Isolating in an abusive relationship: The Court’s powers to protect vulnerable parties during COVID-19 lockdown

The last few weeks have brought with them new restrictions which mean that families are spending an increasing amount of time together at home with nowhere else to go.  Whilst for some this extra time at home will be welcomed, others will experience additional stresses and strains. Men and women who are already in abusive relationships are likely to feel even more isolated and vulnerable during COVID-19 lockdown.

Whilst the signs of physical abuse are more easily recognisable, psychological abuse can manifest in less obvious ways. Men and women may find themselves being controlled by their partner or a family member – either emotionally or financially.

What should I do if I am a victim of abuse?

Domestic abuse is a crime and if you feel at risk you should call the Police to request assistance. There are also a number of charities who can provide support.

Solicitors are also able to help with obtaining civil remedies in the form of non-molestation orders and occupation orders. Our expert team of family solicitors are working remotely throughout COVID-19 lockdown and can offer telephone and video appointments at a time convenient to you. The Courts too are keeping the situation under review and are continuing to prioritise urgent applications.

What is a non-molestation order (NMO)?

An NMO provides protection from any form of domestic abuse, both physical and emotional, including but not limited to acts or threats of violence, use of abusive language and harassment.

A defined list of persons can apply, inculding husbans, wives, civil partners, co-habitants and relatives. There is no Court fee associated with an NMO application, and applications can be made without notice in urgent situations where the applicant is fearful of the repercussions if the other party were to find out that an application has been made.

Breach of an NMO without reasonable excuse is a criminal offence punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment and/or fine.

What is an occupation order (OO)?

An OO sets out who can live in the family home (or certain parts of it) and can also restrict someone entering specific zones within the family home. An OO is there to protect victims of domestic abuse. It does not alter who legally owns the property.

Again, only a defined list of persons can apply and the circumstances the Court will consider when deciding an application will depend on exactly who is applying.

Breach of an OO is not automactically an arrestable offence, however a power of arrest can be attached if the Court is convinced this is necessary.

Get in touch

Our expert team of family solicitors can advise on a range of issues, including domestic abuse, family disputes, divorce and child arrangement matters.

To discuss any of the issues raised in this note, or to find out how we can assist you further during the COVID-19 lockdown, please telephone us on 01494 451355 (High Wycombe office) or 020 3443 9576 (City of London office) or alternatively email us at

By Nicola Corby, Trainee Solicitor