Family Court

The issue

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner hears from victims and survivors almost every day about their experiences in the Family Court. Far too often the stories they tell of private family law children proceedings are of re-traumatisation and fear for their children’s safety. These issues are longstanding and well documented, including in the Ministry of Justice’s Harm Panel Report published in June 2020.

For victims and survivors with children, who are separating from their abusers, engagement with the family justice system is an incredibly difficult yet crucial part of their interaction with the justice system.

Victims and survivors will rely on the Family Court to keep their children safe from perpetrators. Yet too often they do not feel understood or taken seriously in the Family Court, which can place them, and their children, at further risk. The Family Court process is also used as a tool of prolonged abuse by ex-partners.

The vision

The Commissioner’s vision is for a family justice system that has a culture of safety and protection from harm, where children’s needs and the impact of domestic abuse are central considerations, and victims and survivors feel listened to and respected.

Whilst meaningful change cannot be rushed, we owe it to the victims and survivors whose lives have been impacted by the family justice system to deliver these improvements in an expedient manner.

The Commissioner’s work

The Commissioner and her team meet regularly with senior representatives in the Ministry of Justice, CAFCASS, and the Judiciary, to drive forward urgent and meaningful change to make the Family Court safer. We also work regularly with domestic abuse services at a national and local level, victims and survivors, academics and other experts to ensure their evidence closely informs our work.

The policy and research teams respond to government consultations, advise on stakeholder groups, and provide up to date evidence and advice to decision makers, and the Commissioner appears regularly in the national media to highlight the changes needed to improve the Family Court. If you are a victim or survivor of domestic abuse who has written to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to share your perspective on the Family Court, your voice is integral to this work. Your email will be read by the Commissioner’s team and used anonymously to advocate for policy and practice change for all those subject to domestic abuse.

In June 2023, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s report The Family Court and domestic abuse: achieving cultural change was laid before Parliament using the Commissioner’s powers, calling for urgent and wide-reaching reform to ensure children’s safety in the Family Court. The Ministry of Justice responded to the report, accepting the Commissioner’s recommendations for a further roll out of the Pathfinder Courts, strengthening the voice of the child within proceedings, and improving transparency across the family justice system. The Ministry of Justice also agreed that so-called ‘parental alienation’ is not recognised in law.

This year, the Commissioner’s office will ensure the recommendations accepted by government are implemented as effectively as possible, and is actively working with government to advance all ten of her recommendations. The Commissioner is calling for the national roll out of Pathfinder Courts, which take a child-centred approach, supporting victims and embedding an understanding of domestic abuse throughout proceedings. The Commissioner also highlights the vital role played by specialist domestic abuse advocates who support victims and survivors through the Family Court process.

In 2024, the Commissioner will also deliver a major new pilot study, the Family Court Review and Reporting Mechanism (FCRRM), to understand how domestic abuse allegations are currently responded to in the Family Court in order to improve practice. The pilot will gain an understanding of the data that key agencies such as HMCTS and CAFCASS are currently collecting, as well as hearing the voices of families who have been through Family Court proceedings related to domestic abuse. This will be analysed by researchers and used to design a Family Court framework. This framework can then be used going forward as we continue to explore the Family Court’s response to domestic abuse and ensure that the whole family justice system has a culture of safety and protection from harm.


The Family Court and domestic abuse: achieving cultural change
July 2023

This report highlights the Commissioner’s ongoing concerns about the traumatising experience of the Family Court for victims and survivors of domestic abuse. This follows research with legal practitioners, finding that more than 80% of those surveyed felt that the Family Courts were likely to re-traumatise victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

The report makes 10 recommendations to government, outlining the Commissioner’s plan for wholesale change in the Family Court process.

Improving the Family Court response to domestic abuse
November 2021

This paper sets out the proposals of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and Victims’
Commissioner for establishing a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the Family Courts’
performance in how survivors of domestic abuse and their children are dealt with in private
law children’s proceedings.

Understanding court support for victims of domestic abuse
June 2021

This report shines a spotlight on the support victims and survivors of domestic abuse receive in both the criminal and family justice system.

The report was written by SafeLives and commissioned by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s Office.

Latest news