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Why The Severity of Physical Abuse Is a Poor Measure of Domestic Violence in Family Law


Domestic abuse is a complex issue, and there are many misconceptions surrounding it. One of the most common myths about domestic abuse is that the seriousness of the abuse can be determined by looking at the severity of the incidents of physical violence. However, this is far from the truth.

The Full Scope of Domestic Abuse

The severity of any incidents of violence is nowhere near enough to tell us about the full scope and severity of the abuse. Nor does it tell us the degree of post-separation abuse that may still be occurring. Many abusers use a wide range of tactics to control and manipulate their victims. These tactics can include psychological and emotional abuse, isolation of the victim-survivor, economic abuse, sexually abusive behaviors, tracking, monitoring and stalking, threats and intimidation, micro-managing of the victim-survivor's daily life and behavior, witholding the children, abusing children, pets, or other loved ones as a means of distressing and controlling the victim-survivor, and using laws and systems against the victim-survivor to harm them.

"Incidents of physical violence are not the most important aspect of domestic violence and abuse." Dr. Emma Katz

The Importance of Detailed Screening and Assessment

It's essential to understand that some abusers use little or no physical violence but still do tremendous, life-damaging harm with the other abuse tactics described above. Therefore, before we come to any conclusions about how severe the abuse was, or is, or if it is continuing post-separation, we must do a comprehensive screening, if not an assessment. We need to find out which of the above tactics were and may continue to be used by the abuser, for how long, in what ways, and what harms the abuser caused via these tactics to the targeted victims-survivors and their loved ones.

Take All Forms of Abuse Seriously

If a victim-survivor is saying that they are still experiencing abuse tactics in the present day, family lawyers, parenting experts and decision-makers should take this very seriously: even if the last incident of violence was a long time ago or the couple has separated. It's essential to recognize that even post-separation, the abuser is quite possibly still harming their co-parent and their children.


Domestic abuse is a complex issue that cannot be accurately determined solely by looking at the severity of physical violence. It's vital to understand that abusers use various tactics to control and manipulate their victims. Therefore, a detailed screening or assessment is required to understand the full scope and severity of the abuse and the children's best interests, regardless of the type or severity of physical violence.

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