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The Ultimate Guide to coercive and controlling behaviour and economic abuse in divorce

Vardags has extensive experience with domestic abuse cases; ultimately achieving the best outcome for our clients during an incredibly difficult and distressing time.

Our award-winning team display market-leading expertise, while maintaining consideration of the sensitive nature of your case. If you are experiencing coercive and controlling behaviour and/or economic abuse, please contact our office and speak with our experienced family lawyers. 

WHAT IS COERCIVE AND CONTROLLING BEHAVIOUR?

The Serious Crimes Act 2015 made coercive and controlling behaviour in an intimate or family relationship an offence.

Coercive control is a term used to describe a repeated or continuous pattern of behaviour that causes emotional or psychological harm for the victim.

This behaviour can include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • isolating a person from their friends and family;
  • depriving a person of their basic needs;
  • monitoring a persons social media and their communication with others;
  • controlling aspects of a persons daily life (for example, who they see, what clothes they wear, how long they take etc.);
  • economic abuse (for example, coerced debt, controlling bank accounts, and taking wages and benefit payments);
  • harassment and stalking;
  • physical abuse;
  • sexual assault.

The above list is non-exhaustive and can vary from one person to the next. If you are experiencing any of the above, please contact our office and speak with our experienced family lawyers to discuss your options moving forwards.

WHAT IS ECONOMIC ABUSE?

Economic abuse is a form of domestic abuse.

In 2021, the Domestic Abuse Act was amended to include economic abuse. Economic abuse means any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on a persons ability to:

  • Acquire, use or maintain money or other property; or
  • Purchase goods or services.

Economic abuse may include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Controlling a persons spendings/ bank accounts/ investments/ mortgages;
  • Controlling the family income;
  • Coerced debts (for example, obtaining credit cards and personal loans);
  • Taking a persons wage, government benefits or allowances;
  • Preventing a person from having access to finances required to meet their needs.

WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF COERCIVE CONTROL OR ECONOMIC ABUSE ON DIVORCE?

If you have decided to separate and apply for a divorce, then you may need to consider who will remain living in the family home.

For more information, see our Ultimate Guide to Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders in Divorce as you may wish to apply for an occupation order to prevent your spouse from residing in, or attending, the family home.

WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF COERCIVE CONTROL OR ECONOMIC ABUSE ON A FINANCIAL AWARD?

According to section 25A of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the court has a duty to consider whether a clean break is possible; ultimately, providing financial independence to the parties. In cases involving domestic and financial abuse, it is generally preferred that a clean break is achieved.

There are a number of considerations the court will have regard to when determining the financial award of each case. Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 provides a non-exhaustive list of matters to be taken into consideration, including section 25(2)(g) being the conduct of each of the parties.

In the case of OC v AG [2020] EWFC 52, Mostyn J provided four scenarios where economic abuse may be considered as conduct. These four scenarios are:

  1. Gross and obvious personal misconduct where there is a financial consequence;
  2. Wantonly and recklessly dissipating assets;
  3. Litigation misconduct; and
  4. Failure to comply with full and frank disclosure.

The serious impact of domestic abuse may also be relevant when considering maintenance. This is particularly important in circumstances where a victim of domestic abuse is unable to return to work for the foreseeable future having suffered from physical and mental abuse.

HAVE YOU BEEN ACCUSED OF DOMESTIC ABUSE?

If you have been served with an Application for a Restraining Order, or Application to Vary or Discharge a Restraining Order, then we recommend that you contact us as soon as possible.

There are often strict timeframes to prepare the necessary documents required for you to defend the application. If you do not respond to an application, then the court may consider making an Order in your absence.

Our leading family law and criminal law lawyers will provide you with tailored advice and guidance in relation to your matter. Please contact us as soon as possible to ensure that your interests are properly protected from the outset.

NEED IMMEDIATE HELP?

If you are in immediate danger, please call 999.

If you are unable to speak, call 999 from your mobile and then press 55. This will automatically dispatch police to your location.

Alternatively, you may use the codeword ANI (short for Action Needed Immediately) at your local pharmacy. A member of staff will then take you to a private room where they can help you call the police, domestic abuse helpline, or a family member, friend, or solicitor.

Once you are in safe place and ready to seek legal advice, we recommend that you contact our experienced family law and criminal law team for a confidential chat to discuss your case and the best way forward.

The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.

OUR LEADERSHIP TEAM

Ayesha Vardag

Founder & President Ayesha Vardag Founder & President Divorce & Family
“Ayesha Vardag - Britain's top divorce lawyer.” 
The Telegraph

Stephen Bence

Chief Executive Officer Stephen Bence Vardags CEO
“Dr Stephen Bence is a financial genius.” 
Lewis Marks KC

David Lister

Senior Partner - Divorce & Family David Lister
“Brilliant with a real spark which clients love” 
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