Protecting children from violent parents in custody disputes

New family court guidance has come into effect in England and Wales which provides more direction to judges in cases where there are disputes over child custody.

Previous guidance

Practice Direction 12J, which gives judges in the family court guidance when dealing with cases involving domestic violence has been revised after a review carried out by Mr Justice Cobb highlighted flaws with the current system.

Presumption that children should have contact with both parents

When judges in the family court decided matters of child contact a presumption applied that children should have contact with both of their parents.

Children at risk

However, this presumption has in some cases led to devastating consequences.

Women's Aid, a domestic violence charity, say 20 children have been killed by a parent, the majority having occurred after a court order was made in favour of both parents having contact.

Kathryn Ferris, head of Wallace Robinson & Morgan’s Family Law department, commented, “Moving away from this presumption will give courts more ability to make case specific judgements based on the circumstances before them as opposed to being forced towards a pre-stated objective. Where the welfare of children is the paramount consideration then we cannot have a ‘one size fits all’ approach.”

Revised guidance

The revised guidance for judges now asks them to consider whether this presumption applies at all.

The risk of harm to children is a serious consideration which judges are required to take into account when deciding child contact matters and must be balanced with the need for contact with both parents.


Women's Aid has said the changes will be 'lifesaving' and will bring the issue of child safety back to the forefront of judges’ decision making.

The charity has said judges should have compulsory training to maximise the effect that the revised guidance can have upon vulnerable children who too often find themselves the innocent victims of custody disputes.

Do you need advice?

If you need advice and support for any legal issues related to this article do contact us.

Our matrimonial solicitors, Kathryn Ferris and Dipika Mistry are members of "Resolution", an organisation of lawyers who promote a constructive, non-confrontational approach to resolving family law matters.

Kathryn Ferris, head of our Family Law Department has undertaken an extensive training course leading to her qualification as a Collaborative Family Lawyer.

This article is for general information purposes only. It does not constitute technical, financial, legal advice or any other type of professional advice and is no substitute for specific advice based on your individual circumstances. We do not accept responsibility or liability for any actions taken based on the information in this article. For more information, please click here.