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Stopping Family Violence and Coercive Control

MacLean Law’s lawyers focus on stopping family violence and coercive control. We also ensure false claims of family violence for strategic purposes are exposed. Since family violence often happens behind closed doors, stopping family violence and coercive control takes experienced family violence lawyers. For immediate help call one of our experienced BC or Calgary family lawyers and click here for more resources.

Vancouver Stopping Family Violence and Coercive Control Lawyers 604 602 9000

It’s sad (and trite) to say that while decreasing, family violence is still all too prevalent in Canada. 3.5% of Canadians self-reported spousal violence between 2014-2019 (Statistics Canada). Saskatchewan has the highest rate of reported intimate partner violence among all provinces, more than double the national rate (CBC, December 2021). But family violence is not restricted to spouses: children are all too often witnesses (if not direct victims) of this violence, resulting in a risk to both their short and long-term mental health. Family violence and abuse can take many different forms, from physical, verbal and sexual, to emotional, psychological and financial. It can happen once, or be chronic. It’s sad, and it’s serious.

The “New” Divorce Act

In 2021, the federal Divorce Act was amended to introduce a number of changes including, for the first time, a definition of “family violence”, being [at s. 2(1)]:

‘any conduct by a family member towards another family member, that is violent or threatening or that constitutes a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour or that causing that other family member to fear for their own safety or that of another person, and includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, threats, harassment, psychological abuse, financial abuse, and threats to or the actual harming or killing of an animal or damage to property.’

As important, the new Divorce Act stated that family violence was to be one of the factors considered in determining what was “in the best interests” of children, including that when considering family violence, the Court was to take the following into account [at s. 16(4)(b)]:

“whether there is a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour in relation to a family member”.

“Coercive Control”

So, it is clear that “coercive and controlling behavior” is now considered a form of family violence. But what is this behavior? An often-used definition of “coercive control” in family law (as per Impact) is:

“A continuing act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten.” 

OK, but that’s not very specific. In fact, coercive control is said to involve “a complex and often subtle set of patterned behaviours” or tactics that, on their own, may not be sufficient to constitute coercive control but, when combined with other subtle strategies, can be viewed as abusive (Glenda Lux, “Coercive Control in Family Law Files: Beware of the ‘Just Enough’ Tactic”). More seriously, they are often viewed as a precursor to future (or already combined with) physical violence.

Coercive Controlling Behaviours

Stopping Family Violence and Coercive Control
Stopping Family Violence and Coercive Control is Key protecting spouses and children

But again, not very specific say MacLean Law’s family violence lawyers So what are some of the specific behaviors (both pre and post-separation) that, while individually may not be seen as particularly harmful, but collectively may be viewed as abusive? These behaviours may be categorized and include:

Violence, including:

● physical assaults

● sexual assaults

Intimidation, including:

● threats (physical or verbal) to co-parent, children, family and friends

● surveillance (ie. stalking), either physical or cyber

● degradation (including insults, enforcing child-like discipline tactics)

Deprivation – of necessities and support systems

Exploitation – using co-parent’s resources and skills for personal gain

Micro-managing everyday behaviour, including:

● parenting decisions

● financial decisions

● clothing and hair-styles

● how to clean the house

● house-hold customs and “rules”

Isolation, including restricting access to family and friends

Psychological control – gaslighting, blame-shifting, and:

Litigation Harassment – intentionally using the Court system to control and exhaust the opposing party.

If one thing is clear, it’s that the concept that “coercive control” is a form of family violence is attracting significantly more acceptance in family law these days. So is an expanded understanding of what constitutes family violence and abuse, including that domestic abuse can:

  • be ongoing (rather than incident-specific);
  •  involve frequent (even routine), low-level assaults;
  •  include a range of actions and tactics;
  • be subtle and sometimes difficult to see, and;
  • result in cumulative harm.

Calgary Stopping Family Violence and Coercive Control Lawyers 403 444 5503

So while the understanding and definition of family violence may be expanding, the core reason for it may remain the same: power and control. So is the understanding of the effects of family violence on children. Recently, the Supreme Court of Canada stated (see: Barendregt v. Grebliunas, 2022 SCC 22 at para.’s 143-146):

The suggestion that domestic abuse or family violence has no impact on the children and has nothing to do with the perpetrator’s parenting ability is untenable. Research indicates that children who are exposed to family violence are at risk of emotional and behavioural problems throughout their lives. Harm can result from direct or indirect exposure to domestic conflicts, for example, by observing the incident, experiencing its aftermath, or hearing about it … The recent amendments to the Divorce Act recognize that findings of family violence are a critical consideration in the best interests analysis… Courts must consider family violence and its impact on the ability and willingness of any person who engaged in the family violence to care for and meet the needs of the child.

Family violence. It’s sad. It’s serious. It’s affecting children. And the Courts are taking notice.

Contact our Maclean Law Stopping Family Violence and Coercive Control lawyers today at our offices in Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond, Victoria,  and Kelowna.