Info & Advice

How do I prove emotional abuse in divorce?

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Domestic abuse can come in many forms and any incident of controlling or coercive behaviour, violence or abuse is unacceptable. Contrary to common understanding, emotional and psychological abuse forms the majority of wrongdoing in a relationship. But while physical abuse tends to be easily recognisable, psychological, financial, and emotional manipulation are typically hidden and therefore more difficult to prove. So how do you prove it? And in what circumstances do you need to? Read on to find out.

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse, or controlling and coercive behaviour, is a deliberate and calculated pattern of conduct and psychological abuse designed to isolate, manipulate, and terrorise a victim into complete, fearful obedience. This non-exhaustive list may help you recognise if you, or someone you know, are in an abusive relationship:

  • Monitoring your time and/or your movements online
  • Controlling your finances, such as taking your wages or benefits or only giving you a small allowance
  • Preventing you from working or controlling your ability to go to work or place of study
  • Controlling what you wear
  • Preventing you from having access to transport
  • Disconnecting the phone and internet
  • Controlling when you can sleep
  • Controlling when and what you can eat
  • Embarrassing you in public
  • Not allowing you any privacy, for example, opening your mail, going through your devices
  • Constantly checking who has phoned/texted you
  • Isolating or preventing you from seeing your family and friends
  • Shutting you in the house

How do I prove emotional abuse?

If you are making an application to court for an injunction or occupation order, you will be required to provide evidence of the abuse. Evidence will need to focus on the wide pattern of behaviour and its cumulative impact. The following is a non-exhaustive list of the types of proof that could be used in emotional abuse and coercive control cases:

  • Medical records and doctors/counsellor’s report
  • Records of interaction with services, such as support services
  • Copies of emails
  • Phone records
  • Text and voicemail messages
  • Police recordings or transcripts from emergency calls
  • CCTV
  • Body-worn video footage (police)
  • Witness statements from yourself, family or friends that may be able to give evidence about the effect and impact of isolation from them
  • Local enquiries from neighbours, etc
  • Bank records that identify financial control
  • Previous threats made to children or any other family members
  • Diary entries
  • Evidence of isolation, such as lack of contact between family or friends, withdrawing from activities, perpetrator accompanying victim to medical appointments
  • GPS tracking devices installed on mobile phones, tablets, or vehicles

Criminal and civil law cases, the latter of which family law falls into, have different standards of proof. In the civil courts, the case must be proved “on the balance of probabilities” which means that the court must be satisfied that the thing being complained about is more likely to have happened than not. Whereas in criminal cases, the standard is significantly greater, namely, the offence must be proved “beyond all reasonable doubt”.

Domestic abuse cases can fall into both criminal and civil law camps. If the victim is seeking an injunction in the family court, that is a civil matter. And if the perpetrator has been charged with an offence by police, then it is obviously a criminal matter.

Divorce and abuse

With the inception of no-fault divorce, an applicant no longer has to cite examples as to why their marriage has irretrievably broken down. Merely applying for the divorce and conditional order confirming the same, means that an individual does not have to apportion blame. In addition, a divorce can no longer be contested by a respondent, except in extremely limited circumstances. This removes the need to prove emotional abuse, unless you wish to apply for a non-molestation order (injunction), and/or, an occupation order, which allows you to remain in the former family home.

In extremely limited circumstances, domestic abuse may be taken into account as a conduct issue when looking at a couple’s finances. Incidents of domestic abuse and coercive control may, in some circumstances, fall within qualifying conduct under s25(2)(g) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. And means the court could consider it as a relevant factor to be taken into account when deciding on a financial settlement.

What help is available from the court?

As briefly mentioned above, there are measures of protection available from the family court for victims of emotional abuse. Injunctive measures consist of occupation orders, where the perpetrator can be ordered to leave a property owned by them or in which they have an interest, even if the victim does not have a legal interest in the property but occupies it as their home.

There are also non-molestation orders where carrying out any action set out in the order which causes the victim to feel harassed or threatened, would be a breach of the order. In proceedings for child arrangements, measures include prohibited steps orders or orders directing certain conditions on contact arrangements if deemed necessary to protect the victim and children from risk of further abuse.

Is there any legal aid available for victims of domestic abuse?

A victim of emotional abuse may be eligible for legal aid funding under domestic violence rules. This will allow them to access a number of options to protect them as they separate from their abuser. Assessment for legal aid is carried out by a solicitor who has a certificate from the legal aid board to supply such services. In addition to legal aid, there are also many charities who can provide advice to victims and support them through the process.

Emotional abuse and coercive control are central to domestic abuse, whether or not there is any physical violence. Often it is invisible to other agencies and those outside of the dynamics of the relationship. It can also lead the victim to feel as though they are responsible for the abuse. So if you find yourself in this situation, we urge you to seek legal assistance as soon as possible.

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