Skip to main content Skip to local navigation

Article of the month from Dr. Desmond Ellis (June 2022 Selection)

Article of the month from Dr. Desmond Ellis (June 2022 Selection)

Effects of Historical Coercive Control, Historical Violence, and Lawyer Representation on Post-Separation Male Partner Violence Against Mother Litigants Who Participated in Adversarial Family Court Proceedings

What background information do you need to know?

Research has found that for mothers who choose to separate from violent male partners, this separation can increase the risk of male partner violence resulting in serious injury or femicide (Ellis, 2017, Ellis et al., 2015, Richards, 2009). Numerous studies also reveal a positive association between participation in adversarial family court proceedings and several adverse outcomes, such as violence and abuse against mother litigants. Additionally, patterns of coercive control by male partners have been found to increase the likelihood of adverse post-separation harm inflicted upon mothers.

What was the aim of this research?

The aim of this study was to evaluate associations between historical male partner violence and lawyer representation and post-separation male partner violence and coercive control against mother litigants participating in adversarial family court proceedings. 

What did the researchers do?

Staff at two women’s shelters administered a questionnaire to 40 former residents who had been represented by lawyers and reported participating in contested custody and access proceedings.

Due to limited sample size, the researchers used descriptive statistics, correlations, and t-tests (as opposed to logistic regression) to evaluate the data.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers highlight two noteworthy findings. First, the data demonstrated a decrease in mother litigant reports of physical violence requiring a visit to hospital following separation.

Second, 97.5% of all 40 separated mother litigants who experienced historical coercive control by their male partners reported experiencing coercive control post-separation “most/some of the time” by these same male partners. This study did not find an association between lawyer representation (measured by type of lawyer, age of lawyer, number of lawyers, and perceived lawyer capability) and post-separation violence. However, they note that the small sample size as a limitation.

How can this research be used?

These findings led the authors to recommend the following:  

  • That “a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour” be included in the definition of family violence in Canada’s Divorce Act.
  • That family court judges consider ongoing historical violence and coercive control be included among factors to be considered by family court judges in determining the best interest of the child.
  • That the study be replicated to evaluate its reproducibility.

About the researchers:

1York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

1Desmond Ellis, Professor Emeritus, LaMarsh Centre for Child & Youth Research, Faculty of Health

1Tanice Lewis, Graduate Student, School of Nursing, Faculty of Health

1Taryn Nepon, Postgraduate Student, LaMarsh Centre for Child & Youth Research


Ellis, D., Lewis, T., & Nepon, T. (2021). Effects of historical coercive control, historical violence,
       and lawyer representation on post-separation male partner violence against mother litigants who
       participated in adversarial family court proceedings. Violence Against Women27(9), 1191-1210.

Read full article here