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Legal definition of domestic abuse

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Legal definition of domestic abuse

Domestic abuse involves any single incident or pattern of conduct where someone’s behaviour towards another is abusive, and where the people involved are aged 16 or over and = are, or have been, personally connected to each other (regardless of gender or sexuality).

The abuse can involve, but is not limited to:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional
  • violent
  • threatening
  • controlling
  • coercive behaviour.

’Personal connection’ means the individuals concerned:

  • are due to be, are currently, or have been, married or civil partners to each other
  • are, or have been, in an intimate personal relationship with each other
  • are, or have been, parents (or had a parental relationship) to the same child
  • are relatives (the Act gives further definitions of ‘relatives’)

Reference: Sections 1 and 2 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021

Children are recognised as victims of domestic abuse in their own right if they see, hear or experience the effects of abuse between two personally connected individuals who are aged 16 or over.

However, abusive behaviour directed at a person under the age of 16 is child abuse rather than domestic abuse.

Reference: Section 3 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021

The key statutory guidance for the Act is due to be revised regularly by the Secretary of State. At the time of publication (November 2021), the Statutory Guidance Framework was in draft form. You should check the specific status of the statutory guidance.

Reference: Draft statutory guidance framework (pdf)

Last reviewed: 15 June 2022

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Safeguarding people at risk of domestic abuse

  1. Overview
  2. Legal definition of domestic abuse
  3. Key duties

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 15 June 2022

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