Published on May 27, 2024

In the context of divorce and Children proceedings, it may be relevant to show that your former partner was/is coercively controlling. In view of the often secretive and closet abusive behaviour of the coercer, how can I prove I’m in a coercive relationship?

Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash

What Is Coercive Control?

Coercive control is a form of domestic abuse. ‘Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship’ became a criminal offence in the Serious Crime Act 2015. It is described by Women’s Aid as ‘an act or pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim’. 

It can include checking up on you, having financial control, isolating you from friends and family, subjecting you to constant criticism and insults, intimidation and threats (physical and non-physical).

The difficulty can be that, by the very nature of it being an erosion of wellbeing over time, there is not one defining act but a pattern of behaviour. 

The Impact On Family Court Proceedings

In financial remedy proceedings during divorce conduct by one spouse is only taken into account where it is extremely serious (often being referred to as ‘gross and obvious’ or having the ‘gasp’ factor). Currently you also have to show that the conduct itself has impacted your finances adversely. Where this type of domestic abuse has been perpetrated over a long period of time and is often hidden to those outside the relationship, it can be difficult to meet these high thresholds.

In Children Act proceedings, the children may have been harmed by direct coercive control or by witnessing this over time. This may then impact how much time is safe for the children to spend with the perpetrator and if safeguards should be in place and what they might look like. 

Identifying Coercive control when you separate can therefore be important. 

Proving The Abuse And Getting Support

These steps can help you to plan a way forward and prove the behaviour:

  • Keep a log yourself of any and all incidents
  • Messages and emails can help to show a pattern of abuse
  • Do not hesitate to contact the police, who can log the incidents and ensure alerts are in place in case there is an escalation or trigger point. 
  • Engage professional legal services who specialise in domestic abuse, they can help guide you during the process, suggest creative options and will know of other professionals to give you additional all-round support. 
  • Seek support from trusted individuals around you, they can offer emotional support but also may be able to provide evidence of what has been going on. 
  • Get support from a domestic abuse charity
  • If you no longer live together a Ring doorbell can be an added protection

The harm to victim survivors’ mental health and wellbeing is recognised and the impact can be profound. This may also apply to the children of the family. Court proceedings can be difficult and come at a very emotional and stressful time. Support to enable the survivor to cope is absolutely vital. 

Family lawyers, especially if they are members of Resolution, should always look out for the risk of domestic abuse and its impact on their client and the associated risks of that, from the very first contact with them. A good family lawyer, with experience of acting in domestic and intimate partner abuse cases, should understand that vulnerable clients will need specialist advice. Also that additional   support will likely be required from other holistic services (such as counselling and specialist divorce coaches). The legal and practical advice they give should be tailored to meet the needs of clients who have, or are, living through such abuse in order to help them move towards a more positive future. 

Support Resources:

For immediate protection you should always dial 999. 

Women’s Aid

Women’s Aid Directory of local support.

IDAS: The Independent Domestic Abuse Service 

24 hour National helpline: 0800 2000247

You may also find this article useful ‘What Is Coercive Control?”

You can out more about the author Katie Audsley HERE.

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The Early Days Of Separation

Humans are designed to cope with many onslaughts, but change continues to prove extremely challenging. How you manage the early days of separation or divorce has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the process.

When couples separate, they are often thrown into a period of uncertainty. Identities are changing from couple to single, from mum and dad together as a family unit to mum with children and dad with children. Depending on the circumstances and who decides to leave the family home, there are many questions that arise during the early days of separation. “Will we have to sell our home?” “I haven’t worked since we had children – how will we manage financially?” “What will our friends and family think?” “How much will divorce cost?”
“Will I cope on my own?” There seems to be so much to sort out both practically and emotionally and it comes at a time when at least one of you will be ‘all over the place’ emotionally due to the loss you are experiencing. This can make decision-making seem impossible. Who wants to agree the practicalities of legal issues and more importantly organise the children when they are devastated, angry and confused by loss? It can turn otherwise rational, clear-thinking mums and dads into what appears to be belligerent, stubborn, unreasonable people.

Take Your Time!

In those early days of separation or divorce, take your time if you can. Seek support from friends, family and professionals. Try not to make any big decisions too quickly.
Bear in mind that communication problems with your ex and all the pressures on family life you are now experiencing, like for many separating couples, will get better with time. It’s important to recognise that you and your ex will more than likely be in very different emotional places at the moment; different stress levels and anxieties will be making communication difficult. Taking the time to sometimes do nothing, to not react, give things a day or two, can prove very useful techniques.
What you have to remember is that if you have children, your ex is always going to be part of your life. That can be hard to take on board when you are feeling hurt and angry. If you can find a way to communicate with each other that focuses on the children, you will all benefit in the years to come.

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