• Ceylan Kahya

Domestic abuse involves ‘more than just direct violence’

Domestic abuse involves ‘more than just direct violence’

The Court of Appeal has reiterated that domestic abuse could mean far more than just violence and included behaviour that could affect the welfare of children even if they were not the direct victims.

The issue arose in four conjoined appeals involving allegations of domestic abuse by one parent against the other.

In giving judgments, which varied in each case, the court emphasised that it was important to understand the nature of domestic violence and abuse, including controlling and coercive behaviour, and its impact on both victims and on the children in the household.

It said the concept of domestic violence, which was first introduced by the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976, had developed significantly. It was no longer regarded as a matter purely between the adults but was recognised to be equally relevant to children of the family.

In many cases, courts had to focus on patterns of behaviour falling short of actual bodily harm, as it was now unreservedly accepted that controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour could be just as abusive, or even more so.

It was also understood that specific incidents might not be free-standing matters, but part of a wider pattern of abuse.

Greater prominence was to be given to coercive and/or controlling behaviour in Family Court proceedings.

A child could be harmed in several ways, including: where the abusive behaviour was witnessed by or directed against them; where the victim of the abuse was so frightened of provoking an outburst from the perpetrator that they could not give priority to the children’s needs; where there was an atmosphere of fear and anxiety in the home that was inimical to the child’s welfare; or where it inculcated a set of values which involved treating women as inferior to men.

It was equally important to be clear that not all directive, assertive, stubborn or selfish behaviour would be “abuse”. Much turned on the perpetrator’s intention and on the harmful impact of the abuse.

If you would like more information or advice about the issues raised in this article, or any aspect of family law please contact our expert legal team on 02080040065, by email at hello@southgate.co.uk or using the form below.

Case Citations: H-N (Children) (Domestic Abuse: Finding of Fact Hearings) Court of Appeal (Civil Division),

[2021] EWCA Civ 448, [2021] 3 WLUK 526 Sir Andrew McFarlane PFD; King LJ; Holroyde LJ

The contents of this article are general information only. The information in this article is not legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should obtain independent expert advice from qualified solicitors such as those within our firm.

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