Coercive control hit the headlines recently when Sally Challen won a landmark appeal which saw her murder conviction quashed and a retrial ordered after the court accepted evidence that she killed her husband with a hammer after enduring decades of her spouse’s ‘coercive and controlling behaviour’.

Joanne Aggett, Family Associate at WBW Solicitors, explains what coercive control is and discusses using it as a reason for divorce.

Coercive control is now recognised as a form of domestic abuse. The term was coined by Dr Evan Stark – founder of one of America’s first battered women’s shelters – and describes a pattern of behaviour that seeks to take away the victim’s freedom, stripping away their sense of self through the use of verbal assaults, threats, humiliation and intimidation. Although the media often refer to men as responsible for this, at WBW we know that they can be victims too.

To get a divorce in the UK, you have to show that your marriage has irretrievably broken down in one of five ways: adultery; unreasonable behaviour; two years’ desertion; two years’ separation (with consent); or five years’ separation (no consent required).

Coercive control now fits under unreasonable behaviour and includes:

  • being prevented from working;
  • being told what to wear;
  • being threatened with violence;
  • having children, family members or pets threatened;
  • having money taken away or controlled;
  • being isolated from friends and family;
  • only having restricted access to certain foods and drinks; and
  • having social media accounts monitored or controlled.

Coercive behaviour is now a criminal offence under the Serious Crimes Act 2015. If your spouse does not contest the divorce in which you have claimed they coercively controlled you, they are arguably admitting to a criminal act and could face arrest and up to five years in jail on conviction. Conversely, if they have been arrested or convicted of coercive behaviour or abuse, then this can be used as evidence in your divorce petition.

How a solicitor can help

If you are considering divorce, you should take legal advice from a specialist family law solicitor before you start the process. They can talk you through your options and help you decide what evidence to provide.

However, if you have been a victim of such domestic abuse, whether male or female there are various court orders available to keep your former partner out of your life. We can help you make a police report if you choose to make it a criminal matter. We can even speak to your former partner and their legal representatives, so you do not have to, and ensure the divorce goes through as smoothly as possible.

For further information, please contact Joanne Aggett in the family law team on 01626 202335 or email WBW Solicitors has offices in Newton Abbot, Exeter, Torquay, Paignton, Bovey Tracey, Launceston, Honiton, Exmouth and Sidmouth.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.