Is your Partner Coercive?
It sneaked in virtually unannounced last Christmas, but The Serious Crime Act 2015 now makes criminal a pattern of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate and family relationship. On conviction, the offender faces a maximum sentence of five years’ in prison.
Now, all of us may demonstrate a degree of controlling behaviour in our close relationships, or at least actions that could be seen as such. However, there are degrees and it seems clear that many people across the UK are suffering daily monitoring by their spouses, stopped from seeing friends and from orchestrated campaigns which hurt, humiliate or dehumanise those they are supposed to love and protect.
There is evidence that both the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service are taking victims seriously in pursuing offences – which is seriously good news for our society as a whole. However, as a family lawyer, I don’t see many signs that family lawyers or judges have systems in place to prevent this abusive behaviour from happening or working.
For example, a common pattern of control I see daily is for one partner to threaten to withdraw the ability of the other to see their children until they are forced to by a court, or a more financially powerful partner cutting off the other’s access to monthly money, legal advice or financial information to force them to agree a financial settlement which is clearly not in their interests. How are those on the receiving end of this behaviour to cope when the only way that they can move forward is to either give in or fight through the courts in circumstances which terrify those already beaten down?
As family mediators, Resolution lawyers and collaborative family practitioners, we are taught to ask questions of clients so that we can work out whether there are clear power imbalances in relationships as they may then be unsuitable for face-to-face discussions – but that doesn’t help couples who aren’t suitable or don’t know about these ways of working when they face the cliff edge of the court system.
If you are suffering from a controlling partner, please seek out the government guidance on the types of behaviour under the Act which are considered unacceptable and seek help. If you are a family lawyer – we need to acknowledge that this legislation now exists and we need to use it.