Relationships can go wrong. Whilst most couples or families may argue, in some instances that becomes toxic and abusive. There may be incidents of physical violence, or patterns of controlling and coercive behaviours. This may be during a relationship, sometimes for years, or it may arise on relationship breakdown, either from bitterness and acrimony, or a refusal to accept separation with harassment or stalking.

Domestic abuse is about power and control.  It can be unilateral or two-way, perpetrated by men and women. What was once the behind closed doors may now be illuminated by a criminal justice system ever more willing and able to take action.  It’s always serious. We can help.


Domestic abuse is defined as any incident of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners of family members, regardless of their gender or sexuality. There are numerous offences which can fall under the category of domestic abuse including assault, battery, harassment, coercive and controlling behaviour, theft, fraud and sexual offences.

Many allegations are clear and obvious, but others can be less so, especially when understanding where the line is drawn between frequent, bitter, tempestuous arguing and bickering and domestic abuse that might be an offence. Some relationships are characterised by mutual abuse, when each person is guilty of abusing the other. Domestic abuse is never acceptable or justified, it’s always harmful.

Controlling and coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship is a specific criminal offence under s.76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. This offence, which is not retrospective, came into force on the 29th December 2015.  Today this is a common allegation, with police and prosecutors increasingly familiar with the elements of the offence and the important statutory guidance which underpins most investigations.

The range of allegations is enormous, and spans from acrimonious marriage breakdowns to years of sustained physical and emotional violence where every aspect of a person’s life is controlled.  It will usually sit alongside individual allegations, often of assault, which may form the evidential foundation of the overarching allegation of controlling and coercive behaviour. The offence is deliberately broad, but an investigation will be offender-centric, building a picture of a pattern of behaviours. It is the cumulative impact of controlling or coercive behaviour which is crucial.

Those considering how to respond to such allegations should understand that investigators and prosecutors are advised to be on the lookout for perpetrators taking steps to disrupt or mislead the investigation; making counter allegations, confusing primary victim and primary aggressor, altering behaviours, using other proceedings, or minimising their behaviour.

Harassment is pursuing a course of conduct, meaning on more than one occasion, where that conduct is calculated to alarm or cause distress to another, and was oppressive and unreasonable. A more serious version of harassment puts another person in fear of violence, beyond alarm or distress.

The line between a protracted, acrimonious breakdown with vituperous messages, calls and arguments and the offence of harassment is sometimes far from clear. Context is so important.  Stalking must involve harassment, but arises where there are other aspects to the behaviour.

This might involve following a person, watching or spying on them of forcing contact with the victim through any means, including social media. The effect is to curtail the victim’s freedom, leaving them feeling they constantly need to be on the lookout.  Harassment and stalking can often overlap with controlling and coercive behaviour, but harassment or stalking might be more appropriate where the parties no longer live together. It is not uncommon for a relationship status to change during an investigation.

It’s ok to understand that things have gone wrong. Admitting having done wrong, admitting having behaved badly, admitting that you need help represents a way to a better future. It may take courage, but you don’t have to fight. Help is available.  Getting professional help in the context of an investigation to domestic violence won’t be for everyone, but we can help those that are interested in exploring what it means to get help and support.

We work with a range of experts, therapists and counsellors who can engage in work with you and collaborate with us, ensuring a joined-up approach to managing your situation. Taking steps to address unhealthy or offending behaviours, and the underlying causes can make the most profound difference not only to a case but to you and your family.

It’s never too late. We have a particular interest in working with those in the criminal justice system who want to get help and support. You can read more about our Rehabilitation Services, but in the context of relationships the topic is perhaps especially important.

With such a wide range of impacts, whether on a partner, children, other family member, work, friendships or business, a pathway though and away from hurtful behaviours will be a journey for good.  You may have been abused yourself. You may have experienced breakdown from stress or anxiety.  Drink or drugs may have been in the mix. The toxicity of domestic abuse impacts everyone associated. It’s not about who’s to blame anymore though. Now it’s about trust.

Those who are neurodivergent can behave, think and learn differently. This includes people with autism, dyslexia, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety, OCD, alexithymia and a range of other neurodivergent conditions. The neurodivergent community are too often let down by professional services, including lawyers, care services, the police, courts and tribunals.

Whether this is you, or your loved one who has died, we promise to care. We care about you, and have made it our business to strive to be better, to have an environment and expertise that wants to understand what works for you. This might be about our own services and products, or it might be about fighting with you for justice in an unthinking world. Ours is a respectful, traits-based approach, recognising the importance of context specific spectrums – both the strengths and weakness.

Neurodivergent presentations arising in domestic abuse scenarios require particular care and understanding, whether in intimate partner cases or inter-familial cases. Characteristics such as repetitive behaviours, failures to heed social signals, poor emotional regulation, outbursts, or obsessiveness might equally be manifestations of abusive or controlling behaviours or might be a description of a neurodivergent presentation. When they overlap therefore, particular care is required.

The decades of experience at Stone King with handling cases of domestic abuse is available to you, however you may be involved. If you are thinking about making a complaint to the police but are fearful of what it will involve or the consequences, speak to us in complete confidence. You might still be in a relationship or have left it. You might be a victim who has been accused of being a perpetrator.

You might be a parent or family member of someone going through this nightmare. Because we operate under legal professional privilege, our duty of confidentiality is absolute. If you are somehow trying to navigate the criminal justice system, and want support, we know the system, the law, the process and the reality better than anyone. The police, victim and witness support services are overworked and under resourced. Our concern is you, your case, your family, your world.  We’re advocates for change.

Domestic Violence Protection Order’s (DVPOs) and Domestic Violence Protection Notice’s (DVPNs) are part of the armoury of the police in talking domestic abuse. A DVPN is a legal order, made by the police, that will usually ban a person from contacting their partner and require them to immediately leave the home the couple otherwise live in together.

There will then be a court hearing in a Magistrates Court a day or two later, when the court can review the circumstances and decide whether to impose a DVPO, which will extend that ban on contact and exclusion from the home for up to 28 days. Such notices and orders can be imposed by the police and the court whether the victim or complainant supports it or not.  Very often they are used when the other partner does not support a police investigation and refuses to give evidence. It can be seen as an emergency provision to allow the police to force a break for a short period.

During that break period, the person believed to be the victim can be supported, either into supporting criminal action, perhaps to seek an order from a family court, referred to domestic abuse support services, or otherwise just to have some breathing space to allow reflection. If you or your partner has been given a DVPN, we can help. These will be urgent instructions and time is always of the essence.

These orders can only very rarely be delayed or adjourned, and usually need resolving and answering immediately.  You can be represented in court, and many will need to be. Whether the order is made, the terms and conditions of any such order and the length of the order will all be up for consideration. You may need to give or present evidence.  Be prepared.

Separation and divorce can be the most difficult of times and will too often involve anger and recrimination. For some couples this will involve making allegations of poor conduct during or after the relationship, and this can include domestic abuse. We specialise in handling this type of case, and work across disciplines to ensure you have the right support and representation, whether you are a victim of abuse or are being accused of perpetrating it. Our private law team handles work equally across criminal justice, divorce, family proceedings and children proceedings, so wherever your case lies we will be there with you.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.