Charlotte Cooper

Chartered Legal Executive

DATE PUBLISHED: 09 Jan 2020 LAST UPDATED: 11 Jun 2021

Understanding Coercive and Controlling Behaviour

On 29th December 2015, the Government introduced legislation intended to protect those victims of domestic violence who have suffered emotional or psychological abuse, rather than physical abuse. Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 created a new offence of ‘controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship’.

What is Coercive and Controlling Behaviour?

Government guidelines define coercive behaviour as an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to punish, harm or frighten their victim. Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent on their abuser by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Types of behaviour that may amount of coercive and controlling behaviour can include:-

  • Taking control of a person’s finances
  • Isolating a person from their friends or family
  • Repeatedly putting a person down such as telling them they are worthless
  • Preventing a person from attending their place of work or study
  • Regulating how a person spends their time
  • Tracking and monitoring a person’s whereabouts
  • Making threats of harm if a person does not behave in a certain way
  • Making threats of harm towards a person’s family, friends or pets
  • Making threats to publish or disclose private information
  • Monitoring and regulating a person’s mobile phone and/or social media accounts
  • Financial abuse including control of finances and taking away a person’s wages/benefits

The Criminal Offence

Under S76 Serious Crime Act 2015, coercive and controlling behaviour is now a criminal offence, punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment, a fine or both.

An offence may be committed where a person repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person to whom they are in a close personal relationship (such as spouses, partners or family) and where that behaviour has a serious effect on the other person where the offender knows, or ought to know, that their behaviour will have a serious effect on the other.

There are two ways in which it can be proved that a person’s behaviour has had a serious effect on the other:

  1. If it causes that person to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them; or
  2. If it causes that person serious alarm or distress which has a substantial effect on their everyday life.

Protection From The Family Court

If a person is “associated” with their abuser, they can apply to the Family Court for domestic violence injunctions under the Family Law Act 1996 to protect them from further abuse or to exclude the abuser from their home. This can be done whether or not the victim chooses to report their abuser to the Police in relation t­­­­o the abuse they have suffered.

Associated persons for the purposes of the Family Law Act 1996 include:

  • Spouses/civil partners and former spouses/civil partners;
  • Cohabitees or former cohabitees;
  • Persons who are closely related (such as parent/child, siblings, grandparents etc.);
  • Persons who have a child together or share/have shared parental responsibility for a child;
  • Persons who are, or have been, in an intimate personal relationship for a significant duration.

Our­­­ solicitors regularly represent clients where allegations of domestic abuse have been made. If you require further advice please don’t hesitate contact one of our expert Family Law Solicitors on 01202 525333 or by e-mail to

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