what is the definition of domestic abuse?
Domestic Abuse  |  Family law

What is the definition of domestic abuse?

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Walker Family Law
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Domestic abuse is a term that is commonly used but, as we will see, also commonly misunderstood.

what is the definition of domestic abuse?

The misconception is largely due to changes in our understanding of the scope of domestic abuse, as we have learned more about the nature of abuse in family relationships.

And even the terminology has changed, as that understanding has grown.

So, what is the definition of domestic abuse?

Domestic Abuse is not just violence

Until relatively recently the term domestic abuse was hardly used. Instead, we referred to domestic violence.

The term domestic violence is still in common usage, suggesting that the problem relates only to one party using or threatening physical violence against the other.

But while domestic abuse often involves one party using or threatening violence against the other, that is only part of the story.

Abuse can be far more subtle, and insidious, but no less destructive towards the lives of its victims.

So just what types of abuse are covered by the term domestic abuse?

Perhaps surprisingly, there was no official definition of domestic abuse until the passing of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

A statutory definition of domestic abuse

For the first time, the Act set out a statutory definition of domestic abuse. And it covers much more than just violence or threats of violence. We explored this guidance on domestic abuse at the time.

The definition begins by stating that behaviour of one person towards another is domestic abuse if the two people are aged 16 or over and are personally connected to each other, and the behaviour is abusive.

“Personally connected” includes those who are married, are civil partners, or are or have been in an intimate personal relationship with each other.

It should also be noted that behaviour may be behaviour towards another person even though it consists of conduct directed at someone else, such as the other person’s child.

Behaviour is “abusive” if it consists of any of the following:

  1. Physical or sexual abuse.
  2. Violent or threatening behaviour.
  3. Controlling or coercive behaviour.
  4. Economic abuse; or
  5. Psychological, emotional, or other abuse.

It does not matter whether the behaviour consists of a single incident, or a course of conduct.

The meaning of physical or sexual abuse and violent or threatening behaviour will be readily understood, but the other types of abuse require a little more explanation.

Controlling or coercive behaviour can take many forms, but is generally used by the abuser as a means of making their victim submissive towards them. Examples of such behaviour range from constant belittlement to taking over aspects of the victim’s life, for example by restricting where they can go, such as preventing them from seeing friends and family.

Economic abuse is further defined by the Act to mean any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on the victim’s ability to acquire, use, or maintain money or other property, or to obtain goods or services. It is, in effect, another type of controlling or coercive behaviour.

Lastly, psychological and emotional abuse covers such things as the abuser constantly placing their opinion as superior to that of the victim, or generally behaving in such a way as to make the victim feel that they are worthless.

It should also be noted that the definition is not comprehensive – it specifically also includes “other abuse”.

How to get help

As will be seen, the definition of domestic abuse is quite wide, and some victims may not even realise that they are being abused, especially early in a relationship.

It is therefore important that the meaning of domestic abuse be properly understood, so that victims can take steps to protect themselves as soon as possible.

There are various ways that a victim of abuse can protect themselves, including applying to a court for a non-molestation order, or for an order regulating who can occupy the family home.

How We Can Help

Ian Walker Family Law & Mediation Solicitors are award-winning family solicitors and are recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediation, divorce, child law, and arbitration. Please contact the team to speak to our specialist domestic abuse solicitors.