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Coercive Control in Family Law Files: Beware of the “Just Enough” Tactic.





Coercive control involves a complex and often subtle set of patterned behaviours.


Below I describe one of these subtle tactics known as the “Just Enough" tactic. On its own this tactic is insufficient to constitute coercive control, however, when combined with a web of other subtle strategies that serve to prolong problem-solving, the “Just Enough" tactic should not be overlooked as a red flag, nor should its potency be minimized.


Coercive control is defined as a pattern of acts involving intimidation, isolation, threats, physical or sexual assault, humiliation and manipulation that is used to harm, punish, or frighten. Coercive controlling behaviour is listed in the March 2021 Divorce Act as a factor in best interest determinations for children.


 

The “Just Enough” tactic is when an individual fails to do what they agreed until a consequence for failure to act is about to be enforced, such as a court application or the threat of one. At this point, the individual then does some small and easy part of what they should have already done. This small action is often enough to provide them with a reprieve. In family law, the reprieve is often supported by the pressure for the aggrieved party to appear “reasonable” and accept the token act as a forward movement. The problem is however that the “just enough” response is likely to repeat itself and can create a significant delay and/or effective block to resolution. Delays in problem-solving can create real and harmful consequences for both the victim parent and children. Important decisions for the children are impeded, enriching opportunities are missed, financial pressures mount, inappropriate parenting arrangements continue, stress and anxiety build, with no end in sight.



In a family law context, the “Just Enough" tactic might occur in the context of providing financial disclosure, paying child support, providing consent for a child to participate in an activity, or to change schools, travel, or get medical/dental care or therapy, etc.




The “Just Enough” tactic is a powerful way to control another parent’s ability to pursue options for children and effectively parent. The avoidance and delay inherent in the “Just Enough" tactic can be a fundamental ploy to apply pressure and control another person and it thrives in systems that allow it.


The tactic of "Just Enough" can create the optics of innocence. When co-parents adhere to truisms such as “Others deserve the benefit of the doubt” and “Everyone makes mistakes” it is generally helpful however, these truisms do not apply where the dynamic of power and control exists. The best interests of children are rarely if ever well served when solutions to problems are prolonged.


Beware the "Just Enough". It could be more than it appears.

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