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Domestic Violence: More than Physical Abuse

McKean Family Law > Domestic Violence  > Domestic Violence: More than Physical Abuse

Domestic Violence: More than Physical Abuse

Coercive Control is Domestic Violence

Many people do not understand that domestic violence is more than just physical violence. It can involve many other behaviors including verbal abuse and emotional abuse.

Verbal and emotional abuse can include harassment, stalking, destroying a partner’s personal property, keeping a partner under surveillance, making threats, and blocking movements.

California’s legislature has also defined domestic violence under Family Law as disturbing the peace. It can be quite easy to find oneself “disturbing the peace” of another, so it is best to be aware of what disturbing the peace is and how it now applies to domestic violence.

Disturbing the peace is defined as conduct that “destroys the mental and emotional calm of the other party.” Disturbing the peace may be committed directly or indirectly. Disturbing the peace in an intimate relationship or familial relationship often includes the conduct defined as coercive control.

What is Coercive Control?

Coercive control’s effect unreasonably interferes with a person’s free will and personal liberty. Coercive control includes but is not limited to, isolating the family member or intimate partner from friends, family, and other sources of support; depriving your partner of basic necessities; controlling, regulating, or monitoring the other party’s movement, communication, daily behavior, finances, economic resources, or access to services; threats and intimidation surrounding immigration status; and engaging in reproductive coercion.

Coercive control impacts the victim’s self esteem and places invisible chains on a person so that they monitor their behaviors, communications, and every aspect of their life to avoid upsetting their partner.

Coercive Control and Misogynistic Conduct

While coercive control can happen to anyone, national statistics, and national population surveys show women to be the most common victim in most coercive control cases. The abusers in these cases are typically men who exhibit misogynistic conduct.

While women can also be abusers in cases of coercive control situations, the due to the idea of gender-based privilege by one or both parties.

Prior to the codification of coercive control in California law, many victims claiming emotional abuse but not physical or verbal abuse had a challenging time proving their cases in family court. California has codified coercive control as a strategic form of domestic violence under family law but has not yet made coercive control a punishable criminal matter.

There are a few other states and countries that have codified domestic coercive control as a crime. For now, victims of coercive control will be able to seek remedies against coercive control in family court, but not the criminal justice system.

Examples of Commonly Occurring Coercive Control Abusive Tactics

Financial Control

Under California’s Family Law’s domestic abuse coercive control law, a person can be guilty of domestic abuse if that person uses finances to control someone they have an intimate or family relationship with.

Financial control can involve physical and/or verbal abuse but can often go beyond that. Financial control in abusive relationships can include limiting a partner’s access to finances, convincing a partner to go into debt, and withholding or taking a partner’s money.

There is a difference between financial abuse and simply managing the household finances as agreed upon by both sides. If you are unsure as to whether you are causing an abusive relationship due to financial control within your relationship, it may be a good idea to speak with a lawyer.


A person may experience coercive control if they are isolated from family, friends, and other sources of support. California’s coercive control law specifically identifies isolation as a form of coercive control.

Isolation of a partner is abusive behavior that can lead to worse forms of abuse. Isolation includes limiting contact with people outside of the relationship, limiting visitation with people outside of the relationship, preventing a partner from attending family events, speaking for your partner, and moving your partner far away from their family.

It may be more evident that an abusive relationship exists if the isolating partner lives close to their support systems and speaks to their support system often, while the isolated partner is restricted from contact with their support systems.

Isolation is reflective of abusive behaviors and can also qualify as psychological abuse, mental abuse, or one can claim emotional abuse. Isolation can lead to the isolated partner relying solely on their abusive partner for support.

Threats or Intimidation

Coercive control may include threats to do something that is intended to frighten or intimidate a partner. This frequently involves threats to report a partner to a law enforcement or other government agency who can impose unwanted consequences.

Threats can be based on a partner’s actual or suspected immigration status, such as threats to have someone deported if they are not being compliant. Often a person will be told that the abuser will call police and report a crime, or report a party to child protective services. Often an abuser will threaten to provide misrepresented or entirely fabricated information to make the victim seem like the aggressor.

In some cases, an abuser will threaten to harm themselves to compel their partner to comply with their demands. This is often seen when a victim decides to leave the abusive partner and instead of accepting their partner’s choice, the abuser threatens to harm or even kill themselves if the victim does not stay in the relationship.

Reproductive or Sexual Coercion and Sexual Abuse

Under California law, domestic abuse in the form of coercive control can include reproductive coercion and sexual abuse.

Reproductive coercion includes tampering with birth control, refusing to wear a condom, and sexual abuse. It can even be something subtle such as psychological abuse by constantly bringing up the fact that the abusive partner wants to have a baby and creating consequences for the abused partner declining to have a baby.

Sexual abuse can include forceful sexual contact, unwanted sexual contact, harassment or pressure to engage in sex acts, manipulation or being tricked into engaging in sexual acts, and abusive or guilt-provoking language to coerce the abused partner to engage in sexual conduct.

It is common for these examples of sexual coercion to be done using threats and/or punishments as “consequences” of the victim’s actions to “defy” their abuser.

While reproductive coercion can involve intimate partner violence, physical violence is not a requirement by the Court for them to deem it as reproductive coercion.

Identifying Coercive Control Domestic Abuse

Coercive control is identifiable from a pattern of behavior that interferes with the victim’s independence. It can be identified by noticing their partners or family members strictly monitoring their text messages, phone calls, finances, depriving the victim of basic needs, and other behavior that can affect the mental calm of the victim.

Another common sign of coercive behavior is when an individual suddenly isolates themselves from their normal activities because their partner or family member does not permit it.

For example, they no longer spend time with their friends or participate in sports or hobbies they were part of, and that person may seem uncharacteristically demure.

Essentially, the victim no longer has any personal autonomy. Nothing seems to belong to them anymore. For example, their money, possessions, time, money, their body, and/or their life.

Getting Away from Coercive Control

The victims must recognize that their intimate partners or family members are exhibiting coercive behaviour. A good way for a victim to recognize coercive control is by talking with a trusted friend, companion, doctor, therapist, or family member. Thankfully there are also many types of support services out there to help victims of coercive control domestic abuse.

To take steps to exit a domestic abusive relationship (coercive control or any other form of abuse), one should start by finding a haven to go to. It can be a place with a trusted family member or friend, or they can search for a shelter.

A local shelter can be found on this website. You can also contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), texting START to 88788, or chatting online at: https://www.thehotline.org/

Sacramento and Placer Counties both have resource PDFs for anyone to access online. The PDFs have information on local domestic violence resources available to all who qualify. Below are links to each county’s list of domestic violence resources.

Sacramento County Resources

Placer County Resources

On top of reaching out to those support services, contacting local authorities and retaining a family law attorney will help complete the steps to exit the abusive relationship.

California law makes it clear that a person does not need to experience physical violence to have legal protections against domestic abuse with this new coercive control family law code.

California and 14 other states are taking a stand to protect a domestic abuse victim’s life by providing the legal remedy for victims to obtain a restraining order if they are experiencing abuse that cannot always be seen. Family law attorneys, such as McKean Family Law, A.P.C., will be able to help you apply for a restraining order against the abuser, as well as start the process of divorce if applicable.

Not only can restraining orders help protect victims of domestic abuse, they can also help establish or change child custody, child support, and spousal support orders. Restraining orders can also clarify use and possession of vehicles and the family residence, including an order that the abuser leave the home for the victim’s protection.

McKean Family Law, A.P.C. offers a free 30-minute phone consultation for all new clients. During this consultation, we can help you examine your case and see if what you have experienced will qualify as domestic abuse under the California Family Law code and provide you with information about how a restraining order may be able to help you and your children.

If you suspect you are, or know you are, in a position or relationship where you are the victim of domestic violence, don’t wait and call our firm for a free consultation at 916-666-7874.