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Coercive and Controlling Behaviour

The Focus on Coercive and Controlling Behaviour

You can watch our video to understand the definition of coercive control.

As the nation is experiencing a third national lockdown, there remains a focus on domestic abuse both in the wider community and within recent case law.

BBC news reported last week that calls to domestic abuse services have sadly continued to surge as couples spend more time at home during the pandemic.  The article was an attempt to reach out to employers generally, to keep an eye out for signs of their employees suffering from or being at risk of domestic abuse.

If somebody is suffering as a result of an abusive partner, it is not necessarily obvious – there may not be physical marks or bruises.  This is particularly true in cases of coercion and controlling behaviour which can be more difficult to spot as there may not be obvious physical signs.

Employers are being told that they are uniquely placed to spot signs of abuse, due to the level of communication that they have with their employees daily over calls/video calls.

The advice that employers have been given can be applied to our own calls with family, friends or work colleagues.

A person may be at risk of or suffering from a coercive, controlling relationship if they are showing the following signs:

  1. Wanting to avoid calls or video calls generally;
  1. Becoming quiet, anxious or tearful on calls;
  1. A change in dynamic when somebody else walks into the room behind them;
  1. Being overly secretive about their home life;
  1. Sudden drops in work performance; and
  1. Mentions of controlling or coercive behaviour.

If you do have concerns for a friend or colleague, then you should be conscious about how you start a conversation as they may be concerned about being overheard – it may be sensible to reach out by email or text to check that everything is ok.  It is important that we look after each other in these trying times.

The legal meaning of coercive and controlling behaviour has also been a recent focus in case law – it is starting to become more widely understood – in the case of F v M [2021] EWFC 4, Hayden J provided the following helpful guidance:

  1. That coercive control is behaviour where there is ‘more than a single act’.
  1. Context in these cases is everything. There may be many different strands of behaviour and actions, some which may on their own may not appear significant but, taken together are incredibly important.  Some features of evidence will weigh more heavily than others and those which may not appear significant on the face of it in isolation, may gain greater relevance when placed in the context of the wider eventual case. 
  1. That there needs to be a broader professional education on the scope and ambit of coercion and control, to generate greater alertness of abuse of this kind and to encourage more than a superficial investigation of it.

Individual strands of behaviour creating an overall pattern is therefore extremely relevant – they have a very real and serious psychological impact on the victim.

It is positive that case law is starting to explore the meaning of coercion and control in the context of family law – it is important that we are all alive to the seriousness of it.

Do you need help?  In the UK, the Domestic Violence Helpline is 0808 2000 247.

If you would like to discuss your legal options in terms of protection, please call the Maguire Family Law team and we will do everything possible to help you.

If you are concerned about your immediate safety you should always call the police in the first instance  and then to take further family law advice if required

For specialist advice on any family law related issue contact Maguire Family Law by email: or telephone:

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