How Does the Family Court Approach Controlling Behaviour?

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Following a Court of Appeal judgment earlier this year on the topic, there has been an increase in allegations of controlling behaviour in family proceedings. But what is controlling behaviour? And how will it impact the outcome of family proceedings?

What is controlling behaviour?

The court is often asked to consider domestic abuse allegations in family law cases. Domestic abuse can take many forms including physical, emotional and financial abuse. The Family Court has recently given increased attention to the impact of controlling behaviour. This type of abuse can be harder to evidence than other types of abuse. This is because it generally involves a pattern of behaviour over time rather than one or more standalone incidents. While controlling behaviour can be hard to pin down in practice, Practice Direction 12J of the Family Procedure Rules provides the following helpful definition:

“an act or pattern of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour”

When will controlling behaviour be relevant in family proceedings?

As with other types of abuse, allegations of controlling behaviour are treated seriously by the Family Court. It is possible to apply for a non-molestation order to restrict abusive behaviour.

In cases concerning children, allegations of controlling behaviour are likely to be considered relevant to the outcome. This is because the welfare of the children is the court’s paramount concern and risk of abuse is relevant to the children’s welfare.

The approach is very different in family finance cases. These are typically cases where former spouses’ financial assets are divided between them. Only rarely will the court take behaviour, including controlling behaviour, into account. Instead, the court focuses on the assets owned by the parties and how these should be shared in order to meet needs and achieve fairness.

What impact does controlling behaviour have on family proceedings?

In cases about child arrangements, allegations of controlling behaviour may be dealt with at a fact-finding hearing. This is an additional hearing at which the court decides whether allegations made are true. The outcome of this hearing provides a basis for a final decision about child arrangements. If controlling behaviour by one parent is found to have occurred, this is likely to impact the final order made.

Here to Help

If you need advice on any family matter, please get in touch with Tracey Dargan, Partner and Head of Family and Divorce.

Please note the contents of this article are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.