Coercion and control: Our Family Law Act doesn’t exhaustively define family violence but it was amended a decade ago to include the element of coercive and controlling behaviour. In fact, control and coercion are really at the heart of the definition of family violence, because the “violent, threatening or other behaviour” perpetrated “coerces or controls a member of the person’s family or causes the family member to be fearful”. It can be both the controlling and coercive behaviours themselves, or the effect of violence on the victim.
When perpetrated against someone, coercive control is a pattern of behaviours and a range of acts designed to make someone feel subordinate and to destroy their sense of personal autonomy. It can include physical, psychological and financial elements.
In the family law system, coercive control as a form of family violence has been well established. When found to be present it can have serious effects on the outcome of parenting cases.
Although the subject of controlling and coercive behaviour has been on the radar for family law for some time, debate continues over how better to identify cases involving coercive control within the system. And the related question of whether or not it should be criminalised remains unanswered, though reform of domestic violence legislation does appear to be gaining momentum in recent times.
The conversation around family violence, coercion and controlling behaviour and family law is also taking place in the UK and Canada. An article in Lexology examined a recent UK case that dealt with controlling and coercive behaviour, with the judge iterating a comprehensive list of behaviours contained in UK statutory guidances. It’s worth taking a look at their list as it’s much broader than our own. There are more direct statements relating to monitoring behaviours and spying, for example. Other controlling and coercive behaviours the UK list identifies include:
- taking control over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and when they can sleep
- depriving them of access to support and medical services
- enforcing rules
- enforcing partaking in criminal activity
- threats to ‘out’ someone
- family ‘dishonour’ crimes
- reputational damage (eg revenge porn);
- disclosure of HIV status or other medical condition
Describing the need for more education on coercive control for professionals within the family law system, the UK judge notes that sometimes it can be tricky to identify and investigate. Rather than focus on investigating single incidents, professionals need to be alert to context and look for “clues, hints, indicators and triggers” to create a wider evidential picture. This is important since some incidents can appear, to untrained outsiders, to be innocent or insignificant.
Do you need family law advice in a matter involving family violence? Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.