What is Coercive Control In Family Law?

Coercive Control: A New Chapter in Australian Legislation
NSW, Australia is taking a significant step forward in the fight against domestic violence with the introduction of new legislation criminalising coercive control. This article explores the implications of this new law and its potential impact on victims, law enforcement, and society as a whole.

Understanding Coercive Control
Coercive control is a pattern of behaviour which can include isolation, intimidation, sexual coercion, and cyberstalking. It’s often described as “intimate terrorism” or “living in torture” by survivors. This insidious behaviour often flies under the radar, as it can be psychological, emotional, financial, or social abuse. It’s important to note that coercive control underpins most domestic homicides.

The New Legislation

In 2022, New South Wales passed Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Act 2022 No 65 (NSW) which makes coercive control recognised as a “domestic abuse offence”, commencing July this year. The maximum penalty is imprisonment for 7 years.

Starting July 2024, in NSW, coercive control will become a punishable criminal act when a person uses abusive behaviours repeatedly or continuously (or both) towards a current or former intimate partner with the intention to coerce or control them. “Abusive behaviour” is defined in the legislation to capture a wide range of behaviours which include but are not limited to the following:

• behaviour that causes harm to a child if a person fails to comply with demands made of the person;
• behaviour that causes harm to the person against whom the behaviour is directed, or another adult, if the person fails to comply with demands made of the person;
• behaviour that is economically or financially abusive;

• behaviour that shames, degrades or humiliates;
• behaviour that directly or indirectly harasses a person, or monitors or tracks a person’s activities, communications or movements, whether by physically following the person, using technology or in another way;
• behaviour that causes damage to or destruction of property:
• behaviour that prevents the person from doing any of the following or otherwise isolates the person—

o making or keeping connections with the person’s family, friends or culture;
o participating in cultural or spiritual ceremonies or practice;
o expressing the person’s cultural identity;
o behaviour that causes injury or death to an animal, or otherwise makes use of an animal to threaten a person; and
o behaviour that deprives a person of liberty, restricts a person’s liberty or otherwise unreasonably controls or regulates a person’s day-to-day activities.”

Some examples may include:

• preventing the intimate partner seeking employment;
• withholding financial supports necessary to meet the intimate partner’s daily needs;
• withholding necessary medical or other forms of support from the imitate partners, etc.

The Impact of the Legislation

The criminalisation of coercive control is a significant milestone in the fight against domestic violence. It acknowledges the severe and lasting harm caused by non-physical forms of abuse and provides a legal framework for holding perpetrators accountable.

However, the implementation of these laws will require comprehensive training for law enforcement and frontline workers to effectively identify and respond to cases of coercive control. Advocates are also urging more education, including for school students, to tackle coercive control across society.

It will be intriguing to witness how this new legislation and any conviction of abusive behaviour will affect family law proceedings. With more states recognising coercive control as a standalone offence (Queensland passed laws recently) and a societal shift towards recognising domestic violence, the Court may be more readily to accept the Kennon argument in more cases. In cases where a Kennon argument is successful, the party affected by family violence may be awarded an adjustment in property settlement proceedings. This occurs when one party has demonstrated violent conduct towards the other, which had a discernible impact and made the affected party’s contributions to the relationship significantly more arduous. Click here to read more on family violence in property matters, (link to the article on Family Violence in Property Matters)


The criminalisation of coercive control in Australia marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing battle against domestic violence. It sends a clear message that all forms of abuse, whether physical or not, are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. As we move forward, it’s crucial to ensure that these laws are effectively enforced and that education and awareness about coercive control continue to be prioritised.

Separation can be a difficult and stressful experience for everyone involved. RN Legal’s family law solicitors are committed to ensuring the sensitive handling of all family law matters with utmost respect to confidentiality.

We can guide you through what can otherwise be a complex process and help you understand your legal rights and responsibilities. We provide assistance for a range of matters relating to family law and de facto relationships.

To arrange an appointment to discuss a Family Law matter you may be involved in call us on (02) 9191 9293 or email mail@rnlegal.org.