Domestic abuse training for family lawyers

“I feel I will be much better placed to support survivors. This course has taught me so much. It is a step back to re-look at how we all work.” 

- Previous learner 

“I think it’s really important that solicitors have some basic training in domestic abuse. My ex was a master manipulator and a charmer. He was representing himself and even though I knew my solicitor is on my side, I think everyone should understand these abusers’ tactics better.” 

- Survivor 

At SafeLives, we recognise the opportunity family lawyers have to mitigate the most retraumatising elements of the family courts for survivors of domestic abuse. This one-day training course empowers family lawyers to take a trauma-informed approach to representing survivors of domestic abuse, understand the dynamics of abuse, recognise the effect of trauma on clients’ presentation, explain the impact of domestic abuse on children and young people, and enable clients to achieve best evidence. Moreover, the course keeps learners up to date with recent statute and case law.  

In evaluating the course, 90% of learners would recommend this training to a colleage, 58% rated the training 10/10, and 85% said the training would have a 'very' or 'extremely' large impact on their ability to respond to victims of domestic abuse. 

Read more about the training development and learners’ evaluation in our report, “Is there a human being behind that?” 


Jointly delivered by a legal professional and a domestic abuse expert, the training addresses key learning objectives based on the gaps identified by our discovery research, including: 

  • Knowledge of the different forms of domestic abuse and how to describe and identify them; 

  • Confidence in being able to respond to domestic abuse and domestic abuse disclosures as a matter of routine practice; 

  • Recognise the impact that domestic abuse has on children and young people, whether they experience it directly or indirectly; 

  • Understanding the importance of a multi-agency working; 

  • Understanding the impact of new case law and statute on how the court understands and responds to coercive and controlling behaviour; 

  • Understanding how to practise a trauma-informed approach to representing victims of domestic abuse. 


Learners’ self-evaluations demonstrated significant increases across every objective after the training, in comparison with pre-training knowledge, as highlighted in our evaluation report.

Please contact Hayley Tate,  Lead Trainer, for more information about running an in-house course – perfect for larger firms, chambers, Inns of Court, or law schools. 


The background to the training 

At SafeLives, we hear repeatedly from survivors of domestic abuse who have spent years in the family courts and feel that the system has failed them and their children. In 2020, the Ministry of Justice Family Harm Panel concluded that “family courts approach domestic abuse cases inconsistently, and in some cases with harmful effects.” On the basis of over 1,200 responses to the call for evidence, the expert panel found “deep-seated and systemic problems with how the family courts identify, assess and manage risk to children and adults.” The Panel recommended a wide range of training “for all participants in the family justice system, including: a cultural change programme to introduce and embed reforms to private law children’s proceedings and help to ensure consistent implementation”. 

Our own response to the Panel’s review highlighted the need for specialist training across the whole family justice system and, as a result, we worked to develop and pilot a cultural-change training programme to create systemic transformation within the family justice system and strengthen practitioner capacity to respond well to domestic abuse, kindly funded by theLegal Education Foundation.  

During the project, we undertook discovery research with survivors of domestic abuse, family legal professionals, and domestic abuse practitioners. We shared the results of this research in two interim reports which reveal a lack of understanding, trauma awareness and support for victims of domestic abuse in the family court. The reports also identify key gaps in lawyers’ understanding, including coercive control and other non-physical forms of abuse.  

In our report: “Don’t complain” Domestic abuse survivors’ experiences of family lawyers, survivors told SafeLives they felt judged, often misunderstood, and ignored during the court process. A survivor who felt silenced by her lawyer told us she was advised not to complain when she noted that reports were incorrect or were missing vital information. 

Always the advice is: ‘Well, don’t complain. You’ll be seen to be doing this…it’ll go against you.’”  

- Survivor 

In our report:“Hit and miss” Family lawyers’ understanding of domestic abuse, legal professionals and domestic abuse practitioners identified key gaps in lawyers’ understanding. These gaps can prevent them from being able to identify and appropriately respond to survivors of domestic abuse. 

Some do, some don’t [understand] – but the majority don’t.”  

- Domestic abuse practitioner 

Professionals from the legal sector also told us that, despite some great examples of excellent practice, few lawyers tend to show they understand what it might feel like for survivors to go through the family justice system. Many lacked an understanding of the impact of domestic abuse on adult and child victims, perpetrators’ tactics, and the ways trauma can affect a survivor’s presentation and ability to give best evidence.  

We want to see a reformed and informed family justice system where survivors of domestic abuse have faith in the system - where the safety of adult and child survivors is paramount and where better, safer social justice outcomes are achieved.  A better understanding of the manipulative behaviours, particularly coercion and control, used by perpetrators, and of the reasons why victims do not leave relationships, is essential for professionals associated with the family court process. 



For more information on this training course for family lawyers, please get in touch: 

Hayley Tate, Lead Trainer and Assessor: hayley.tate@safelives.org.uk