What is Coercive Control?

23 Nov 2023 | Lisa Pepper
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Table of Contents

Coercive Control Law

Domestic abuse comes in many forms and it isn’t always physical. When it involves a campaign of threats, intimidation and psychological manipulation, it’s known as coercive control. Coercive control usually comes before the Family Courts in two instances: applications involving children and applications for protection from domestic violence.

Coercive control is a pattern of behaviour by someone you are personally connected with that makes you feel dependent, controlled, isolated or scared. It does not have to involve physical violence.

Examples of coercive control

  • Monitoring your movements or activities
  • Restricting access to money and how you spend it
  • Controlling your use of technology or social media accounts
  • Putting you down or calling you names
  • Belittling you in front of the children, such as calling you “stupid” or “pathetic”
  • Restricting your access to friends of family
  • Threatening to harm you or your child

Coercive control can be carried out by men and women and can occur in any type of relationship –  married, unmarried, same-sex and regardless of whether you are living together.

Is gaslighting a form or coercive control?

Yes, gaslighting is a form of coercive control. It involves manipulating someone into doubting their own beliefs or sanity, often over a long period. Gaslighting can include psychological and emotional abuse, and it is illegal under coercive control laws.

Is coercive control a crime?

Coercive control has been a crime in the UK since 2015. Abusers can face up to five years’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both if they are prosecuted and found guilty in court.

How common is coercive control?

Since coercive and controlling behaviour became a crime, the number of cases have steadily increased year on year in England and Wales. In 2017 there were 4,246 offences of coercive control recorded by the police. In the year ending March 2023 there were 43,774 cases compared with 41,039 in the year ending March 2022.

How is coercive control relevant to family disputes?

Coercive control cases tend to come before the Family Courts in two main ways: when someone seeks an injunction to protect them from domestic violence and in cases relating to children. For example, the court will have to decide how to approach child arrangements where coercive control is raised as an issue.

In cases involving children, the court is required to consider the welfare of a child above all else. Emotional or psychological abuse will hold weight in a Child Arrangement Order application. When someone makes an allegation of coercive and controlling behaviour, the court will gather evidence to determine if it is likely the incident(s) took place and what impact it has had or may have on the children.

The judge will take the findings into account when making child living and visitation arrangements.

How do you prove coercive control?

Proving coercive control involves gathering and presenting evidence that demonstrates a pattern of controlling and manipulative behaviour.

  • Keep a log of all incidents of coercive control. The log should include dates, times, and descriptions of the behaviour. Note how these incidents made you feel and how they impacted your daily life.
  • Statements  from friends, family, neighbours and colleagues who have witnessed the controlling behaviour can support your case. Testimonies from counsellors and social workers can attest to the impact on your mental and physical health.

What if my partner is still being coercive toward me?

Various injunctions and orders are available to keep you and your children safe and keep a controlling ex away from your home. You can apply to the Family Court for protection even if you do not wish to bring criminal charges or if the police say there is not enough evidence to bring criminal charges.

Is coercive control a type of parental alienation?

Parental alienation occurs when one parent tries to turn the child against their other parent. For example, if a child is taught that it is OK to disrespect their parent or is encouraged to refuse to see them after a separation, this could amount to parental alienation.

This behaviour could fit a pattern of coercive control if a parent tries to intimidate or influence the other parent using the children.

Parental alienation is a complex issue. There may be real concerns that a parent is using coercive and controlling behaviour as a “tactic” to keep the other parent out of their child’s life. Conversely, your ex may allege that you are the one engaging in parental alienation by raising the issue of past controlling behaviours in your relationship, and using that to influence who the child should live with and see.

It’s important to raise allegations of coercive control with your solicitor at the beginning of family law court proceedings. Your solicitor will need time to investigate and gather evidence to support your allegations and ensure the proper applications are made.

How Osbornes can help

Coercive control is a sensitive issue with potentially far-reaching effects for you and your family. It is vital that the solicitor you appoint has an understanding of the issues and can provide you with expert legal support and the signposting you need to recover.

The experienced family lawyers at Osbornes can help you with:

  • Advice for leaving an abusive partner
  • Divorce proceedings
  • Advice in child arrangement proceedings that involve allegations of coercive control
  • Domestic violence and injunction applications
  • Representation in court where necessary

If you think you, or someone you know, are experiencing coercive control and need help, please contact us today to arrange a free initial consultation with one of our solicitors. We can explain the legal processes involved and how we can assist in a safe atmosphere.

To speak with one of our solicitors, contact us by:

  • Filling in our online enquiry form; or
  • Calling us on 020 7485 8811

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