Deciding to leave an abusive relationship is never easy, but there are resources and supports to help people safely navigate these unchartered waters.
More than four in ten women have experienced some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime, according to data from Statistics Canada. In 2019, there were 358,244 victims of police-reported violence in Canada — nearly half (45 per cent) of all female victims of violence were victimized by an intimate partner. The data also shows that a large majority (79 per cent) of victims of intimate partner violence were women, and this held true regardless of the type of intimate partner relationship.
Studies have shown that separation is a critical juncture, presenting an increased risk for violence. A recent CBC investigation analyzing 392 cases of intimate partner homicides across Canada between January 2015 and June 2020 found that in a quarter of cases, a recent separation had occurred.
Updates to Canada’s Divorce Act, which took effect in March 2021, formally recognize family violence and require courts to consider instances of abuse when making decisions. The Act defines family violence as any conduct that is violent, threatening or a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour, or that causes a family member to fear for their safety.
Examples of family violence include:
Family lawyers routinely screen for domestic abuse and other power dynamics that might impede a client’s ability to reach a fair agreement. We understand it can be hard to talk about the difficult details of your relationship but it’s important to be as open and transparent as possible. The more information your lawyer has, the better they will be able to advise you.
When a client comes to our office, we discuss all their legal options for the process by which they will structure the financial and parenting aspects of their lives following separation — mediation, collaborative family practice, litigation (court). However, in relationships involving an imbalance of power, out of court options must reflect an awareness on the part of everyone involved that coercion can be a very real threat to a fair and reasonable settlement.
When a person is being abused, their personal safety and their children’s welfare take precedence over everything else. We work with clients who are in abusive situations to create a safety plan, including having alternate living arrangements should they need to leave their homes in a hurry.
I advise them to make a list of everything they and their children might need if they were forced to leave quickly, including important documents and medications. They should be mindful that their spouse may put a tracking device on their cellphone, so it’s often best to avoid turning the phone on after you leave the house. Better to get a new phone or only use phones and email accounts that you know are safe and cannot be traced.
If there’s any evidence of abuse — photographs, emails, texts — try not to leave it behind. And wherever possible, gather as much of your family’s financial information as you can — bank statements, credit card statements, loan agreements and so on.
While a family lawyer can provide essential guidance for the legal aspects of ending a marriage or long-term relationship, having a network to support your emotional and psychological needs during the process is crucial.
When someone has been physically or emotionally abused over a long period, often they have also been cut off from the outside world by their spouse. That can make it challenging to find support, but there are many amazing organizations in our community that provide a safe space where people can talk about what they’re experiencing without being stigmatized. One is The Women’s Centre of Halton, which supports women in crisis or distress. It’s staffed by women who have been in abusive relationships and understand the issues.
Another good resource is Goaskrose.com, a website for people who are trying to escape abusive partners. It includes resources, such as a domestic violence shelter search tool and tool kits that answer questions that are more often on the minds of domestic violence and abuse victims. It discusses subjects such as coercive control, verbal abuse, gaslighting, emotional abuse, and cyberstalking.
If you are considering leaving an abusive partner and would like to discuss your options with one of our experienced family lawyers, give us a call at Morgan and Phillips LLP.