COLUMN: The effect of coercive control on family court cases

INTRODUCED as a form of domestic abuse in late 2015, coercive and controlling behaviour comes under Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015.

Coercive and controlling behaviour can impact every aspect of a relationship, from the day-to-day activities through to money and finances.

This form of abuse can also continue even after separation and have an impact upon making arrangements for children.

We are seeing an increasing number of cases in which coercive and controlling behaviour is alleged as part of family legal proceedings.

Gianna Lisiecki-Cunane: O Donnell Solicitors

It comes in many forms and often manifests in emotional rather than physical abuse. Although wide ranging in its manifestation, it can generally be defined in the following ways:

Coercion will usually involve a pattern of acts encompassing, for example, assault, intimidation, humiliation and threats.

Controlling behaviour involves a range of acts designed to render an individual subordinate and to corrode their sense of personal autonomy.

It is not uncommon for those subject to domestic abuse in this form to be unaware that such coercion is taking place at the time.

Due to its often underlying nature, this type of abuse is frequently subject to dispute from the accused abusing party.

As a relatively new legal offence, the current approach by the family courts is inconsistent, and how each judge deals with the issue can vary significantly.

The process of the court involving allegations of domestic abuse will often require the abuse to be listed in ‘Scott schedule’. The party making the allegations will outline the nature of each allegation, and the other party will then be allowed to provide a response to each allegation.

It has been widely recognised this approach is limited when it comes to coercive and controlling behaviour as it often involves small acts repeated over time; acts which when detailed individually may not appear to be particularly significant and are not considered to be ‘abuse’.

The treatment of the family court’s approach was highlighted in the case of F v M [2021] EWFC 4. The judge noted ‘the significance of individual acts may only be understood properly within the context of wider behaviour’, calling for more training and a greater awareness from professionals in relation to the issues this type of abuse can cause.

The advice of a knowledgeable and experienced family lawyer is crucial. If you are affected by controlling and coercive behaviour or domestic abuse more generally, contact Gianna Lisiecki-Cunane O’Donnell Solicitors on 01457 761883.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.