Want to understand coercive control in family law files? Here is where you start.

1. Believe it exists.

2. Examine and challenge your own assumptions. Family law professionals as well as clinicians rely on personal, untested assumptions which colour their views about the nature, persistence, and severity of domestic violence (Crooks, Jaffe, & Bala, 2010; Hardesty, Crossman).

3. Believe it exists across all socio-economic groups, including the affluent and highly educated (PhD, JD, MD).

4. Recognize there is a high probability it is present or has been present in one or more of your “high conflict” files.

5. Understand that coercive control is subtle, patterned, insidious, difficult to see on the surface and hard to gather evidence of. It does not always involve physical violence.

6. Be aware that in family law files, intentionally fabricated allegations of domestic violence, including coercive control are low (Trocmé & Bala, 2005, Saini, Laajasalo, Platt, 2020).

7. Recognize the fact that children are directly impacted by coercive control even after separation. Children in families where a parent is the victim of coercive control are also often trapped in the perpetrator’s controlling abuse and dysfunction (Callaghan et al., 2018; Heward- Belle, 2016; Humphreys et al., 2019; McLeod, 2018; Stark & Hester, 2019).

8. Be alert to the fact that parenting experts have less training in domestic violence than what you might expect. Expert assessments have been criticized with regard to assessors’ knowledge and examination of coercive control (Jefferies, 2016; Simon & Stahl, 2014).

9. Be cautious of allegations of parental alienation. They are often used effectively to counter legitimate claims of coercive control and domestic violence. Conversely, alienation of the victim parent is often the result of coercive control. Engage a domestic violence expert.

10. Be aware that shared parenting and decision-making is incompatible with coercive control.

Written by Glenda Lux M.A.

R. Psych.