Georgia McWilliam


DATE PUBLISHED: 19 Jan 2024 LAST UPDATED: 24 Jan 2024

What is Coercive and Controlling behaviour?

The term ‘coercive and controlling behaviour’ is frequently used in the context of family law, but often people are not aware of what constitutes this type of behaviour. Sadly, it is not uncommon for our family lawyers to come across vulnerable clients who are unaware that they have been a victim of coercive and controlling behaviour and/or another form of domestic abuse.

What is the definition of coercive and controlling behaviour?

Coercive behaviour has been defined by the Government as  

“an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or any other form of abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten the victim”

and controlling behaviour has been defined as “an act or pattern of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour”.

Controlling and coercive behaviour is often talked about collectively, due to the overlapping traits. Some examples of this type of behaviour are as follows: –

  • Isolation from friends and family;
  • Gaslighting;
  • Monitoring your activity or making you justify it;
  • Constantly putting you down and making you feel worthless;
  • Threatening to cause harm to you;
  • Taking control of all or some financial elements of your life;
  • Manipulating children.

Please note that the above list is non-exhaustive. There are many more types of behaviours that also fall under the category of coercive and controlling behaviour. The Home Office have published a very helpful and detailed guide on this topic which you may find of use.

What can you do if you have been subjected to controlling and coercive behaviour?

Controlling and coercive behaviour is a criminal offence pursuant to the Serious Crimes Act 2015 but protection from this behaviour can also be sought from the family courts.

Within the context of family law, the civil courts have the ability to make findings of domestic abuse including coercive and controlling behaviour, if satisfied that it is more likely than not this behaviour has been carried out. Where children are involved, the court will want to know whether there has been domestic abuse as this may impact on future arrangements for the children. If findings of domestic abuse have been made, the court must then turn to the welfare of the children and consider what is in their best interests.

The family court can also make protective orders such as a Non-Molestation Order preventing a person from being able to threaten, pester or harass a person or an Occupation Order which can regulate living arrangements.

How can Ellis Jones help?

Our team has a wealth of knowledge and experience in dealing with cases involving domestic abuse and vulnerable clients.  If you believe that you are a victim of domestic abuse and want to know what your options are and how is best to proceed, please contact the Ellis Jones family team.  Call us today on 01202 52533 and speak to one of our friendly team members. We have a helpful blog on “what can I expect from my first telephone call for family law advice?”  if you are unsure about the initial process.

This article was written by Georgia McWilliam and Chloe Finch from our Family department.

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