What is coercive control?

Coercive control is a form of domestic abuse and describes psychological and emotional abuse that can often be harder to recognise than physical abuse. Anyone can be a victim of this type of abuse. Coercive control is established by a pattern of behaviour that can include:

  • controlling the time you spend with friends and family
  • questioning your behaviour
  • “gaslighting”, making you second guess yourself
  • isolating you from friends and family
  • controlling your finances, including access to money, requiring you to ask permission to spend money or unreasonably questioning your spending
  • humiliating and degrading insults
  • threatening and intimidating behaviour

Current legislation

Coercive control is illegal behaviour. In April 2019, the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act came into effect, providing protection to those who are suffering from the effects of coercive control.

In order to establish coercive control, both of the following must be found.

1. Pattern of behaviour

This can comprise two or more incidents, similar to those mentioned in the non-exhaustive list above.

2. Intention or recklessness as to harm

The perpetrator must be intending to cause psychological harm or show recklessness as to this behaviour, as mentioned in the list above.

Ground of divorce

In Scotland, there is only one ground of divorce, establishing that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. There are four ways to prove this:

  • adultery
  • you have lived apart for one year and you both agree to divorce
  • you have lived apart for two years where only one party agrees to divorce
  • unreasonable behaviour

Unreasonable behaviour is the most commonly cited (fault-based) reason for divorce and coercive control is an example of unreasonable behaviour.