Introduced as a form of domestic abuse in late 2015, coercive and controlling behaviour is a form of domestic abuse, which can be found 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 in a household right through to access to money and finances.
This form of abuse can also continue even after separation and have an impact on making arrangements for children.
As such, we are seeing increasing cases in which coercive and controlling behaviour is alleged as part of family legal proceedings.
Coercive and controlling behaviour 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 usually involves 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 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, with the realisation only being reached months or even years down the line, at which point, much of the damage is likely to have already been done. 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 family courts’ current approach concerning coercive control is inconsistent, and how each judge deals with the issue can vary significantly.
Part of the problem comes down to how allegations of abuse have been traditionally dealt with by family courts…
The process of the court involving allegations of domestic abuse will often require the abuse to be listed in what is known as the “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 of the allegations.
It has been widely recognised that this approach is limited when it comes to coercive and controlling behaviour, as by its nature, it often involves a number of small acts repeated over time, acts which, when detailed individually, may not appear to be particularly significant and may not, therefore, cross the threshold of what is considered to be ‘abuse’.
The treatment of the family court’s approach to coercive and controlling behaviour was highlighted in the case of F v M  EWFC 4. In this case, the judge noted that ‘the significance of individual acts may only be understood properly within the context of wider behaviour’, calling for the need for more training and greater awareness from professionals concerning the issues this type of abuse can cause.
Domestic abuse comes in many forms, and this must be recognised when decisions are being made by the family court.
In the absence of more case law and a formulaic way the family courts should treat cases involving allegations of coercive control, the advice of a knowledgeable and experienced family lawyer is crucial.
If you are affected by issues of controlling and coercive behaviour or domestic abuse more generally, contact Gianna Lisiecki-Cunane, a family law solicitor and director at O’Donnell Solicitors, on 01457761883.