• Claire Verney

The Post Separation Abuse Wheel

In this post, we discuss the prevalence of post-separation abuse and how the Duluth Model's Post Separation Wheel can be used in domestic abuse practice.

Post-Separation Abuse

It is not always the case that leaving an abusive partner will increase a woman’s safety and research has established that, in many cases, domestic abuse from an intimate partner does not end upon separation. Post-separation can actually see an escalation of abuse with women reporting continued threats and intimidation when leaving their abusive partner. This abuse ranges from harassment type behaviour to physical abuse with a heightened risk of homicide. The Femicide census (2018) identified that 41% of women killed by a partner/former partner had separated or taken steps to separate, with 30% killed within the first month and 70% killed within the first year of separation.

Separated mothers are often under greater pressure from an abusive ex and many have no choice but to continue to consult with them over childcare arrangements and see them during child exchanges. Formal and informal child care arrangements allow abusers to have access to the victim, providing opportunities for continued abuse. Research has indicated a number of ways that abusers attempt to control mothers through childcare arrangements including; physical violence or threats of violence; emotional abuse; financial abuse; threatening to abduct the children; undermining the mothers’ authority; using the children to find out confidential contact information and using childcare arrangements to track and control mothers’ schedules.

What is the Post-Separation wheel?

The Duluth Post Separation wheel was developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in America who also produced the Power and Control wheel which is well known and widely used in domestic abuse practice in the UK. The wheels were created as a tool to describe domestic abuse to practitioners, victims, perpetrators and the general public.

The wheel identifies the different types of post-separation abuse commonly used by abusers and then goes further to outline the specific types of behaviour that indicate that these types of abuse are being used. The types of abuse, with one example of the type of behaviours used, are:

  • Using physical and sexual violence against mother and children (threatening to kidnap the children)

  • Using harassment and intimidation (destroying things belonging or related to her or the children)

  • Undermining her ability to parent (disrupting children's sleep/feeding patterns)

  • Discrediting her as a mother (using her social status against her)

  • Withholding financial support (withholding child support, insurance, medical etc..)

  • Endangering children (neglecting them when they're with him)

  • Disregarding children (Ignoring school schedules, homework)

  • Disrupting her relationships with children (coercing them to ally with him)

How can the wheel be used in practice?

When working with vulnerable mothers the wheel can be used to point out the behaviours that have been used against them and name the abuse. They are then able to see that they are not alone in their experience and more fully understand how the abuser is continuing to use abuse.

The wheel can also be used for male perpetrators to identify the tactics they are using and draw their attention to the fact that these behaviours are abusive. For those who are motivated to change, the wheel can be a useful tool to hold a discussion about the pattern of behaviour that is not atypical for abusers so that the beliefs that contribute to their behaviour can be explored. The wheel can also be used alongside the Power and Control Wheel and Equality Wheel to help group participants see alternate ways of being in a relationship with a woman, free of violence and controlling behaviour.

Domestic abuse activists have also used the wheel to highlight the plight of victims it is especially helpful for combating the common myth that women should "just leave", with the popular assumption being that if the victim leaves they will then be safe from abuse.

The wheel can also be used in a variety of settings to describe abuse to professionals particularly in social work, family law and criminal justice training.

Post-separation abuse during the Coronavirus crisis

The Coronavirus crisis lockdown poses a myriad of problems for victims including a much higher risk of fatal violence. Of particular concern are those perpetrators that have a history of coercive controlling behaviour and who have used high risk, potentially lethal, behaviours in the past.

When looking to vary contact, the safety of the children should always be the primary concern. From what we currently know about the Coronavirus, the risks posed to children, without underlying health issues, from the virus is lower than the risk from an abusive parent. Keep in mind that when looking at the risk that a perpetrator poses to their victim, past behaviour is the most reliable indicator of future behaviour.

Allowing perpetrators to 'enter the house' to complete child contact via video call should be approached with caution. This type of contact can give the perpetrator an opportunity to harass and control their ex-partner, with the possibility of children witnessing further conflict. They can also look for ‘clues’ as to the mother and child’s location if they are in a safe address which is unknown to him. The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory have carried out a number of rapid surveys on the effects of digital contact on children's well-being and how children and their birth families are keeping in touch during the lockdown.

The Coronavirus guidance section of this website gives further assistance on how to help families living with domestic abuse, including; what can be done to help families living in isolation with an abuser and completing emergency safety planning with perpetrators. This section also gives up to date information on how DV-ACT assessments are used to safeguard children in care proceedings.

DV-ACT experts are continuing to work throughout the Coronavirus pandemic as usual and are available to discuss cases and complete assessments on both victims and perpetrators. Visit our post how are DV-ACT completing assessments during coronavirus crisis to find out how we are currently working.


Duluth model wheels can be found at - https://www.theduluthmodel.org/wheels/

Further research and information used in this post can be found here -

EVAW Femicide Census

Zeoli, A. M., Rivera, E. A., Sullivan, C. M., & Kubiak, S. (2013). Post-Separation Abuse of Women and their Children: Boundary-setting and Family Court Utilization among Victimized Mothers. Journal of family violence, 28(6), 547–560. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-013-9528-7

Brownridge DA, Chan KL, Hiebert-Murphy D, Ristock J, Tiwari A, Leung WC, Santos SC. The elevated risk for non-lethal post-separation violence in Canada: a comparison of separated, divorced, and married women. J Interpers Violence. 2008 Jan;23(1):117-35. doi: 10.1177/0886260507307914. PMID: 18087035.

Kelly, L., Sharp, N. and Klein, R. (2014) Finding the Costs of Freedom: How women rebuild their lives after domestic violence

Solace. (2014) Never feeling completely free: How women experience coercive control pre and post separation Briefing paper

About us

DV-ACT are a team of domestic abuse experts, available throughout the UK, who provide assessments, programmes, consultancy and training to local authorities and the family courts. Our experts have decades of experience working directly with domestic abuse perpetrators and victims, as specialist assessors and as expert witnesses in the family courts.

​DV-ACT was formed with the aim of using our expertise to help safeguard children from abuse, this is at the heart of everything that we do. To read more about us please visit our post - Who are DV-ACT?