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Mar 15, 2021
Services: Family Law Mediation

The Divorce Act and Family Violence

As of March 1, 2021, several major changes to Canada’s Divorce Act were enacted. For the first time, the Act now recognizes and refers to “family violence”.

Family violence is a devastating reality for many Canadians. Separation and divorce can exacerbate an already violent relationship and the period following separation often carries the highest risk of violence.

How Is Family Violence Defined?

The amended Divorce Act defines family violence as any behaviour that is violent, threatening, a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour, behaviour that causes a family member to fear for their safety or that of another person, or that directly or indirectly exposes a child to such conduct.

The amendments to the Act include a broad definition of family violence that contains various examples, including:

  • Physical or sexual abuse;
  • Threats, harassment, and psychological abuse;
  • Neglect and financial abuse; and
  • Threats to kill pets or harm property.

Family Violence and Children

While family violence is incredibly harmful to anyone who may experience it, it is particularly damaging to children. Children who live with this violence often suffer emotional, social, cognitive, and behavioural problems. The stress and anxiety associated with exposure to family violence can negatively affect the development of a child’s brain, with life-long impacts and intergenerational consequences.

A child’s direct exposure (such as seeing or hearing the violence) or indirect exposure (such as seeing that a parent is fearful or injured) is recognized as both family violence and child abuse under the new Divorce Act.

In the world of family law, courts have long considered only the best interests of the child when making decisions about parenting. Now, the Divorce Act will provide a list of factors for judges to consider when deciding what is in a child’s best interests, with the most important factor being the child’s physical, emotional and psychological safety, security and well-being.

This means that it is now mandatory for judges to consider the impact of family violence on parenting arrangements for children when their parents divorce.

Getting Help with Family Violence

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing family violence, there are many individuals and organizations that can assist you. You can speak with a lawyer, doctor, social worker, or counsellor. You can also reach out to get help from victim services, community organizations, or support groups.

Community support services in Guelph can be found at: 

Our family lawyers are also here to assist you in understanding the recent changes to the Divorce Act, and can help you through the complexities of a separation, especially in situations where there has been family violence. 

Contact our family lawyers today for assistance.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter and is not legal advice. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your specific circumstance.

Related Team

Emma Storey

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter and is not legal advice. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your specific circumstance.