Parental conflict vs domestic abuse: what’s the difference?

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It can be difficult to spot the difference between parental conflict and domestic abuse. Disagreements in relationships can be normal and are usually nothing to worry about when they are resolved constructively, however, when there is frequent conflict that is poorly resolved, it may be worth seeking legal advice.

What is parental conflict?

Parental conflict isn’t always something to worry about; parents will have disagreements over things such as parenting techniques or choices they make for their children that are quickly and amicably resolved. However, sometimes, parental conflict involves a pattern of harmful and damaging behaviour.

Examples of harmful parental conflict can include:

  • Loud and aggressive arguments
  • Blaming the other person
  • Not communicating with each other regularly or for long periods
  • Being disrespectful to each other

Parental conflicts can have a long-term effect on children throughout their childhood and even into adulthood. Implications include:

  • Mental and physical health issues, including anxiety, depression, aggression and lack of self-esteem
  • Academic achievements
  • Behavioural issues

A survey of over 42,000 children being seen in Children and Young People’s IAPT services (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) has shown that over 50% of referrals for mental health support were for those experiencing ‘family relationship difficulties’.

How can parental conflict be resolved?

Recent research indicated that around half of parents who engaged with parental conflict support found sessions helped to improve their relationship, even up to a year later. The sample included parents who were together, separating and separated.

Here are some tips to help improve parental conflicts:

  • Speak to your child about what happened and why. Be clear that the argument was not something related to what they had done, and they don’t have anything to worry about
  • Involve your support network and let them know if you’re struggling or need help
  • Make sure everyone has an opportunity to voice their view and provide time for the other person to respond to what has been said
  • Make use of healthy coping strategies
  • Know your triggers and what can cause a strong reaction

How we can help with parental conflict

Significant parental conflict can be stressful and emotional for the whole family. If there are frequent disputes about child contact arrangements or decisions regarding your child’s upbringing, for example, it is worth speaking to a specialist child law solicitor.

Our children law solicitors will always help and encourage you to reach an agreement through negotiation or mediation. To find out more about how we can help, call us on 0117 325 2929 or fill out our online enquiry form and a member of our team will be in touch.

How do I know what is parental conflict and what is domestic abuse?

Parental conflict is generally issue-focused, with one person blaming the other for something.

Domestic abuse stems from one person (the abuser) wanting to control all the power and degrade their partner.

There is a fine line between parental conflict and domestic abuse, so if you are in doubt or you feel in danger, please seek help as soon as possible.

What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse (also referred to as ‘domestic violence’) is defined by Women’s Aid as “Threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer.”

There are different kinds of domestic abuse and abusers will seek to have power and control. Signs of domestic abuse can include:

  • Emotional abuse
  • Threats and intimidation
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Online or digital abuse
  • Harassment/stalking
  • Coercive control

The 2019 to 2020 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimates that 2.3 million adults aged 16 to 74 in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse in the previous year, the majority of whom were female.

Getting support for domestic abuse

If you are in immediate danger or are concerned for you or your family’s welfare, you must dial 999.

Our specialist domestic abuse solicitors can offer you support, empathy and understanding. We can, where appropriate, help you obtain emergency protection within 24 hours and assist with applying for a Non-Molestation Order (Injunction).

Get in touch with our family solicitors

If you need advice on parental conflict or domestic abuse, our specialist solicitors are here to help. Call us on 0117 325 2929 or complete our online enquiry form.


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