The information on this page relates to the law in England and Wales. Our listing of other useful organisations has details of organisations that may have information relevant to Northern Ireland and Scotland.
On 5 April 2023, controlling or coercive behaviour that takes place after a relationship has ended became a criminal offence.
Abusers often begin or continue economic abuse after separation. This much-needed change to the law will change the lives of many victim-survivors, allowing them to access justice.
This page has been created as a response to some questions we received from survivors of domestic abuse related to post-separation abuse and the law.
Controlling or coercive behaviour is a crime in England and Wales under section 76 of the Serious Crime Act (2015). This law highlights that domestic abuse is often a purposeful pattern of behaviour.
SEA led the successful call for the Domestic Abuse Act (2021) for England and Wales to extend this offence to include post-separation abuse. This changes the law so that controlling or coercive behaviour can now potentially be prosecuted as a criminal offence even if the parties are no longer in a relationship and are not living together.
You can read a full timeline of SEA’s engagement with the Domestic Abuse Act to influence this change.
SEA’s call for this change was led by the voices of the Experts by Experience who we work alongside.
The Domestic Abuse Act (2021) for England and Wales became law on 29 April 2021. However, different sections of the Act come into force on different dates. The section of the Act that criminalises controlling or coercive behaviour that takes place after separation came into force on 5 April 2023.
Domestic abuse that takes place after a relationship has ended may therefore be considered as controlling or coercive behaviour if it took place after 5 April 2023.
The law to criminalise controlling or coercive behaviour that takes place after separation came into force on 5 April 2023. This means that only post-separation abuse that takes place after this date can be prosecuted as controlling or coercive behaviour.
Post-separation domestic abuse that took place before 5 April 2023 cannot be prosecuted under this law. However, any charges for controlling or coercive behaviour can consider previous behaviour as evidence of a person’s character.
The change to the law to criminalise controlling or coercive behaviour that takes place after separation is only directly relevant to criminal law proceedings. There is no direct impact on the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) or family law cases.
However, some abusive behaviours involving the family courts or the CMS are included as examples of post-separation economic abuse within the Home Office guidance on controlling or coercive behaviour. For example, deliberately prolonging court proceedings or refusing to pay child maintenance. If charges are being raised for controlling or coercive behaviour, the change in the law means that this type of behaviour taking place after a relationship has ended may be considered under the offence, depending on the circumstances.
We have detailed information on the circumstances that must apply for economic abuse to be considered a crime under the controlling or coercive behaviour offence. This now includes abuse that takes place after separation. You can read this information here. If the circumstances apply to your case, you can pursue a criminal prosecution.
Depending on the circumstances, economic abuse could also be another criminal offence, eg fraud, theft or criminal damage.
We have information on how to report a crime to your local police force. This includes information on the evidence that will support your case.
Your local police force should have a policy or guidelines on domestic abuse cases. You can ask to see this. If the response you receive does not match these guidelines, you can make a complaint.
Economic abuse is now included in the legal definition of domestic abuse. This means that cases of economic abuse should now be taken more seriously.
Domestic Abuse Matters training delivered by SafeLives includes learning on controlling or coercive behaviour. This has been delivered to a large number of police forces in England and Wales.
There has been training in some police forces on economic abuse. Training on the police response to economic abuse, delivered by SafeLives in conjunction with Surviving Economic Abuse, has been delivered to 21 police forces.
Now that post-separation abuse is included within the controlling or coercive behaviour offence, we expect training on post-separation abuse to be rolled out.
If you are pursuing a criminal prosecution against the abuser, speak to your local domestic abuse service. They may be able to help you to gather evidence and liaise with the police. They may also have specialist knowledge to support you through the process and ensure your safety is prioritised. Women’s Aid has a directory you can search for your local domestic abuse service.
There are also legal services that support women who have experienced domestic abuse. Rights of Women has information aimed at helping women through legal proceedings. It also has a family law advice line you can call and information on reporting coercive control to the police.
We have more information about where you may be able to access legal support at low cost as a victim-survivor of domestic abuse.
Last updated April 2023
If you are experiencing economic abuse, you are not alone. We have more information that can support you to take steps towards safety and begin to regain control of your finances.
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