BY A FAMILY LAWYER

Introduction

Family violence is an epidemic affecting families across Australia and has a significant presence among those experiencing divorce or separation. Recently, a new term has emerged within the dialogue of family violence to describe a pattern of violence which was not historically recognized or considered. That term is, Coercive Control.

What is Coercive Control?

Coercive control is a systematic and ongoing pattern of behavior by one party to dominate or control the other party. Although the impact of coercive control is not visible, it carries profound and long-term emotional and psychological impacts. In particular, coercive control can affect a person’s sense of safety, independence, and self-esteem, and result in them feeling trapped, powerless, and isolated from any support or network. In describing their experience, victim-survivors often recall the feeling of ‘walking on eggshells’, and unlike physical forms of domestic violence, often takes place covertly.

Coercive control can take many different forms, and for this reason does not have a solid definition. Instead, coercive control can look different in each relationship and is difficult to identify. The Family Court recognizes the prevalence of Coercive Control and has released a Family Violence Best Practice Principles with example behaviors, including:

1. Emotional manipulation including humiliation and threats.
2. Surveillance and monitoring such as online
3. Isolation from friends and family
4. Enforcing rigid rules such as where a person can eat, sleep, pray.
5. Placing limits on economic autonomy including financial abuse.

In recognition of the significance, action has also been taken by several states and territories within the criminal sphere to criminalize coercive control. In NSW, the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Act 2022 (NSW) was passed in November 2022 criminalizing coercive control, which is expected to commence in mid-2024.

What does the Family Law Act say about Family Violence?

In the Family Law Act 1975, family violence is defined in section 4AB(1) as “violent, threatening or other behavior by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family or causes the family member to be fearful’. In addition, subsection (2) contains a non-exhaustive list of example behaviors which may constitute family violence.

Although there is no specific definition of coercive control in the Family Law Act, in the matter of Morton & Beatty [2022] Judge Turnbull made specific reference to coercive control as being a “nebulous sub-species of conduct within the meaning of family violence, [which] is plainly anticipated by the words of s 4AB(1)”. There is, therefore, no doubt the broad definition of family violence in the legislation captures coercive control.

How to get help?

If you are in a situation where you are in danger or need help immediately, call 000 straight away. You may also consider contacting your local police station.

Alternatively, there are a number of support services that can assist in our Useful Links page (https://www.cominosfamilylawyers.com.au/news-articles/resources/)

What resources are available at the Courts?

The Courts have become acutely aware of the presence and impact of coercive control among those experiencing separation and divorce. As a result, specific and targeted measures have been introduced to manage the presence and impact of coercive control and family violence. These include:

1. Court staff trained in developing ‘safety at Court’ plans for people who have concerns about their safety while undergoing their family law matter.

2. Specialised Court lists and initiatives have been created including the Evatt List and Lighthouse Program. These act as an early identification and triage program to ensure matters with family violence are appropriately managed.

3. Finally, mediation and court enforced dispute resolution can occur on a shuttle basis so you can still access the benefits of dispute resolution without the need to see or hear the other party.

Tackling the System and the CFL Approach

If you are in a relationship, or experiencing a separation or divorce, where the other person is a perpetrator of coercive control you may find that the behaviours exhibited throughout the relationship are covertly recycled during the legal process. These behaviours may include significant demands, refusal to negotiate, withholding information or access to funds, highly vexatious claims, and aggressive correspondence. These behaviours are designed to continue the leverage a perpetrator held over the victim-survivor during the relationship.

If you are on the receiving end of the correspondence, it can feel like you are reliving the trauma you experienced. The best thing you can do is have an experienced family lawyer on your side as you navigate the family law system.

At CFL one of our primary goals is to empower our clients. As family lawyers we are experienced in dealing with people identified as exhibiting coercive and controlling behaviour, and we make sure your interests are protected, and you feel safe and supported.

About Us

Cominos Family Lawyers (CFL) was established in 2010. Since this time, we believe in a world where people divorce and separate with dignity, respect, and care.

It is our mission to deliver clear, timely and relatable advice for all our clients.  Trust. Integrity. Care.

Contact us, email info@cominoslawyers.com.au or call 02 8999 1800.

Disclaimer

Notwithstanding the above, if you are a victim of Coercive Control and Family Violence, you should also seek professional counselling so that those professionals can help you deal with the impact/s they have on your health and wellbeing.

The information contained in this article is intended for general information only and is not to be relied upon as legal advice.

CALL 000 if you are in danger.