The Use and Abuse Of Family Court Ex Parte Injunctions
Family Court ex parte injunctions play a crucial role in protecting people, particularly in cases involving domestic violence or disputes concerning child arrangements. They are designed to offer swift relief when immediate action is needed. However, they also come with the potential for abuse, which can devastate the life of the Respondent and their family.
What is an ex parte injunction?
An injunction is a judicial order restraining a person from beginning or continuing an action threatening or invading the legal right of another or compelling a person to carry out a certain act. In most cases, the Court will hold a hearing before granting a family law injunction. Prior to the hearing, the Respondent will have received a copy of the injunction application and had time to prepare their response.
However, sometimes, the safety and wellbeing of the applicant and/or their children require the order to be made ex parte (without notifying the Respondent). Alternatively, other factors may require the application to be made urgently. If an ex parte injunction is granted, you, as the Respondent, should be notified that you must attend a full Court hearing within seven days.
Mr Justice Mostyn in Re W (Minors)  EWHC 2226 (Fam) confirmed that ex parte applications should only be granted in exceptional circumstances.
“It has been stated time and again that ex parte relief of this nature must be very much the exception rather than the rule because it offends a fundamental principle of natural justice which is that judicial decisions should be made after having heard both sides.”
Ex-parte applications may be used in the following circumstances (note that this list is not exhaustive):
Freezing Orders – used to prevent one spouse from dealing with and/or disposing of assets that may become part of the financial settlement.
Non-Molestation Orders – used in domestic abuse cases to prevent a person from molesting or harassing another party.
Ouster or Occupation Orders – to order one party out of the family home.
Prohibited Steps Order – to prevent one parent from doing something set out in the Order.
Ex parte injunctions serve a crucial purpose in family law by providing emergency relief when time is of the essence. They can be granted based on the Applicant's written statement and arguments presented to the Court, as well as any supporting evidence. However, their very nature makes them susceptible to misuse and raises concerns about fairness and due process.
Can ex parte injunctions be abused?
Unfortunately, yes. One of the primary concerns regarding ex parte injunctions is the potential for false allegations to be used as a tool for gaining an unfair advantage in a family dispute or punishing the other party. In addition, false or exaggerated claims made in the heat of the moment can irreparably damage the relationship between the parties involved, especially when accusations are made in the context of child arrangement battles.
Ex parte injunctions can be used as a form of retaliation, weaponising the legal system against a former partner or spouse in a bid to gain an upper hand in legal proceedings and the relationship.