue living in the family home. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the marital home is usually allocated to the spouse or partner that is the victim of the violence. The judge can immediately sets about organising the separate life of the spouses and the children (including who holds parental authority and contributions to household expenses). Eviction may be ordered even during the winter months. In the absence of a petition for divorce, these arrangements expire within four months of the judge’s decision. However they may be extended beyond this date if a petition for divorce or legal separation has been filed during this time.

Failure to respect the terms of the Ordonnance de protection, protection order, is punishable under criminal law. Indeed, in accordance with Article 227-4-2 of the Penal Code, “Failure by a person subject to one or several obligations or bans imposed upon them in a protection order issued under Articles 555-9 or 515-13 of the Civil Code to comply with these obligations or bans is punished by two years’ imprisonment and a fine of €15,000.”

You may also file criminal charges against your spouse or partner to ensure your safety and, if necessary, that of your children.

Domestic violence is a criminal offence liable to prosecution before a criminal court. Following an arrest, the judge can open a judicial information even though the victim of domestic violence has not filed a complaint with the police.

Indeed, the Penal Code recognizes the particular seriousness of domestic violence. Article 222-13-6a of the Penal Code: “Acts of violence causing an incapacity for work of eight days or less or causing no incapacity for work are punishable by three years’ imprisonment and a fine of €45,000 where they are committed… by the spouse, cohabitating partner or civil solidarity pact partner of the victim…”

The judge may order your spouse or partner who has committed the acts of violence to leave the family home and place them under legal supervision, imposing upon them certain obligations such as residing away from home and forbidding them to contact you and/or your children, or even having them remanded in custody.

Victim of domestic violence in England/Wales

If you are a victim of domestic violence in England & Wales, you may urgently take the matter to court just as you would do in France. You may start legal action under civil or criminal law.

The Family Law Act 1996 Part IV makes provisions for civil action in the case of victims of domestic violence.

You can arrange to leave home as quickly as possible, or alternatively start legal proceedings to have your spouse/partner evicted from your home and assigned a separate residence in order to protect you from any further acts of violence.

The legal ruling resulting in your protection is called an ‘occupation order on family home’. This legal ruling gives you the right to use the family home even if you are not the tenant or owner. However, this is a temporary order that is usually valid for six months and can be renewed once. Therefore, if you have no legal right over your home, the order will only protect you temporarily. Its aim is to give you enough time to find another suitable home.

The judge may decide to accompany the occupation order with a power of arrest. The police will be informed of this decision and, should your spouse/partner not comply with the legal decision, they will be arrested and incarcerated.

An occupation order is usually accompanied by a non-molestation order which instructs your spouse/partner to stay away and not contact you. It can also enable you to protect your children by arranging contact for your children or preventing your spouse/partner from contacting your children.

If your spouse/partner does not comply with this non-molestation order, they will be committing a criminal offence which may lead to their arrest without the need for a warrant. They may subsequently be sentenced to five years in prison.

As in France, you may also initiate criminal proceedings against your spouse/partner. The criminal offence of domestic violence does not exist in English law, but all wrongdoings are categorised and punished independently (e.g. rape, physical violence resulting in serious bodily harm, confinement, destruction of or damage to belongings or home etc).