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Domestic violence and settlement in the UK

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The best immigration lawyers have long understood the need to be proficient not just in immigration law, but in other aspects of UK law. To advise business immigration clients, a knowledge of employment law is vital. When dealing with individual immigration matters, a strong, practical understanding of family law is key – and vice versa. Any good family solicitor advising on international adoption will need to understand the immigration implications of that process for the child involved. Another key area where family law and immigration law overlap is in the area of domestic violence.

Domestic violence and family law in the UK

More than two thirds of women killed by men are killed by a partner or former partner. It’s a shocking statistic, particularly when coupled with other figures suggesting most women killed in this way are killed in their own homes, many shortly after the relationship has broken down in some way. Of course, domestic violence does not just cover physical violence. The practice of ‘gaslighting’ which has received much publicity recently following high profile cases such as that of Seann Walsh, involves a variety of psychological techniques employed by the perpetrator to undermine their partner.

Women’s Aid defines domestic abuse as “an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer.

Of course, women are not the only victims of domestic violence – men can also be abused by female (or male) partners.

As good family solicitors will be well aware, it can take a victim of domestic violence many months, or even years to eventually break free and report the abuse they are suffering. Once brought to light, the legal options for victims of domestic violence include non-molestation orders and occupation orders.

Non-molestation orders protect the victim (or victims) of abuse, along with family members from the violence or ‘molestation’ of the perpetrator. An occupation order effectively deals with who can live in a property – and can even exclude a home owner from his or her home, or from certain parts of the home. It is usual to instruct an experienced family solicitor to apply for a non-molestation order or an occupation order.

Victims of domestic violence and Immigration status

If your immigration status is dependant on a relationship in which you are a victim of domestic violence, where does that leave you? Many abusers use immigration status as a weapon in their campaign of violence and abuse, for example, by preventing the victim from being able to renew or extend their permission to be in the UK, or even by preventing them from ever applying to regularise their presence in the UK in the first place. Victims of domestic violence in this situation face not only the violence of their partner and the perceived stigma that some communities will assign to the victim if they leave; they will also be frightened that they will be forced to leave the UK, to be returned home to face family and community which might be unforgiving regardless of what the individual has been through.

The UK’s immigration rules do offer some protection to those whose immigration status is dependant on a relationship in which they have been abused.  Providing the victim has come to the UK lawfully and has leave to remain, he or she will be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain on the breakdown of the relationship provided he or she can show evidence that the relationship broke down due to domestic violence.

Another huge problem for victims of domestic violence who are in the UK dependant on a spouse is that he or she will usually have been granted their visa on the basis that he or she will have ‘no recourse to public funds’. As in any relationship where abuse is a factor, the victim may have very little money or possessions of his or her own. If they take the courageous step to leave, they will have nothing. For those who are in the UK with no recourse to public funds, this means they can quickly become destitute. It is possible to apply for a ‘domestic violence concession’. Under the domestic violence concession, the individual can apply for 3 months’ temporary leave which allows him or her access to benefits while the application for indefinite leave to remain is prepared. Taking advice from London immigration solicitors with expertise in the UK immigration rules on family settlement will be key.

OTS Solicitors are recommended in the Legal 500 for immigration law. We are also experienced family lawyers and can provide a full service for victims of domestic violence whether this is coupled with immigration law issues or not. We offer a sympathetic, practical and confidential service tailored to meet your individual needs and have a wealth of experience to support you while you go through this difficult and distressing time. To talk to us in confidence, please call 0203 959 9123.

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