Hindering contact is ‘coercive control’

family law

Making life difficult for non-resident parents is a form of coercive control, a fathers group has claimed in a response to draft legislation.

The Domestic Abuse Scotland Bill, currently under consideration by Hollyrood would outlaw behaviour deemed to be “abusive of the person’s partner or ex-partner”. Its provisions include so-called ‘coercive control’ – i.e. threats, intimidation, bullying or excessive efforts to monitor or circumscribe a partner’s behaviour. Such activiities are already illegal south of the border.

Despite a popular perception that coercive control is something only done by men to women, Families Need Fathers (FNF) Scotland believes the bill would also apply to the behaviour of some mothers with care towards non-resident fathers.

“From the perspective of the individuals who ask for our help FNF Scotland gives a qualified welcome to the Bill’s proposal to create ‘a new offence of abusive behaviour towards a person’s partner or ex-partner covering both physical violence and non-physical abuse.’ “

The group cites examples of behaviour by angry and vengeful parents with care towards to non-resident parents that could qualify as coercive control. These include:

*Refusing to communicate except via solicitors – or refusing to do so at all.

*Repeatedly making last minute, disruptive changes to previously agreed contact arrangements.

*Failing to consult the non-resident parent about holiday plans.

*Criticising or undermining the other parent to the children.

*Obstructing contact arrangements.

And perhaps most seriously:

“Making unfounded allegations about a range of matters both trivial and potentially criminal to professionals putting the non-resident parent in the position that he is under constant pressure to prove his worth as a parent.”

An eventual Domestic Abuse Scotland Act could help alienated fathers seek legal redress the group suggests.

National Manager Ian Maxwell explained:

“At present non-resident parents experiencing coercive control feel unprotected by the law. If they report it to police they are told ‘There’s nothing we can do. It’s a civil matter’. Or if there is a court order in place the only option is the slow, unpredictable and expensive route of raising a contempt of court action.”

You can read more here.

Photo by Terry Johnston via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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21 comments

spinner - May 4, 2017 at 7:56pm

It’s interesting that this list is so specific and so accurate and clearly they have identified the problem and listed out the characteristics but the next question is what are they *actually* going to do about it to curb it. I believe if you could stop this type of behaviour by mothers I think it will have a knock on and reduce non payment of maintenance and so on as often these go together.

drmanhattan62 - May 4, 2017 at 8:02pm

Social workers/Local authorities are Guilty of doing some of these things to disrupt contact too but not mention about them.
i wonder why.

sinbad king - May 11, 2017 at 11:09am

totally agree

padrestevie - May 4, 2017 at 8:57pm

You begin this piece with the statement, ‘Making life difficult for non-resident parents is a form of coercive control, a fathers group has claimed in a response to draft legislation.’

It may or may not surprise you to learn that the paraphrasing and dilution of what Fnf actually said is a superb example of the belittling and denigrating tactics that alienating and coercively controlling parents actually employ. (A little later you have actually repeated their descriptions.) It stops just short of gas-lighting but it does try to make a straw man and mischaracterise what was actually said in order to establish a proposition that is easier to undermine and attack. To round it off you use the word ‘claimed’ whereas the phenomenon of alienation is well established judicially and in a burgeoning body of research whilst coercive control also benefits from a statute in english law. Fnf are not making mere claims. They are stating matters of fact.

In the third sentence you continue in a similar vein. Here you refer to ‘so-called coercive control’ which sounds a little disparaging of the worth of a concept that has recently been criminalised and prosecuted in english law.

Fnf do describe ‘…how disrupting the time and frustrating the quality of the relationship between the non-resident parent and his/her children is used by the parent with most care to disrupt the life, drain the resources and undermine the self-confidence of their former partner and ultimately to undermine the relationship he has with his children.’

I think most readers would agree that what fnf actually said was somewhat more serious than ‘making life difficult’ since it refers to the emotional abuse of children and the coercive control of a parent. In the english courts the former has been found to be sufficiently serious to warrant the removal of a child several times in alienation cases since Wall HJ first took this step in 2003. The first prosecution for the later took place only months after the act received royal ascent.

The article illustrates graphically the gender bias that is so frequently complained of and denied on these pages.

Cameron Paterson - May 5, 2017 at 9:35am

You are reading a lot into the routine, neutral language of news reports. ‘Claimed’ is simply a statement of fact: they did make that claim. The phrase ‘so-called’ is a reference to the fact that the term is not used in everyday language and therefore may not be widely understood. Finally we do not think the wording ‘making life difficult’ implies any lack of serious consequences

Paul - May 5, 2017 at 1:49pm

Sorry Cameron but I would agree with padrestevie. It is a loaded article more geared at dismissing ‘claims’ by fathers groups than towards accepting them. I would not say it was neutral. When you have real issues that need addressing there is nothing more fustration than people trying to undermine what you are saying. As a casual observation here there seems to be alot of comentators who feel they have not received much in the way of justice as an nrp. An people are backing up what is said in the artical with real experiences. I think we would all agree that protecting children from the harm caused by what these women(pwc) needs to be a priority over protecting this legal frame work and these family law jobs which make their bread and butter out of it. We can only stop this harm when legal professionals acknowledge an issue and suggest ways to correct it. I don’t know why soliciters resist change. If nrps felt their expartner would face real justice and real consiquences then people would be happier to pay for legal advice I would say. The fact that legal advice gets you know where and courts rarely rule in the nrps favour makes it feel like a waste of money using a soliciter. I was told I had vertially no chance of winning my case because my kids dont want to see me then quoted £38-40k for representation. £700 to draught my statement lol. Why would I pay that when I know that the judge rules along with the CAFCAS report 90% of the time lol. Im not a gambling man but I don’t like those odds. If the nrp had more success in court then people would pay for representation. Changing the system to be infavour joint parenting will benifit solicitors massively.

Paul - May 5, 2017 at 8:20am

Of course it is. It is 100%. Further more courts make out coersive control is hard to prove. Only if your an ideot. If someone is point blank refusing contact and trying to disrupt plans and showing no sign of been able to compromise then thats pretty crystal clear they are working to an agenda with a view to ending contact. To think anything else is stupid. Either our legal system is utterly nieve,stupid and inequiped to deal with this behaviour or they are complicite in this behaviour. Considering this behaviour has been brought up and discused in the parlimentary select commity then it becomes clear that legal people know the parent with care (pwc) can behave this way.This leads me to conclude that they are complict in this behaviour. They use the ‘We cant make your kids come to see you’ as a get out clause so they don’t have to act because such intervention would involve getting mothers to comply. The fact is our courts are completely ‘impotent’ when dealing with young mums who won’t comply with orders. They are unwilling to take action against women because they fear a public outcry or backlash.
Taking action against young mums could politically look bad. However if courts don’t do anything then that makes our courts look bad. An you can’t argue against the fact that this mentality leads to a sexist application of the law where men are punished and women are not made to account for their actions !

Andrew - May 5, 2017 at 1:09pm

It failure to abide by an order for contact were treated as seriously as breach of a non mol a lot of PWCs would find that their children did after all want contact and that it could be managed!

Paul - May 5, 2017 at 2:04pm

Ofcourse they would. We all know that. There is no such thing as a kid who does not want to see their dad.
They are just perpetuating nonsense.

Don’t underestimate the number of mums they would have to punish. There would be a back lash from groups like Gingerbread and mumsnet. The femanazis(half the labour party) would get on board. They carry alot of weight in parliment. Nobody has the balls to stand upto the femanazis in parliment. They dictate law.

Min - May 8, 2017 at 7:03pm

As someone who is keen to forward the understanding of what constitutes coercive control, I

Min - May 9, 2017 at 11:44pm

I have been involved in raising awareness of coercive control for the last 2 years and have spent this time not only talking about what constitutes coercive control but much of it correcting misunderstandings and misconceptions.

I’m afraid that much of what is contained in the article and in the comments beneath are inaccurate in that there is, rather than an in depth understanding of coercive control, instead an attempt to redefine it, by making the definition fit the behaviour rather than a genuine understanding of how it presents.

Firstly, coercive control is not about being bossy, about being demanding, about spite, anger or revenge. It is not about bloody mindedness, nagging, about hate, about depriving someone of their child for these reasons.

This is important as the way some are attempting to reframe coercive control, around contact denial and parental alienation, is to not only misunderstand but also to misuse the term in the context of domestic abuse.

This is not to say that contact denial and parental alienation aren’t real. They are and can have devastating consequences. With the exception of cases where there is a genuine fear for a child’s welfare and contact has been stopped pending a hearing, it is probably true to say that most cases of broken contact stem from a parent wanting, in some way, to punish their ex. It makes them bitter, angry, petty, vengeful, aggrieved, vexatious…

BUT it does not make it coercive control.

In these two years, I have received many many emails from separated /divorced parents who do not see their children and who are angry and want to see their ex punished. From the emails I get I would say that there is a definitely greater preponderance to wanting to see the ex imprisoned or for residency to be transferred to the NRP.

What I find interesting is that these parents who get in touch fall, generally, between two camps:

1. I want to see my children and will do anything to facilitate that.
2. I have been denied access to my children and I want to see the other parent punished.

This is not to say that the first group aren’t angry, rather their focus is solely on regaining contact whilst the second group wants to hold their ex to account and make them answerable in a Court of law.

There is a clear difference in how these two groups want to approach the issue and just to make doubly sure, I always ask what it is they want and what they would like to see in five years time.

I tell them in no uncertain terms that they need to make a decision on what is more important, seeing their children or getting back at their ex, that they can’t do both so have to decide to concentrate on one. Often, I can already guess who I won’t hear from again but sometimes the parent contacting me has a change of heart and decides that what they thought they wanted is actually not what they want at all.

The ones who seem unable to let go of their desire to avenge their ex, seem less concerned about their child’s welfare

This is what I have experienced and I realise that it may not be representative of all parents not having contact but a significant number fall in either one or the other camp for me not to dismiss this finding out of hand.

This is important because, from what I can gather, the parents wanting to to get their ex convicted on a coercive control charge, seem to be more focused on imprisonment as a punishment than any real desire to co-parent.

I may be wrong here but I surmise that previous attempts to have either an RO or a criminal charge for the RP have failed and so the new law criminalising coercive control is being seen as another stab at getting the RP found guilty. If that is the case, they are on to a loser as it is highly unlikely that the prosecution will be able to prove that hindering contact is coercive control UNLESS it is part of a pattern of behaviour and has a detrimental effect.

It is probably fair to say that, until coercive control has garnered a significantly better understanding across the board – from law enforcement all the way to the judiciary- it is going to be a difficult to secure a conviction unless it is accompanied by physical violence in order for it to reach the criminal standard of proof.

I would have thought that there was a greater likelihood of proving malice, obstruction- than proving coercive control.

Certainly what is not clear from the above is that coercive control has only been criminalised in an intimate or family relationship meaning that there has to be either a physical relationship or the parties have to be living under the same roof. This would mean that contact denial and parental alienation, even if they WERE part of a pattern of coercive control, would not be covered by this law although I haven’t yet seen the Scottish Bill.

Paul - May 10, 2017 at 11:14am

Interesting. I am interested in your perspective. I think the standard of evidence required to prove coersive control is actually a huge barrier and may actually mean the new law will in real terms do very little to protect against coersive control. Its worth mentioning also that this patern of behaviour is going to come hand in hand with people who have forms of phycopathy. Such as minor personality disorders such as people of a sociopathic nature. Convicting someone with sociopathic tendancies (60% of the prison population) for coersive control is alot like convicting a fish for swimming. They don’t know they are doing it. It is actually their natural pattern of behaviour. Would these people be able to claim some kind of deminished responsibility ? I can see why courts are reluctant to deploy this new law.
Maybe coerssive control does not accuratly fit but if that is the case I think a new broader ‘Manipulation’ law maybe nessisary to diswade this abserd maligned behaviour we are seeing.

Paul - May 10, 2017 at 11:34am

You have stated that people accusing their partner of coersive control for the purpose of getting them locked up are more interested un this than acheuving co-parenting. This is a misunderstanding I feel. What I would very much like as an alienated parent is someone in autority to explain to my expartner her behaviour is unreasonable and unaccepible to get her to sort her head out. She wants me out the picture so she can play happy familys with her new man. Her objective is very clear. To acheive this she has made allegations to authorities to make me out to be the problem.The impact on me is very very real. Her false allegations have cost me a decent job. I do feel like her behaviour is controling and she has acheived what she wants by being manipulative.
I can’t acheive co-parenting because she does not want it. To my mind this is coersive control. She is manipulating the authorities. (Not me) into getting what she wants. But in true coersive control then it would be me that was being manipulated not the authorities.
But I think this is knit picking to avoid using this law to protect people. No matter who is been coerced the person is demonstrating a ruthless determination to acheive her ends. Which includes using slander and miss using services in place to protect people in genuine need. This behaviour should not be supported and endorsed by leagal services.

drmanhattan - May 10, 2017 at 12:56pm

Totally agree with you.

Shane - July 5, 2017 at 3:47pm

I feel you . I was separated from my child for 7 years and I was suicidal for a large portion of that time . I do not wish to see my daughters mother punished for what she did but I think she should be made to realize that what she did was an extreme form of violence towards me , the father of her child . This was never achieved , I now have visiting time with my daughter , I have another older daughter who lives with me full time , I have to fly to Spain every month to see my little daughter in a social service centre , pay upkeep to the mother in Spain as well as all the costs for my other daughter who was treated exceptionally badly by the mother of my youngest daughter . When we finally went to court , the mother lied about everything , I do not even know what supposed “evidence” her lawyer produced , I was granted immediate contact after the case finally got to court (that took 2 years) even though the mother had tried to claim I was actually dangerous and all contact should be denied . The most important thing for me was to establish a decent relationship with my daughter but in order to keep the contact I am paying obscene amounts of money every month which is clearly out of my financial capabilities , the mother on the other hand is a land lady , lives in one of the most expensive places in Spain (where I have to pay for a hotel every month to see my daughter) . I just have to swallow the injustice and I assure you seeing my little girl helps me to swallow it but I worry about how long I can sustain the bills and then what ? I would say the average monthly bills for my girl in Spain comes to about £700 a month , this month it was around £2000 , my rent is £750 a month , then there is council tax and energy bills , my older daughters bills (I get no help with her) , food …. I work as a painter and decorator on zero hour contracts because my work patterns are disrupted by my monthly trips to Spain , I earn around £100 a day so lets say I work 20 days a month , that comes to £2000 before tax , I am going to drown in debt, no middle ground was given , the mother committed an act of emotional violence , it was very clear that the mother lied in court to try and keep me from my daughter . I am mixed race and spent most of my life in the third world where both my daughters were born , it took me years to be in a position to move to England and find work and be in a position to go to court with the mother , I always wanted a reasonable resolution to avoid the courts but there was no reasoning with the mother . I feel like us fathers can be treated as sub human and there is no way to make it understood that what happened to me was an extreme form of emotional violence . I never truly had my story told , the judge insisted we come to an agreement rather than go for a full hearing , my lawyer said we should go for the agreement , it seemed to be the quickest route to establishing contact with my daughter . I do not feel suicidal anymore , at least I see my daughter and she is starting to get to know me but in the end it was not a just ending . I would not want the mother to go to prison as that would be detrimental to my daughter but she should have at least been made to pay .

elinor-gfdv - May 12, 2017 at 9:42am

If successful this would actually go further than the English law which currently does not protect victims post separation. C&C law as written is also excessively worded towards threat and expectations of violence and therefore continues to devalue and suppress the significant damage done to victims who never suffer physical harm. Coercion and Control should be the issue, by whatever means, using whatever tools and step away from the model that only domestic abuse which is escalating towards violence matters to the criminal law system.

Paul - May 12, 2017 at 11:52am

I just hope this is not just another measure which bypasses a man ‘Pressumption of innocence’ I hope these new Scotish charges are not used without segnificant evidence been presented. Any allegations made by an expartner should be viewed with ‘caution.’ Ladys are not sugar and spice and are frequantly found to be untruthful. I hope judges always work with a view to finding people innocent and not working towards criminalizing people for no reason.

Stitchedup - May 12, 2017 at 3:31pm

Paul has raised the point of a man’s presumption of innocence; well I have a story to tell about that.
A friend was twice arrested having been accused of sending a text to his ex although the text wasn’t from his number. On each occasion the Police visited his home in the early hours of the morning to catch him as he was leaving for work at 5am. They took all his mobile phones, old and new, away for analysis. He was kept on bail for well over 6 months whilst the phones were being analysed. The Police found no evidence he had sent any texts to his ex, yet just before Christmas he was asked to turn up at the Police station to be charged.
I went to see a solicitor with him to give him some moral support. The Solicitor asked if he could prove he hadn’t sent the texts and my friend responded by saying he couldn’t prove a negative; he couldn’t exactly hold the phone up and say “look, there’s the text I haven’t sent”. The Solicitor then advised him to plead guilty if he couldn’t prove he hadn’t sent the texts and explained that there were several categories of allegation/offence where the presumption of innocence doesn’t apply; these are anything domestic, anything sexual and anything racial. My friend refused to plead guilty and we pointed out to the solicitor it was his duty to fight the case. The Solicitor explained that my friend was to be tried by the District Judge who would find him guilty if he couldn’t prove he hadn’t sent the text. Eventually we won the Solicitor around by showing him Social Services reports that my friend had relating to his Children where his ex had been caught lying and had actually married a man who was not allowed to be around her Children.
Fortunately, on the day of the trial luck went my friend’s way. The District Judge couldn’t do the trial so he had a bench of magistrates instead…. First bit of luck. The second bit of luck was that he had an old school CPS prosecutor who took one look at the case and exclaimed “Where’s the evidence!!??”
At the start of the hearing the CPS Prosecutor stood up and addressed the bench saying “I have absolutely no evidence this man has sent these texts, our only argument is if he didn’t who did?”
After hearing testimony from my friend and his ex the bench declared that the burden of proof hadn’t been met and acquitted my friend and awarded him costs. The CPS did his job and asked for a restraining order on acquittal but fortunately for my friend the bench refused.
Luck was on my friend’s side that day, however it could have gone the other way only too easily if he had the District Judge or a young feminist CPS Prosecutor.

True story, happened in Cardiff Magistrates courts.

Stitchedup - May 12, 2017 at 3:43pm

Oh and another thing the Solcitor explained. Even with no evidence the CPS will prosecute a domestic violence alleagation/case. The reasons being:

1. Domestic violence is a political hot button so automatically passes the public interest test .

2. They don’t care if they isn’t a reasonable chance of a successful prosecution. The CPS have so much paper work to fill out if they decide not to prosecute a domestic violence case/allegation it easier to just prosecute regardless. If the win they win, if they loose they put their arms up and say “well we tried”.

Paul - May 13, 2017 at 1:18am

Your right. There is a ‘domestic violence agenda’ – i stood in the magistrates court in Scarbourgh accused of harassment. I told them EXACTLY the wording in law they needed to find me innocent. They had not proven a’ course of conduct ‘ amounting to harassment. All they has was one insident.An the femanist judge just convicted me anyway. I put an appeal in even before sentancing. I knew I was been stitched up. I did 100 hours community service. Then when the appeal came round it took them 10 minutes to quash it. Its frightening that the police don’t listen to a word you say because you are male.
I also got interviewed under caution for a text message asking her to be amicable and sort things out.
I wont even speak to the police now unless i need them to do their job.
(*Comment edited – our moderation policy is here)

Mr F Newbold - May 12, 2017 at 1:56pm

Great post!

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