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Can cheating amount to coercive control?

Before having a fling, or if you’re looking for an extramarital relationship on or offline, consider the legal ramifications, writes Lauren Cassimatis.

user iconLauren Cassimatis 20 June 2024 SME Law
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Ashley Madison is an online dating service and social networking platform marketed to people who are married or in committed relationships. The website is known for its slogan, “Life is short. Have an affair.”

It has faced criticism and controversy for promoting infidelity. It is currently trending on Netflix and has generated quite the water cooler conversation about the personal and legal ramifications of cheating.

One colleague informed me that at his “peak” (pardon the pun), he could have up to 30 intimate partners a week. Frankly, I am not sure where he found the time or stamina, but he clearly has a good PT and physio.


On a serious note, I have had many clients (and colleagues) ask me if having an affair is illegal/criminal in Victoria. My high-level advice is:

Affairs can be a form of coercive control (i.e., family violence). When one partner engages in an affair, they are often exerting power and control over their partner by betraying their trust, manipulating their emotions, and causing emotional harm.

The affair can be used to control the partner’s behaviour, emotions, and choices by threatening to leave them or using the affair to manipulate and gaslight them. In some cases, the affair may also involve physical or sexual coercion, further reinforcing the power dynamics in the relationship.

Overall, affairs can be a form of coercive control and can have damaging effects on the partner who is being manipulated and controlled.

This can warrant an intervention order being granted against the person having an affair (on the grounds that family violence has been committed).

While coercive control or having an affair are not criminal acts/able to be prosecuted in Victoria, if committed when an intervention order is in place, this behaviour could constitute a breach of the order and result in criminal charges.

Whereas, currently in Tasmania and from July 2024 in NSW and from 2025 in Queensland, coercive control is a criminal offence.

So before having a fling, or if you’re looking for an extramarital relationship on or offline, consider the above legal ramifications.

Lauren Cassimatis is the principal lawyer and director at Gallant Law.