Court Judgment That References Gaslighting for the First Time Welcomed by Family Lawyers

February 2022

Family lawyers have today welcomed a landmark judgment which recognises the seriousness of Gaslighting in relationships as a form of hidden abuse for the first time.

The judgment, which was handed down in the family courts on January 20th, is the first to ever mention the term ‘Gaslighting’, which describes the manipulation of someone by making them question their grasp on reality; forcing them to doubt their own version of events and memories.

The case involved a child whose parents could not agree the child arrangements. Both parents made cross allegations of domestic abuse, following which the Court felt it appropriate for there to be a fact-finding hearing to consider the allegations, which was listed over five days.

In cases such as this, the burden of proof lies with the person making the allegation. The standard of proof is a civil standard, therefore the Court considers the balance of probability of the incident occurring.

Lorraine Harvey, a family law expert at Simpson Millar, said the case has recognised the seriousness of Gaslighting and may help victims of domestic violence (DV) come forward for support and protection.

Lorraine added:

"With victims of abuse, they can consider applying for a non-molestation order to protect themselves against the other party.

In deciding whether to make an order, the court considers the mental and physical health, safety and well-being of the applicant or any relevant child. It must be satisfied that there is evidence of molestation and that the applicant or children need protection from the court.”

Lorraine explains that molestation involves any form of physical, sexual or psychological molestation or harassment that has a serious impact on the health and well-being of the applicant or any relevant child. Molestation is not only defined as violent behaviour, it may be other forms of behaviour.

“Often victims worry that that Courts will not believe them particularly if there isn’t any physical evidence such as bruises,” Lorraine adds. “This can make them reluctant to start proceedings.

However, this case has recognised the seriousness of Gaslighting which is an invisible abuse, and it may help victims of domestic violence (DV) come forward for support and protection – whether they are married, have children, or are simply in a controlling relationship.

Whilst coercive control has been a crime since 2015, by actually referencing Gaslighting in this Judgement victims not only will have confidence to seek support from DV groups, police etc, but will also recognise this type of behaviour is not acceptable.

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