Coercive control is increasingly being recognised as a very damaging form of relationship abuse with lasting psychological effects which can continue long after a divorce is finalised. In 2015 the Serious Crimes Act acknowledged coercive behavior in intimate and familial relationships, meaning it could be taken into account during divorce proceedings, but there is still a way to go until this type of abuse is properly factored into financial settlements and children’s cases.
The issue of coercive control has been revisited recently in the case of Sally Challen, who was found guilty of killing her husband in 2010 and has since been granted permission to appeal her 22-year sentence. Challen’s legal team intends to submit new evidence that demonstrates she was a victim of decades of coercive control.
What is coercive control?
Coercive control is a type of abuse in which a person to whom you are personally connected (such as a spouse or family member) behaves in a controlling or threatening way. Common examples of coercive control include:
- Isolating you from other people and/or monitoring your social activities
- Controlling and withholding finances, or dictating how you spend your money
- Convincing you that you are worthless, repeatedly putting you down or calling you names
- Making threats against you, your child, or your loved ones
- Forcing you to take part in unwanted or criminal activities
A person can be accused of coercive control if they are personally connected to the victim; if their behaviour have had a serious effect on the victim; and if the abuser knew, or should have known, of the effects of their actions.
Proving coercive control can be difficult, however – especially when it takes place within a marital or intimate relationship. Victims are advised to keep a daily diary to make note of incidents and collect as much evidence as possible while prioritising their safety. Admissible proof might include emails, text messages or voicemails, bank statements and bills (in the case of financial abuse), or photographic evidence that shows physical abuse or damage to property.
The main problem with proving coercive control in a divorce settlement is the fact that ‘bad behaviour’ and ‘conduct’ must be shown to be ‘gross and obvious’ in order to be taken into account. Coercive abuse is, by its very nature, insidious and is often dismissed or minimised when a victim tries to speak up. Furthermore, the psychological damage caused by coercive control may well convince the victim that they deserve this kind of treatment. In a recent survey by Refuge, almost 40% of 16-21-year-old girls believed that coercive behaviour in relationships is normalised. Unfortunately, victims of coercive control will often put up with this kind of behaviour for a long time due to the deep-rooted effects of the abuse: victims may have become convinced that they are in the wrong; or are too afraid to try to leave due to threatening behaviour; or believe that they need to stay to protect their children.
In many cases, coercion may also be connected with a couple’s finances, meaning the victim is unable to live independently or escape their situation without help. And while it is certainly a positive move forward for coercive control to be recognised within family law cases, more steps need to be taken to include this form of abuse to be taken into account in financial settlements – not only to redress the abominable behaviour of such abusers but to ensure that victims have the means to move on with their lives.
Family law solicitor Frances Lindsay explains: “When I see someone who has been the subject of domestic abuse, whether physical or emotional or controlling, they inevitably want to know if they will get some form of compensation in their financial settlement. Sadly, I have almost always have to say no. The courts simply do not take this into account and a judge is quite likely to ask how to put a monetary value on a black eye or financial control. To me, and many others working in family law, this is wrong thinking. The reality is that black eyes and broken arms have a monetary value in Personal Injury cases so why not in divorce cases? Coercive control may be more difficult to quantify but you can surely see the effect on the victim in terms of their mental health and ability to function on a daily basis. It is time for the court to take a more robust view.”
If you suspect you might be affected by coercive control or need to speak to a solicitor about any aspect of divorce, separation or domestic abuse, please get in touch with us at Frances Lindsay & Co. Our family lawyers are friendly, down-to-earth and everything you say to us is strictly confidential.
And if you’re in need of extra support relating to domestic abuse you may also find it helpful to contact one of these organisations.coercive control, divorce, domestic abuse