Family Violence and the Legal Process

Law

Family violence can complicate your legal matters. See the sections below to learn about:

  • Ways the law can help protect you from abuse
  • Dealing with family law matters when you have been a victim of abuse
  • How the legal steps may be different when there is family violence
  • What to consider when going to court against your abuser
  • Who can help victims of family violence with legal issues

Please read “Who is this Information Page for?” below to make sure you are on the right page.

LegalAve provides general legal information, not legal advice. Learn more here.

Last Reviewed: March 2017
How to be safe on the internet

It is helpful to know how to look at things on the internet safely. You might not want someone else to see what you are looking at. Or you might want to learn how to delete your internet history, which shows which sites you have looked at. You might also not feel safe looking at family violence information, especially if you are in an abusive relationship and are afraid of your abuser.

For instructions on how to look at things on the internet safely and how to delete your browser history, see the Safe Browsing page.

For more information and tips about how to be safe on the internet, see the following resources.

Web Safe Browsing Tips: Computer, Phone and Tablet
domesticshelters.org
English

Web Protecting Your Email
domesticshelters.org
English
How to be safe on the phone

It is also helpful to know how to be safe when using the phone. Sometimes, when you make calls, the call history can be seen on your phone, or someone can hit “redial” to see who you last called. Or, you might just not want someone else to hear what you are talking about or asking for help about. This is especially true if you are in an abusive relationship. You may be afraid that the abuser will find out who you have been talking to. You might not feel safe calling for help—even in your own home.

For more information and tips about how to call for help safely, see the following resources.

Web How to Call for Help Safely
Alberta Council of Women's Shelters
English

Web How to Spy Spyware on Your Phone
domesticshelters.org
English
Who is this Information Page for?

Victims of family violence may be dealing with many legal matters.

  • Some of these matters may be related to the family violence. For example: getting a protective order.
  • Other matters may be unrelated to the family violence. For example: dividing family property as part of the separation.

This Information Page describes:

  • how family violence can affect the usual legal processes; and
  • how family violence may not affect the usual legal processes. Many people are surprised to learn that this is the case.

Victims of family violence may have many questions about the legal steps they can take to deal with family violence. For example:

  • How can the law help protect me and my children?
  • Do I have to tell my abuser that I am going to court?
  • Do I have to see my abuser to deal with our legal issues?
  • What if I don’t want the abusive parent to see our children?
  • What should I include in my paperwork about the abuse?
  • What happens if the criminal justice system is involved?

This Information Page describes where to begin dealing with these questions, and who can help.

You may also have other concerns about your situation.

You are currently on the Law tab of this Information Page, which describes how the law is applied in situations of family violence. There is also important information in the Common Questions and Myths tabs above.

The first topic is What the words mean. Please read this section even if you think you already know what the words mean. In order to understand the resources on this page, you will need to understand the legal terms.

What the words mean

These words are not listed alphabetically—they are in the order that makes it easiest to understand the complete legal picture.

If you are looking for a specific term, you can use the Glossary, which is in alphabetical order.

family violence (also called “domestic violence”)

Abuse of power by one person (the “abuser”) toward one or more other people that the abuser has a relationship with. This can occur in any kind of relationship. It is most common to think of family abuse happening in romantic relationships (such as dating, living together, and marriage), but it can occur in other relationships as well (such as in relationships with children, elders, siblings, and pets).

abuser

A person who uses their power in a relationship to control and/or harm a person with whom he or she has a relationship. The abuse can be physical, emotional, or financial. Abusers use different tactics to hurt someone. Abusers can be anyone, whether a friend, parent, romantic partner, or caretaker.

victim

The person who is controlled and/or hurt by someone else (the “abuser”). Victims can be anyone who is in a relationship with the abuser, such as a child, an elder, or a romantic partner.

party

Any person involved in a dispute. It can also refer to each of the people who sign a contract.

criminal law

The system of law that involves punishing people who do things that harm people or property, or threaten to harm people or property. Property includes pets.

civil law

The law that involves disputes between individuals, such as family law and personal injury law. Civil law can also include “quasi-criminal” matters—see “quasi-criminal proceeding” below for more information.

protective order

A court order to protect a victim of violence, abuse, or harassment. Protective orders can be part of the criminal law or the civil law.

The protective orders available in Alberta include:

  • Emergency Protection Orders under Alberta’s Protection Against Family Violence Act;
  • Queen’s Bench Protection Orders under Alberta’s Protection Against Family Violence Act;
  • Emergency Protection Orders under the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act;
  • restraining orders;
  • peace bonds;
  • bail conditions; and
  • no contact orders.

For more information about these, see the Protective Orders Information Page.

service

A formal process of delivering documents to another party in a court action. There are important rules about serving documents that must be followed.

ex parte

A Latin legal term used to describe situations where someone applies for something in court that involves another party, but does not tell the other party about the application in advance. This is usually only done in specific circumstances, such as when the person applying fears for his or her safety. Sometimes, this is also called “without notice.”

supervised access

A way for children to spend time with a parent (or someone else with whom they have contact), under the supervision of another adult. For example: a grandparent may supervise the visit. This allows the child and parent/person to continue having contact when there are safety concerns. There can also be also conditions on how and where the visit takes place.

Supervised access may be ordered, or agreed to, when there are worries about the child's well-being if visits were not supervised.

For example, this could happen when the parent/person:

  • has limited parenting or child-care skills;
  • has a history of abusing alcohol or drugs;
  • has a history of abusing the child;
  • might otherwise abduct the child; or
  • has not had contact with the child for a long time, and they may need some time to re-establish their relationship.

safe visitation

Generally refers to supervised access that takes place in a facility specifically intended to provide the opportunity for visits under the supervision of trained staff and volunteers.

monitored exchange (also called “safe transfer”)

Monitored exchange programs provide a neutral location for supervised exchange of children from one parent to another. This may be necessary in situations of family violence, where one parent is not comfortable meeting the other parent to exchange the children for parenting time or visitation.

breach

The act of not following a court order (whether on purpose or by accident). Depending on the order, there are different consequences for breaching a court order.

The laws that may apply to you

As you work through and learn more about family violence, you may wish to read the laws (also called “statutes” or “acts”) that apply. The laws included on this Information Page are:


Web Criminal Code
Government of Canada
English



Web Family Violence Laws
Government of Canada
English

Web Les lois sur la violence familiale
Government of Canada
French
 
Web Family Law Act (and associated Regulations)
Government of Alberta
English

Web Divorce Act (and associated Regulations)
Government of Canada
English

When reading laws, you also need to know about the “regulations” associated with those laws. Each of the links above takes you to a page that lists the laws as well as the regulations that go with them. For more information on laws and regulations, see the Our Legal System Information Page.

If you plan on representing yourself in court, you will also need to know about “case law.” In general, “case law” refers to the idea that it is up to judges hearing individual cases to decide:

  1. the exact meaning of the words in the laws (called “interpretation”); and
  2. how that meaning applies to the people in those cases (called “application”).

This means that what happens in other cases can affect what happens in your case. It also means that there are cases decided before that govern how cases are decided now. For more information on case law, see the Our Legal System Information Page and the Educating Yourself: Legal Research Information Page.

The following resource lists some of the leading cases in family law (including cases about Emergency Protection Orders and child protection).

Immediate concerns: Protecting you and your family

There are some steps you can take right away to keep you and your family safe. See the following resources for an overview of first steps to take.

PDF If You're Thinking of Leaving
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Planning for an Emergency
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Help for victims of crime
Government of Alberta
English
See “Ensure your immediate safety.”

Calling 911

If you call 911 to report domestic violence, the police will show up at the place where the violence is happening. The police will ask you questions about the abuse that happened. They might decide to charge the abuser with a crime if they believe that the abuser committed a crime.

The police can also help you get an Emergency Protection Order if you need one. See just below for more information about protective orders.

For more information about what can happen if you call the police, see the following resources.

Web When They Show Up (Getting the Police Involved)
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Domestic Violence: How the Police Can Help
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF It Starts Today
Today Family Violence Help Centre
English
See “Contacting the Police.”

Web Getting the Police Involved
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Getting Help from the Police or RCMP
Legal Services Society
Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Punjabi, Spanish
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Domestic Abuse and Your Legal Rights
Student Legal Services of Edmonton
English

Protective orders

A protective order is a court order to protect a victim of violence or abuse.

If you are in immediate danger, you can get an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) right away. You do not have to tell your abuser that you are asking for an EPO. You can apply for an EPO in 3 ways:

  1. Contact the police and they can apply for you. You can do this at any time of the day or night.
  2. Apply in any Provincial Court during regular business hours. You can do this with help from Legal Aid’s Emergency Protection Order Program—see the following resource.
  1. If you already have a family law lawyer, ask your lawyer to make the EPO application for you.

If you are not eligible for an EPO, there are other protective orders that can help. For detailed information about your options and how to apply, see the Protective Orders Information Page.

If you have children

Reporting child abuse

If you think a child is being abused, call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1‑800‑387‑5437 (KIDS) to speak with a caseworker. There is more information about recognizing child abuse on the Child Abuse Information Page.

For information about how getting Child Protective Services involved can affect your family law matters, see the “If Child Protective Services is involved” section below.

Be Aware

If a child is being harmed, a non-abusive parent may decide to call Child Protective Services (CPS). CPS has a duty to investigate any reports of abuse. However, once the parents have separated, CPS may view the matter as a “custody dispute” and prefer that it be dealt with through the family law court system.

The risk of “parental abduction”

You may be tempted to just take the child, leave the area, and not allow any contact with the other parent. However, a parent who takes the child in this way may be criminally charged. This is called “parental abduction.”

It is a crime for a parent to take a child under the age of 14 from the other parent, without that parent’s consent. Even if the child is over 14, the parent could still get into legal trouble. This could lead to more problems and may even put you and the child in greater danger.

Instead, you will need to have a custody or parenting order in place. You can ask for a temporary order right away. See the “Going to court for immediate issues” section below.

Resolving legal issues about your children

If you need immediate help with parenting issues, you can ask for a temporary order right away. This is called an “interim” order. For more information about this, see the following resource.

There is detailed information about how to deal with child-related legal matters below. See the following sections.

  • “Legal matters when separating: Understanding the best interests of the child”
  • “Legal matters: Guardianship, custody, access, and parenting time”
  • “Legal matters: Child support”

If you have pets

You may be worried that the abuser might hurt the animal or pet if you leave. There are different options depending on your situation and what you are comfortable with. For example, you might:

  • bring the animal or pet with you;
  • take it to the home of a trusted friend or family member;
  • take it to a shelter intended for pets leaving abusive homes; or
  • include your animal or pet in your protective order.

For more information about pet safekeeping, see the following resources.

Web Petsafe Keeping
Calgary Humane Society
English
This program is in the Calgary area.

Web Pet Safekeeping
Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
English
This program is in the Edmonton area.

Web Community Outreach
Central Alberta Humane Society
English
This program is in the Red Deer area. See “Emergency Boarding Program.”

For detailed information about these options, see the following Information Pages.

Immediate concerns: Housing issues and financial help

If you are leaving an abusive situation, you may have questions about where you will go and whether you can afford to leave.

There are many options to help with this. For example:

  • If you need a safe place to go temporarily, you can go to an emergency shelter.
  • If you rent your home, you can break your lease without any financial penalty.
  • If you share your home with your abuser, you can apply to court for “exclusive possession” of the home and household goods. This can sometimes include a vehicle, and may allow you to change the locks.
  • Once you leave, there are programs that can help you get back on your feet financially.

The rest of this section describes these options in detail.

Finding a shelter

A shelter is a safe place where victims of domestic violence can go to live on a temporary basis. There are many different shelters throughout the province available to people who need protection because of family violence. Certain shelters may only be for women, for women and children, or for men. There are even shelters for seniors who are being abused.

Also, some shelters are only for short-term stays (usually 3 weeks or less), while other shelters may be able to house you for longer periods of time. Short-term shelters are usually called “emergency shelters,” and the longer-term shelters are usually called “second-stage shelters.” This is something to keep in mind when you are looking for a shelter that fits your needs.

To find a shelter in your area, see the following resources.

Web ACWS member shelters
Alberta Council of Women's Shelters
English

Web Emergency Shelters
Government of Alberta
English

If you rent: Breaking your lease without penalty

Leaving an abusive relationship often means that you must leave the home you shared with your abuser. If you signed a lease for the home, you may be concerned about your legal responsibilities if you leave.

Alberta’s Residential Tenancies Act has recently changed to allow victims of abuse to break their lease early, without a financial penalty. To do this, you must give your landlord a certificate from the Alberta government’s Safer Spaces Processing Centre. The Safer Spaces Processing Centre can give you this certificate if you give them one of the following:

  • a copy of a protective order from a court (such as an Emergency Protection Order, Queen’s Bench Protection Order, restraining order, or peace bond); OR
  • a letter from a “certified professional” confirming that you or your children are in danger.

For more information about who is a “certified professional” and other rules that apply, see the following resources.

PDF Renting and Domestic Violence: Ending Your Lease Early
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Safer Spaces certificate to end tenancy
Government of Alberta
English


PDF Information for Tenants
Government of Alberta
English
See p. 12.

Changing the locks

If the abuser leaves the home you shared, you may wish change the locks. Depending on your situation, this can be complicated.

If you rented your home together, the landlord cannot change the locks without giving the tenants a key. If the abuser signed the rental agreement, then he or she is a tenant, and will be given a key. However, you may be able to deal with this by getting an exclusive possession order that allows for you to change the locks (see just below).

If you lived in a home that one (or both) of you owned, you cannot change the locks until a court grants you “exclusive possession” of the home (see just below).

Applying for “exclusive possession” of the family home

If you lived with your abuser, you may be able to apply to court for “exclusive possession” of the family home. This would allow you to stay in the home for a certain period of time. You may also be allowed to continue using household goods or the family vehicle.

For more information about applying for exclusive possession of the family home, see one of the following Information Pages.

Be Aware

An order for exclusive possession only protects you in and around the home. You may still want to get a protective order to protect you when you are away from your home. A protective order can also protect you from unwanted telephone calls, emails, texts, and other contact. For more information, see the Protective Orders Information Page.

Financial help after you leave

Abusive people often control the family’s money and finances. Therefore, after you leave an abusive relationship, you may find that you need financial help to rebuild your life or get back on your feet. For an overview of your options, see the following resources.

PDF If you Leave...Your Guide to Financial Support Options
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF It Starts Today
Today Family Violence Help Centre
English
See “Financial Benefits Available.”

Web Can I take money with me?
Community Legal Education Ontario
English, French

Web What about online accounts?
Community Legal Education Ontario
English, French

To apply for help from the Alberta Works Supports for Albertans Fleeing Abuse program, see the following resources.

PDF Supports for Albertans Fleeing Abuse
Government of Alberta
English

Web Alberta Works Contact Centres
Government of Alberta
English

For more information on other services that Alberta Works provides, see the following resource.

Web Alberta Works
Government of Alberta
English

To apply for the Victims Services Financial Benefit Program, see the following resources.

PDF Financial Benefits for Victims of Violent Crime
Government of Alberta
English

Web Compensation for Crimes
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Help for victims of crime
Government of Alberta
English
See “Apply for financial benefits.”

There may be community services in your area that can help you set up your new home. See the following resources for more information.


Web About Connect: How Connect Works
Connect Family & Sexual Abuse Network
English

Interactive 211 Alberta
211 Alberta
English
Documenting abuse

It is important to document abuse if it happens. Having a record of what happened can be important, even if you are unsure about what you might want to do about your situation. Later, you may need this information as evidence in court, or to get compensation for your losses.

Some things you can do to document abuse include the following.

  • Keeping notes about what exactly happened for each incident
  • Taking pictures of any injuries
  • Getting medical attention and a copy of the medical record
  • Saving emails, texts, and voicemails that prove abuse

For more information about why and how to document abuse, see the following resources.

PDF Gathering Evidence of Abuse
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Why You Should Document Abuse
domesticshelters.org
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Smartphone Apps that Help You Document Abuse
domesticshelters.org
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.
 

For information about how to include this evidence in your court documents, see the “Dealing with court paperwork” section below.

Who can help?

You do not have to deal with your situation alone.

There are many organizations that can help you with things like:

  • Safety planning
  • Getting a protective order
  • Setting up a new home
  • Dealing with legal issues with your abuser

See the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page for contact information for places in your area.

For more information about how it can be important to reach out for help, see the following resources.

Video Family Law: Family Violence Part 1
People's Law School (via YouTube)
English

Video Family Law: Family Violence Part 2
People's Law School (via YouTube)
English

Web Surviving the System Handbook: Advice on Using the Legal System if you are a Survivor of Sexual Violence
Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children
English
Getting the police involved: Calling 911 or making a police report

If you are in a family violence situation, you can contact the police for help. They will connect you with the help you need.

Immediate help: Calling 911

If you call 911 to report domestic violence, the police will show up at the place where the violence is happening. The police will likely have questions for you about the abuse that happened. The police might decide to charge the abuser with a crime if they believe that the abuser committed a crime.

For more information about what can happen if you call the police, see the following resources.

Web When They Show Up (Getting the Police Involved)
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Domestic Violence: How the Police Can Help
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF It Starts Today
Today Family Violence Help Centre
English
See “Contacting the Police.”

Web Getting the Police Involved
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Getting Help from the Police or RCMP
Legal Services Society
Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Punjabi, Spanish
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Domestic Abuse and Your Legal Rights
Student Legal Services of Edmonton
English


Web Domestic Violence From an Officer's Perspective
domesticshelters.org
English

Making a police report

If you or someone you know is being abused, you can make a report to the police. The police will then investigate the situation, and may press criminal charges. They can also refer you to places that can help in your community, such as Victims’ Services.

Be Aware

Some kinds of help require a police report. For example: you may need it to apply for financial compensation. Making a police report does not always lead to criminal charges.

For more information about what happens when you report abuse to the police, see the following resources. These resources deal specifically with elder abuse, but the information applies to other kinds of family violence as well.

Web Getting the Police Involved
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Let's Talk: Elder Abuse - Resource Manual
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See p. 15-16.

PDF Parlons-en : L'abus fait aux ainé-e-s - Manuel de ressources
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
French
Voir : p. 19-21.

If there are criminal charges

The police may charge your abuser with a crime. For information about what kinds of abuse are considered “crimes” in Canada, see the following resources.

Web It's Not Allowed
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web What does the law say about... (different types of abuse)
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

The police can charge your abuser with a crime whether you want them to or not. This is called “mandatory charging.” For more information about this, see the following resource.

Also, even if you want the police to charge your abuser with a crime, they may not. This is because the police need very specific evidence to press criminal charges.

For more information about happens if your abuser is charged with a crime, see the Family Violence: How Civil & Criminal Law Can Help Information Page.

When protecting yourself can go wrong

In situations of physical violence, it is natural to try to protect yourself. This can result in “hitting back.” Although this may be natural, if the police are called, you could be charged with a crime (such as assault).

Even just a slap (as we might see in a movie) can result in an assault charge. If you are charged with assault, it can make your family issues much more complicated and can cause a great deal of difficulty.

For more information about this, see the following resources.


Web How Self-Defense Can Go Wrong
domesticshelters.org
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Domestic Violence Handbook for Police and Crown Prosecutors in Alberta
Government of Alberta
English
See p. 69-70.

Web Can I also be charged?
Community Legal Education Ontario
English, French

Web Is Mutual Abuse Real?
domesticshelters.org
English
How the law can protect you from abuse: Protective orders

What are protective orders?

A protective order is a court order to protect a victim of violence or abuse. There are many different types of abuse (such as physical, emotional, sexual, verbal, and financial). For more information about the different kinds of abuse and how to recognize it, see the What is Family Violence? Information Page.

In Alberta, there are different types of protective orders available for different situations. See the following resources for a brief introduction to your options.

PDF No Contact Orders
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Protective Orders
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Keeping the Abuser Away
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

For detailed information about these orders and how to apply, see the Protective Orders Information Page.

Protective orders and criminal charges

Protective orders are used to protect the victim from future violence. They are not meant to “punish” an abuser for his or her actions.

However, getting a protective order does not mean that criminal charges won’t also be laid against the abuser. See the Family Violence: How Civil & Criminal Law Can Help Information Page for information about how the criminal justice system may get involved (whether you want to press charges or not).

Enforcing protective orders

Even if a court grants a protective order, it does not mean the abuser will necessarily follow the order. This is called “breaching” the order. You can take steps to make sure the police have all the information they need to enforce the order. See the Protective Orders Information Page for information about that.

Tip

Make sure you take practical steps to protect yourself as well. See the Safety Planning & Preparing to Leave Information Page for more information.

Dealing with family law matters as a victim of abuse: Your options

If you want to separate from your abusive partner or spouse, you may have family law issues to deal with. For example, you may need to deal with:

  • Guardianship, custody, and parenting time
  • Safe visitation and monitored exchange
  • Child support
  • Partner support or spousal support
  • Exclusive possession of the family home
  • Enforcing your court orders

In general, family law issues can be resolved in 3 ways:

  1. The parties come to an agreement on their own, without needing court.
  2. The parties come to an agreement with the help of others (such as mediators), without needing court. This is called “alternative dispute resolution” or “ADR.”
  3. The parties go to court to have a judge settle their issues.

These 3 options are described in more detail just below.

Every situation is different. In many cases, the victim may need the court to be involved to ensure they are heard and treated fairly. But in some cases, the parties may be able to deal with their legal matters out of court despite the history of abuse.

You can talk to someone who is helping you with your legal issues about the best way to proceed.

  • There are organizations that can help family violence victims navigate the legal system. See the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page for contact information.
  • You may also want to speak with a lawyer who has experience working with family violence victims. For more information, see the following resource and the “Working with a lawyer or representing yourself?” section below.
PDF Working with a Family Law Lawyer
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Option 1: Coming to an agreement on your own with your abuser

In situations of family violence, it may not be possible to agree out of court. This is because the abuser often has power over the victim, even if the victim has left the abusive situation.

The abuser may try to use this power imbalance to:

  • lie to the victim about their legal rights and responsibilities;
  • convince the victim that they don’t deserve what they want; or
  • make the legal process difficult and expensive as a way to make the victim give up.

Similarly, the victim:

  • may not feel that they can negotiate with their abuser;
  • may feel unsafe in the same room as the abuser; or
  • may want to end the process as soon as possible, to get the abuser out of their life for good.

However, in some cases, it may be possible to come to an agreement. Each situation is different. Consider talking to someone you trust about this option before you agree to anything.

It is also a good idea to speak to a lawyer to make sure you know the law and your rights.

For more information about this, see the following resource.

PDF Working with a Family Law Lawyer
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

For more information about what is involved with reaching an out-of-court agreement, see the Coming to an Agreement on Your Own Information Page.

Option 2: Alternative dispute resolution (ADR)

If you use alternative dispute resolution, there will be at least one other person involved to help you reach an agreement. This person may be a mediator, arbitrator, or a lawyer.

In situations of family violence, ADR may not be a good idea. This is because of the same power imbalance described just above in Option 1.

However, in some cases, it may be possible to use ADR. Each situation is different. Consider talking to ADR professionals who have experience dealing with situations of abuse.

For many legal issues, people are encouraged to try ADR before going to court. As a victim of family violence, be sure to be honest about your situation with anyone who suggests that you try ADR.

For more information about how ADR may not work for victims of family violence, see the following resources.

Web Is mediation a good way to resolve a family law dispute?
Luke's Place
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.


Web What is mediation?
Luke's Place
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Should I try mediation?
Community Legal Education Ontario
English, French
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

For more information about what ADR involves, and finding an ADR professional, see the Alternative Dispute Resolution Information Page.

Option 3: Going to court

There are many reasons that victims of family violence may need to involve the courts.

For example:

  • You may want to move out with your children to get away from the abusive relationship. If you do this, you may need to get a custody order or parenting order.
  • You may need to apply for child support or partner support so that you can set up a new life somewhere away from the abuse.
  • If you share your home with your abuser, you may want to apply for “exclusive possession” of the family home. This will allow you and your children to stay in the home, while your abuser has to leave.

In non-abusive situations, many people can reach agreement about these issues out of court. But in situations of family violence, it is often necessary to go to court to have a judge decide. The judge can hear all of the facts of the situation and decide on what is best for all of the parties (especially the children, if there are any).

For more information about dealing with these legal matters in court, see the following sections below.

  • Legal matters when separating: Understanding the “best interests of the child”
  • Legal matters: Custody and parenting time
  • Legal matters: Child support
  • Legal matters: Partner support or spousal support
  • Legal matters: Property and the family home

More information

For an overview of how family violence can affect your family law issues, see the following resources.

Web Domestic Abuse and Your Legal Rights
Student Legal Services of Edmonton
English
See “Family Law Issues.”

Presentation Overview of Family Law
YWCA Canada
English
Legal matters when separating: An introduction

If you want to separate from your abusive partner or spouse, you may have family law concerns, including:

  • Guardianship, custody, access, and parenting time
  • Child support
  • Partner support or spousal support
  • Exclusive possession of the family home
  • Enforcing your court orders
  • Getting a divorce

The rest of this section will describe basic legal information you need to know to deal with such family law topics in situations of abuse. For detailed information about each of these topics, see the sections below that start with “Legal matters.”

Tip

For all of these matters, there are people that can help you decide how to proceed and how to include information about the abuse in your court documents. For more information, see the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page.

Which law will you use?

Most family law matters can be dealt with in court using either the Family Law Act or the Divorce Act.

  • If you were not married, you do not have a choice about which law to use. Your matters will be dealt with under the Family Law Act.
  • If you were married, you have a choice about which law you want to use. This can depend on many things. To help you decide, see the “Using the Divorce Act or the Family Law Act: What to consider” section of the Ending a Married Relationship under the Divorce Act Information Page.

Be Aware

Property division is not dealt with under either of these laws. For more information, see the section below called “Legal matters: The family home, property, and pets.”

Legal matters when separating: Understanding the “best interests of the child”

Under the law, any decisions about a child need to be in the “best interests of the child.” These are factors that parents, guardians, and/or the Court must consider when making decisions about a child.

The best interests of the child “test” is made up of many considerations that focus on the well-being of the child. For example:

  • the physical, psychological, and emotional safety and well-being of the child;
  • the child’s need for stability, taking into consideration the child’s age and stage of development and attachment;
  • the child’s history of care;
  • the child’s cultural and religious background; and
  • for older children, the wishes of the child.

This means that a judge will consider many things when deciding things like:

  • where a child should live; and
  • who the child should have contact with.

Many people believe that if one parent has been abusive to a child, it might be in the “best interests” of the child to be kept away from that parent. This is not necessarily the case.

Family violence is only one factor that a judge will consider. And, in many cases, the justice system takes the view that safe contact with an abusive parent is better for the child in the long term than no contact at all. Also, the justice system often supports the idea of maximum contact with each parent, as long as it is safe. All of this can come as a surprise to victims of family violence.

For more information about how family violence affects the best interests of the child, see the following resources.


PDF Family Law in Alberta: Legal Information for Frontline Service Providers
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See p. 10-11.

Web Family Law
YWCA Canada
English

Web Battered Mothers Custody Conference
domesticshelters.org
English


PDF Parenting Arrangements After Domestic Violence
Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children
English
This resource is from outside Alberta and can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

For general information about how the best interests of the child test is applied in court, see the following resources.

PDF Families and the Law: Child Custody and Parenting
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See p. 15-16.

Web Parenting Time For Children Under The Family Law Act
Student Legal Services of Edmonton
English
See “The ‘Best Interests’ Of The Child.”


Web Alberta custody: factors to determine a child’s best interest
Kirk Montoute LLP
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.
Legal matters: Guardianship, custody, access, and parenting time

If you need to resolve issues about custody or parenting time with your abuser, you will want to know about:

  • The rights of the parents
  • Parental abduction
  • The legal terms used to deal with parenting matters
  • Getting an “interim” order for immediate help
  • Options for monitored exchange and supervised access
  • Enforcing parenting orders

The rest of this section describes these matters in more detail.

Remember

Judges will always make their decisions based on what is in the “best interests of the child.” For more information about what this means, see the “Legal matters when separating: Understanding the best interests of the child” section above.

Both parents have rights

In most cases, unless ordered otherwise by a court:

  • both parents have guardianship of a child; and
  • the child has the right to spend time with each of the parents.

Many people believe that if one parent has been abusive to a child, then the abusive parent would not be allowed to have custody of the child, or spend time with the child. That is not necessarily the case.

The Alberta court system places a high value on contact with both parents, even when one parent is abusive. It is very rare that a parent will not be granted parenting time (even if the parent is in jail). This is part of considering “the best interests of the child.”

This can be difficult to accept if you know the other parent is abusive. However, it is important to keep in mind, because this is the approach of the courts.

If you fear for your children’s safety, you can ask for a temporary order that can be granted quite quickly. This is called an “interim” order. For more information about this, see the following resource.


Web Kids
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

For more information about how to resolve your parenting matters and keep your children safe, see the Information Page that applies to you:

Parental abduction

Parental abduction is when a parent takes a child away from the other parent, without that parent’s consent. It is much more serious than simply not returning the child on time after a visit.

In family violence situations, this may come up in 2 ways.

  • The non-abusive parent may be tempted to just take the child, leave the area, and not allow any contact with the other parent.
  • The abusive parent may try to take the child as a way to threaten or hold power over the other parent.

A parent cannot simply leave, or move away, and the take the child with you without letting the other parent know. If they do, they may be criminally charged. If a parent removes and hides a child under the age of 14 from the other parent, without that parent’s consent, it is a crime. Even if the child is over 14, the parent could get into legal trouble. This could lead to many more problems later on.

This does not mean that you cannot leave with the children. For example: you may want to go to a shelter and take the children with you. That is possible. However, if you do so, you cannot just keep the children away from the abuser. You must soon make arrangements for the other parent to have some parenting time with the child. This can be supervised access (see below for more information about that).

Tip

There are people that can help you with this. For more information, see the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page.

For more information about leaving in situations of abuse, see the following resources.

Web Can I take my child with me when I leave my abusive partner?
Community Legal Education Ontario
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Unilateral Relocations – Don’t Do It!
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

For more general information about parental abduction, see the “Child abduction” sections of the Family Breakdown & Out-of-Province Issues Information Page and the following resources.

Web What is child abduction and is it a crime?
Legal Aid Alberta
English

Web Child Abduction
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Kids
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English



Web Parental Child Abduction
MissingKids.ca
English

If your children have been abducted by the other parent/guardian, call 911.

What is guardianship, custody, access, and parenting time?

If you are going to court to deal with your parenting matters, you will need to learn the legal terms that will be used in court and in your paperwork. The terms will be different depending on what law you are using to deal with your family matters.

These matters can be dealt with in court using either the Family Law Act or the Divorce Act.

  • If you were not married, you do not have a choice about which law to use. Your matters will be dealt with under the Family Law Act.
  • If you were married, you will have to choose which law you want to use. This can depend on many things. To help you decide, see the “Using the Divorce Act or the Family Law Act: What to consider” section of the Ending a Married Relationship under the Divorce Act Information Page.

Parenting matters under the Family Law Act

If you deal with your legal matters under the Family Law Act, the terms you will use in your paperwork will be:

  • Guardianship
  • Parenting time

A guardian is a person who has:

  • the right to make decisions for a child; and
  • the responsibility to care for that child by providing the “necessaries of life,” such as food and shelter.

Alberta’s Family Law Act describes the decision-making powers, rights, and responsibilities of the guardians of children. This role is called “guardianship.”

Parenting time is the term used to describe the time a child spends with each guardian. For example: one guardian may have parenting time every second weekend, and the other guardian has parenting time at all other times.

Tip

If you need immediate help with parenting issues, you can ask for a temporary order right away. This is called an “interim” order—see just below for more information.

For detailed information about applying for guardianship and parenting time, see the Guardianship & Parenting under the Family Law Act Information Page.

Parenting matters under the Divorce Act

If you deal with your legal matters under the Divorce Act, the terms you will use in your paperwork will be:

  • Custody
  • Access

Custody describes the decision-making power that adults (usually parents) have about a child. It refers to the ability to make major decisions about the child.

Access describes the time spent with a child. Access does not give a person the right to make any decisions about the child. Access only gives a person the right to:

  • spend time with the child; and
  • ask for and receive information about the child.
Tip

If you need immediate help with parenting issues, you can ask for a temporary order right away. This is called an “interim” order—see just below for more information.

For detailed information about applying for custody and access, see the Custody and Access under the Divorce Act Information Page.

Challenges in applying for guardianship, custody, access, and parenting time in situations of family violence

Although the basic rules are the same for all families, dealing with guardianship, custody, access, and parenting time in situations of family violence has additional challenges. For example:

  • It can be important for victims to tell the Court about the abuse. This is not always easy. Court documents are hard to complete at the best of times. It is even more difficult to try to give the Court short facts about abuse. Also, abuse can be very hard to “prove” (especially emotional abuse).
  • Victims may also want to reduce contact with the abuser to keep themselves and their children safe. However, this may not work with what the courts see as the best interests of the child. For more information about this, see the section above called “Legal matters when separating: Understanding the best interests of the child.”
  • Abusers may try to claim the victim is the abuser. Or hysterical. Or a liar. This can be very challenging for the victim to deal with.
Tip

For all of these matters, there are people that can help you decide how to proceed and how to include information about the abuse in your court documents. If possible, speak to a lawyer before you leave so that you already know what to do. For more information, see the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page.

For more information about how family violence can complicate the dealing with parenting matters, see the following resources.



PDF Live Safe — End Abuse: Parenting
Legal Services Society
Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Punjabi, Spanish
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Making Appropriate Parenting Arrangements in Family Violence Cases: Applying the Literature to Identify Promising Practices
Government of Canada
English
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here. Start on p. 31.


Webinar How and When to Prove Abuse in Family Court
Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Domestic Violence in Child Custody Cases
About, Inc.
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Non-physical Domestic (Family) Violence and Family Law
Galbraith Family Law
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web The Family Law Consequences of a Criminal Domestic Violence Conviction
Daniel Brown Law
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web 5 Myths about Child Custody and Domestic Violence
domesticshelters.org
English

Web Battered Mothers Custody Conference
domesticshelters.org
English

“Parental alienation”

“Parental alienation” occurs when one parent does everything he or she can to turn a child against the other parent. Parental alienation involves ongoing and very targeted behaviours by one parent. These damage a child’s emotional well-being, and greatly interfere with that child’s relationship with the other parent.

Many parents use the term “parental alienation” when their child agrees with the other parent, or if their child asks to live with the other parent. It is important to understand that not all of a child’s negative comments and reactions are the result of parental alienation. There are many reasons that a child may be angry with a parent, or refuse to see a parent. And there are many separation-related behaviours and reactions that are normal.

In situations of family violence, both victims and abusers may claim that the other parent is trying to alienate the child. However, true parental alienation has very specific requirements, including extreme behaviour by one parent. Also, it must be shown that the child’s behaviours, actions, and reactions are not otherwise justified. There can be many reasons why a child might be distancing himself or herself from a parent (including situations of domestic violence).

Remember

There are people that can help you with this. For more information, see the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page.

For more information, including information about the requirements for proving parental alienation, see the following resources.

Web When Children Refuse to Visit: Alienation and Estrangement in Family Law Disputes
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Parental Alienation – Part 2
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Responding to Children’s Refusal to Visit After Separation – Part 3
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web How seriously are allegations of parental alienation taken by family courts today?
Luke's Place
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Video Episode 101 - Parental Alienation - Family Matters TV
AdviceScene (via YouTube)
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.


Video Episode 214 Parental Alienation: Web Extra with Dr. Richard Warshak
AdviceScene (via YouTube)
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Immediate help from the courts: “Interim” orders

If you need immediate help with parenting issues, you can ask for a temporary order right away. This is called an “interim” order. For more information about this, see the following resources and the section below called “Going to court for immediate issues.”


PDF Family Law in Alberta: Legal Information for Frontline Service Providers
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See p. 10.
Remember

There are people that can help you with this. For more information, see the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page.

Monitored exchange and safe visitation (also called “supervised access”)

If the abusive parent is allowed time with the children, there are programs to help keep you and your children safe.

  • Safe visitation” means children can visit the parent/person in a controlled location and under supervision.
  • Monitored exchange” is another option when people are uncomfortable exchanging children. Monitored exchange programs provide a neutral location and supervised exchange of the children. This may also be called “safe transfer.”

The Alberta government has a Safe Visitation Program operating in Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Red Deer, and Whitecourt. More information about the program is in the following resource.

Web Safe Visitation
Government of Alberta
English

Safe visitation and monitored exchange is also offered by other private organizations—most are offered in larger centres.

Your local branch of Child and Family Services will be able to tell you which organizations in your area provide this kind of service.

Interactive Child and Family Services
Government of Alberta
English

For more information about these options, see the following resources.

Web Kids
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English



PDF Families and the Law: Child Custody and Parenting
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See p. 19.
PDF Live Safe — End Abuse: Parenting
Legal Services Society
Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Punjabi, Spanish
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.
Remember

There are people that can help you with this. For more information, see the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page.

Enforcing parenting orders

“Enforcement” means forcing something to be done or forcing someone to act in a specific way because of a law, rule, or court order. Many people think that family court orders can always be enforced by police. This is not true.

To be enforced, the court Order must have an “enforcement clause.” An enforcement clause is a part of the court order that allows police to force a person to follow the court order.

Without an enforcement clause, the police cannot force a person to follow a family court order.

However, enforcement clauses are not included in court orders automatically—if you want one, you must specifically ask for one. In addition, judges do not include an enforcement clause just because it was asked for. The person asking for the clause must show that there is a real concern that the order will not be followed (this is called a “breach”), or that breaches have occurred in the past.

For more information about police enforcement clauses, see the following resources.

PDF Families and the Law: Child Custody and Parenting
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
Start on p. 18.

PDF Access Enforcement Information Sheet
Government of Alberta
English

Audio/Web How to Enforce a Parenting or Contact Order
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Video Family Law Access
AdviceScene (via YouTube)
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here. Start at 21:00.


Web Police Enforcement of Custody and Access Orders
Nelligan O'Brien Payne LLP
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

If someone breaches a family court order, there can be long-term consequences. Judges do not view such behaviour very well, and it may affect future orders. In addition, the person who breached the Order may be found in “contempt of court.” This can lead to fines and/or time in jail.

Remember

There are people that can help you with this. For more information, see the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page.

Legal matters: Child support

If you need to resolve issues about child support with your abuser, you will want to know about:

  • What child support is and who must pay it
  • Getting an “interim” order for immediate help
  • Enforcing child support orders

Child support basics

Child support is money paid by a parent toward the living expenses of his or her child. Child support is the right of the child. Both parents have an obligation to financially support their children. People other than parents can also be required to pay child support, including guardians and step-parents.

The amount to be paid is based on the Child Support Guidelines. Just because a parent was abusive does not mean that he or she will have to pay more child support.

Be Aware

Support orders are usually a monthly amount paid for a certain period of time. However, sometimes support can be ordered as a single, “lump-sum” payment. This may be a good option if you want to limit future contact with the abuser.

For detailed information about applying for child support, see the Information Page that applies to you.

Immediate help from the courts: “Interim” orders

If you need immediate help with child support issues, you can ask for a temporary order right away. This is called an “interim” order. For information, contact Resolution and Court Administration Services, and see the section below called “Going to court for immediate issues.”

Web Resolution and Court Administration Services
Government of Alberta
English

Enforcing child support orders

To make sure that children are properly cared for, Alberta has a system to make sure that court orders are followed: the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP). This program:

  • collects and delivers court-ordered child support and spousal/partner support; and
  • can take action to enforce those court orders.

For more information about MEP and how to register, see the Information Page that applies to you.

Child support in situations of family violence

Although the basic rules are the same for all families, dealing with child support in situations of family violence has additional challenges. For example:

  • Victims of family violence may not want to ask for child support because they are afraid of how the abuser will react.
  • Abusers may try to not pay child support as a way of further hurting the victim.
Tip

For such matters, there are people that can help you decide how to proceed and how to include information about the abuse in your court documents. For more information, see the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page.

For more information about child support in situations of family violence, see the following resources.

Web Child Support & Domestic Violence
About, Inc.
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF If you Leave...Your Guide to Financial Support Options
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web What does domestic violence have to do with child support?
Washington State Department of Social and Health Services
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.
Be Aware

In British Columbia, family violence is becoming more of a consideration in child support issues. This is somewhat different in Alberta, but may become relevant in the future. For more information about the situation in British Columbia, see the following resources.


Web Non-payment of Child Support: Is it Family Violence?
Henderson Heinrichs LLP
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Child support and family violence
Trial Lawyer Advocacy Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.
Legal matters: Partner support or spousal support

If you need to resolve issues about partner/spousal support with your abuser, you will want to know about:

  • What partner/spousal support is
  • Who can apply for partner/spousal support
  • Getting an “interim” order for immediate help
  • Enforcing partner/spousal support orders

What is partner/spousal support?

Partner support is money paid by one former partner to the other former partner, to help with living expenses. This support is ordered under the Family Law Act, and usually applies to unmarried couples.

Spousal support is money paid by one former spouse to the other former spouse, to help with living expenses. This support is ordered under the Divorce Act, which is only used by spouses who are divorcing.

Be Aware

Support orders are usually a monthly amount paid for a certain period of time. However, sometimes support can be ordered as a single, “lump-sum” payment. This may be a good option if you want to limit future contact with the abuser. For more information, see the following resource.

PDF Lump Sum Spousal Support: Refining A Blunt Instrument
Jenkins Marzban Logan LLP
English
This resource is from outside Alberta and can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

Who can apply for partner/spousal support?

To get partner/spousal support, you will have to show that you are “entitled” to it. Unlike child support, no one has an automatic right to partner/spousal support.

For information about who can apply and how to apply, see the Information Page that applies to you.

Partner/spousal support in situations of family violence

Victims of family violence sometimes think that they should get some kind of financial support from their abuser because they were a victim. This is not the case.

Just because a partner was abusive does not mean that he or she will have to pay you partner/spousal support.

Although the basic rules are the same for all families, dealing with spousal/partner support in situations of family violence has additional challenges. For example:

  • Victims of family violence may not want to ask for support because they are afraid of how the abuser will react.
  • Abusers may try to not pay support as a way of further hurting the victim.
Tip

For such matters, there are people that can help you decide how to proceed and how to include information about the abuse in your court documents. For more information, see the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page.

For more information about spousal/partner support in situations of family violence, see the following resources.

Webinar Spousal Support Basics and Partner Abuse
Your Legal Rights
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF If you Leave...Your Guide to Financial Support Options
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web The Family Law Consequences of a Criminal Domestic Violence Conviction
Daniel Brown Law
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here

Web Spousal Support Accountability of Abusive Spouses
Duhaime.org
English
This is a private source and can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

Immediate help from the courts: “Interim” orders

If you need immediate help with partner/spousal support issues, you can ask for a temporary order right away. For information, contact Resolution and Court Administration Services, and see the section below called “Going to court for immediate issues.”

Web Resolution and Court Administration Services
Government of Alberta
English

Enforcing partner/spousal support orders

To make sure that former partners/spouses are given the partner/spousal support that they are entitled to, Alberta has a system to make sure that court orders are followed: the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP). This program:

  • collects and delivers court-ordered child support and spousal/partner support; and
  • can take action to enforce those court orders.

For information about registering with MEP, see the Information Page that applies to you:

Legal matters: The family home, property, and pets

If you need to resolve issues about property and the family home with your abuser, you will want to know about:

  • Asking the court for exclusive possession of the family home
  • How property will be divided after you separate
  • How pets and animals are treated under the law

Exclusive possession of the family home

If you lived with your abuser, you may be able to apply to court for “exclusive possession” of the family home. This would allow you to stay in the home for a certain period of time, and your former partner must leave. You may also be allowed to continue using household goods or the family vehicle.

When considering whether to make an exclusive possession order, courts look at different factors, such as:

  • Whether other affordable housing is available and suitable.
  • The needs and best interests of the children. For example: What effect might a move have on them? How do they feel about moving or staying?
  • The children’s attachment to the neighbourhood. For example: How long have they have lived there? Is their school in the neighbourhood? Do their friends live nearby?
  • The financial positions of both partners.
  • Any violence committed against a partner or the children.

If you are granted an order for exclusive possession, you may have to cover the expenses related to the home. You may also possibly have to pay “occupation rent” to your former partner.

An order for exclusive possession does not mean that you keep the home or the assets in the house forever. You are also not permitted to sell, give way, or otherwise dispose of the house and its contents.

Be Aware

You cannot change the locks until you have an order of exclusive possession.

For more information about applying for exclusive possession of the family home, see the Information Page that applies to you.

Remember

You can also break your lease without any financial penalty if you must leave to escape domestic violence. For more information, see the “Immediate concerns: Housing issues and financial help” section above.

Dividing your property

When couples separate, they often have shared property that they need to divide. In general, abusive behaviour is not a factor when dividing the property.

Instead, the property will be divided as follows.

  • If you were married, your property will be divided according to Alberta’s Matrimonial Property Act. This law sets out rules for how different categories of property are to be divided when a marriage breaks down. Its purpose is to make sure that property is divided fairly between the spouses when they separate.
  • If you were not married, your property will be divided according to who “owned” the property. In other words, whoever bought the property keeps it. Jointly owned property will be divided. There are some exceptions to this approach when it would be unfair to divide the property in this way.
Be Aware

In Alberta, the fact that there was family violence does not have a direct effect on the division of property. In other words, being a victim does not mean that you get a bigger share of the property.

For detailed information about property division, see the Information Page that applies to you:

How pets and animals are treated under the law

Including pets in protective orders

Under the law, pets are considered property. In normal circumstances, this would mean determining who “owns” the pet.

However, the care and control of pets can be included in an Emergency Protection Order or Queen’s Bench Protection Order. If you want to do this, you will need to show that protecting the pet will help protect the victims of family violence. For example, a victim may be more likely to leave an abuser sooner if he or she knows that the pet is safe and away from the abuser. For more information about including pets in a protective order, see the following resources.

PDF Get Out and keep them safe, too! : Including animals in protective orders
Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
English

Web Including pets in protective orders
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Court Protections for Domestic Violence Victims and their Pets
Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
English
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

For detailed information about applying for a protective order, see the Protective Orders Information Page.

Pets as “property”

If pets are not dealt with in a protective order, they will be treated as property under the law. Property is divided differently for married couples than it is for unmarried couples.

If you were not married

For unmarried couples, this generally means figuring out who “owns” the pet, both on paper and in terms of who really took care of the pet. For more information about this, see the Property Division for Unmarried Couples Information Page.

If you were married

In deciding who will get the pets, courts have been known to consider things such as:

  • which spouse bought the pet, and did the pet belong to one of the spouses prior to the marriage;
  • if the pet a gift from one spouse to the other;
  • if there was any agreement or understanding between the spouses about who would take care of the pet (whether it was written down or not);
  • which spouse has been more of a caregiver for the pet during the marriage;
  • who has had the care of the pet in the time since the separation;
  • who is a more capable caregiver for the pet; and
  • if there are children involved, what pet arrangements would be in the best interests of the children.

For more information about this, see the Property Division for Married Spouses Information Page.

Legal matters: Getting a divorce

Before a judge will grant you a divorce, you must meet one of the “grounds for divorce.” These are the legal reasons that allow a married couple to get divorce. There are 3 grounds for divorce in Canada:

  1. The spouses have lived “separate and apart” for at least one year.
  2. The spouse responding to the divorce application has committed adultery since the date of the marriage.
  3. The spouse responding to the divorce application treated the other spouse with physical or mental cruelty.

Practically speaking, almost all divorces now use the one-year separation as their “grounds.” There are several reasons for this, including:

  • One year is about how long it takes to get separation issues sorted out anyway (such as child support and parenting time).
  • Adultery and cruelty actually have to be proven in the court documents. This is not always easy to do and requires more paperwork.
  • Whether someone behaved badly does not directly affect child-related and spousal support issues, so proving them does not provide an advantage on those issues.

In cases of family violence, you may want to consider using “cruelty” as your grounds for divorce. This may or may not be a good way to proceed. It depends on your exact situation, including:

  • whether you are now in a place of safety;
  • what protections you have in place; and
  • just how dangerous and volatile your spouse is.

For more information about this issue, see the following resource.

Video Adultery, Domestic Violence, Emotional Abuse and Leaving Your Spouse: Shame, Shame, You Want to Blame
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

For help in deciding what is best for you to put on your documents, talk to people who have experience in this area. For contact information for people and agencies that can help, see the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page.

For detailed information about applying for a divorce, see the Ending a Married Relationship under the Divorce Act Information Page.

Working with a lawyer or representing yourself?

If you go to court, you can either:

  • be represented by a lawyer; or
  • represent yourself. If you choose to represent yourself, you will be called a “self-represented litigant.”

Working with a lawyer

If you work with a lawyer, your lawyer will explain to you what is happening with your case and why. A lawyer can help you reach an out-of-court agreement, or represent you in court.

For Emergency Protection Orders

If you need an Emergency Protection Order, you can use the Emergency Protection Order Program (EPOP). This program will assign you a Legal Aid Alberta lawyer for free. It is free for all victims of family violence, no matter what your income is.

The Legal Aid lawyer will:

  • discuss your situation with you and tell you what your options are;
  • give you his or her opinion about whether an EPO is possible, or if a different protective order would be better for your situation;
  • help you complete all of the EPO paperwork needed and present your case to the judge that day (if he or she agrees that you can apply for an EPO); and
  • help you with the Queen’s Bench Review process (if an EPO is granted).

For other legal matters

For other legal matters, you may want to hire a lawyer.

If you have a low income, you may qualify for financial help to cover the cost of a lawyer and court fees through Legal Aid Alberta. For information about who qualifies for legal aid, see the Legal Aid Alberta eligibility guidelines. Even if you are unsure about whether you qualify, you can always contact Legal Aid for information about what services they can offer you.

Web Getting Legal Aid - Eligibility
Legal Aid Alberta
English

Web Legal Aid Alberta: Contact Us
Legal Aid Alberta
English
Be Aware

Legal Aid is not free. If you qualify for a Legal Aid lawyer, you will get discounted rates and will be able to pay your bill over time without interest.

For more information, including what you will need to bring with you when you apply, see the following resource.

Web Frequently Asked Questions
Legal Aid Alberta
English

For more general information about the services offered by Legal Aid Alberta, see the following resources.

Web Services & Eligibility
Legal Aid Alberta
English

PDF Legal Aid Alberta: Services for Albertans
Legal Aid Alberta
English

Web Working with your lawyer
Legal Aid Alberta
English

Web Legal Aid
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

If you don’t qualify for legal aid, there may be other options for legal help in your community. See the Community Legal Resources & Legal Aid Information Page and the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page.

To learn about the ways a lawyer can help you, and to find a lawyer on your own, see the Working with a Lawyer Information Page.

Working with a lawyer about family violence issues

See the following resources for tips about working with a lawyer when you have experienced family violence.

PDF Working with a Family Law Lawyer
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Working with Your Lawyer: A Toolkit for Survivors of Domestic Abuse - Expectations
Government of Ontario
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Video Deciding on Which Family Law Firm to Hire
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Representing yourself

You may be thinking about representing yourself in court against your abuser. Representing yourself in situations of family violence is particularly challenging. You will want to think carefully about what you are taking on.

  • Will you feel comfortable dealing with your abuser on your own? This can include anything from serving documents on your abuser to meeting them in or out of court.
  • Will you be able to keep your emotions under control in court?
  • Will you be able to clearly share your concerns and reasons to a judge in an understandable way? Proving abuse can be difficult.

If you have concerns about this, you can talk to an organization in your community about what your options are for legal help. See the Community Legal Resources & Legal Aid Information Page and the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page.

There is also good information about what to expect in these sections below:

  • “Dealing with court paperwork: What to include, providing evidence, and ‘serving’ the other party”
  • “Preparing for court”
  • “Going to court: Things abusers may do”

For general information about representing yourself, see the Representing Yourself in Court Information Page.

Going to court for immediate issues: “Interim” orders and “ex parte” orders

If you are dealing with legal matters as a victim of family violence, there are 2 ways the legal process might be able to help make it easier to get the help you need.

  • “Interim” orders. These are temporary orders that a judge can grant quickly to deal with immediate concerns.
  • Ex parte” applications. These are applications that you can make without giving notice to the other party. For example: you can apply for an Emergency Protection Order without telling your abuser that you are doing so. These are only available in specific situations.

These options are described in more detail just below.

Interim orders

If you need something decided right away, you may be able to go to court for an “interim” order. These are temporary orders that are in place until a more permanent order can be made.

Interim orders are quite common for the following matters.

  • Parenting and access arrangements for children
  • Child support
  • Spousal or partner support
  • Exclusive possession of a home
Remember

Judges will always make their decisions based on what is in the “best interests of the child.” For more information about what this means, see the “Legal matters when separating: Understanding the best interests of the child” section above.

For more information about interim orders, see the Understanding the Court System & Processes Information Page and the following resources.


PDF Family Law in Alberta: Legal Information for Frontline Service Providers
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See p. 10.

You can also ask at Resolution and Court Administration Services about how to apply for an interim order in your judicial centre.

Web Resolution and Court Administration Services
Government of Alberta
English

Ex parte applications

If you fear for you or your children’s safety, you may be able to apply for certain things without telling your abuser you are doing so. For example, you may be able to do this for certain protective orders, or to ask for exclusive possession of the family home. Other family law applications (for example, for guardianship of a child) can also be made ex parte if there is a risk of danger to you or your family.

If you have concerns about your safety or your children’s safety as a result of making a court application, talk to staff at Resolution and Court Administration Services about whether you can apply for what you need without giving the other party notice.

Web Resolution and Court Administration Services
Government of Alberta
English

See the following resources for more information about making applications without notice.


Web What is an ex parte motion?
Luke's Place
English
This resource is from Ontario, so the process and forms will be different in Alberta.

There is also information about ex parte orders on the Understanding the Court System & Processes Information Page.

Dealing with court paperwork: What to include, providing evidence, and “serving” the other party

If you are going to court to deal with your legal matter, you will have to give the Court certain documents. In these documents, you will tell the Court:

  • what you want; and
  • why you want it.

For example:

  • Say you want to go to court to ask for full custody of your children. You want the abusive parent to only have supervised access.
  • You are asking for this because you think your home will be safer and more stable for the children. You fear for their safety if they are left alone with the other parent.

You would need to explain all of this in your paperwork. However, there are rules about what you can include in your paperwork, including:

  • what you can state in your documents; and
  • what evidence you can include to prove your claims.

These rules are described in the “Completing court paperwork” heading below.

In most cases, when the paperwork is completed, you will need to “serve” the other party. This is a formal process of delivering documents to another party in a court action. There are important rules about serving documents that must be followed. However, in some situations, you can apply in court without serving the other party. This is called “without notice” or “ex parte.”

If you are serving someone who was abusive, you may be concerned about this step.

The rest of this section describes these rules and your options for dealing with court paperwork.

Completing court paperwork

For family law actions, you will generally have 2 types of forms to fill out when asking the Court for something:

  • A “Claim” or “Statement of Claim” form. This form will start the court action and set out some basic information about what you want and who is involved.
  • “Statements” or “Affidavits.” These forms are more specific about the topic you want decided in court. For example, you would have a separate Statement/Affidavit for child support, parenting time, and partner support.

If there has been domestic violence in your family, you can bring it up in these documents. This can be particularly important if the violence is the reason you are asking for certain things.

For general information about what you can include in these documents, see the following resource.

PDF Families and the Law: Representing Yourself in Family Court
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

For information about what to include about any domestic violence in your paperwork, see the following resources.

PDF Writing an Affidavit
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Webinar Supporting an Abused Woman to Write an Effective Affidavit
Luke's Place (via Your Legal Rights)
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Presentation Overview of Family Law
YWCA Canada
English

Webinar Presenting Evidence About Abuse in Family Court
Your Legal Rights
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Webinar How and When to Prove Abuse in Family Court
Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.


Web Non-physical Domestic (Family) Violence and Family Law
Galbraith Family Law
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Verbal abuse by text
Luke's Place
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

For detailed information about the court process, see the Understanding the Court System & Processes Information Page.

Serving the paperwork on your abuser

In most cases, when the paperwork is completed, you will need to “serve” the other party. This is a formal process of delivering documents to another party in a court action. There are important rules about serving documents that must be followed.

See the following resources for options about how to serve documents on your abuser.

PDF Serving Documents on an Abusive Party
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English


PDF Restraining Orders
Leduc & District Victim Assistance Society
English

There is detailed information about these rules on the Understanding the Court System & Processes Information Page.

Remember

In some situations, you can apply in court without serving the other party. This is called “without notice” or “ex parte.” For more information about this option, see the “Going to court for immediate issues” section above.

Responding to your abuser’s court paperwork

After you file your court documents, your abuser (the “Respondent”) will have the opportunity to respond with their own paperwork and evidence. This can be very challenging and emotional. For example, they may make claims about things that didn’t happen, or accuse you of being abusive yourself.

Remember

There are people that can help you with this. For more information, see the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page.

For more information about things abusers may do in this situation, see the “Going to court: Things abusers may do” section below.

Preparing for court

Going to court can be very stressful. This is especially true in cases of family violence. It is helpful to learn about what to expect, so that you can better prepare. For tips and information about this, see the following resources.

PDF Preparing for Court
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web What to Expect (Going to Court)
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Who to Expect (Who Will be in the Courtroom?)
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF It Starts Today
Today Family Violence Help Centre
English
See “The Court Process.”

There is more detailed information about the court process on the Understanding the Court System & Processes Information Page.

There are also people who can help you understand the court process and what to expect. The rest of this section describes these people and how they can help.

Resolution and Court Administration Services

Resolution and Court Administration Services (RCAS) is a group of programs and services offered by the Alberta government to help people resolve their legal matters. RCAS staff:

  • help you stay out of court when possible;
  • help with the court process and forms if you go to court; and
  • offer free or low-cost programs to help families with the legal system.

For more information about how RCAS can help you, see the following resource.

Web Resolution and Court Administration Services
Government of Alberta
English

Family Court Counsellors

In some locations, Family Court Counsellors (FCCs) may be available to help you learn about the court process. FCCs can also help present the facts to the judge. To get this help you will need to talk to them long before your court date!

See the following resources for more information.

Web Family court assistance
Government of Alberta
English

Web Family court counsellor locations
Government of Alberta
English

Duty counsel

In some courthouses, you may have the option of speaking with “duty counsel.” Duty counsel are volunteer lawyers who will discuss your legal issue with you for free. This can include what the judge may think of your requests and the “merits of your claim.” There are no income restrictions to speak with duty counsel, but the service is limited. They are only at certain courthouses on certain days. Also, there may be many people waiting to speak with them. If you need to speak to duty counsel, make sure you get to the courthouse early. Check with your judicial centre to verify the times and days duty counsel will be available.

For information about what matters duty counsel can help with, and which judicial centres have duty counsel available, see the following resource.

Web Duty Counsel - Legal Assistance at Court
Legal Aid Alberta
English

Other resources to help

Other organizations may also provide family court workers/counsellors, depending on the area of the province. These include: Native Counselling Services, the John Howard Society, and the Central Alberta Community Legal Clinic / Women’s Outreach Court Preparation Program.

For more information about these programs, as well as other organizations that might provide similar services, see the following Information Pages.

Going to court: Things abusers may do

Abusive people will often be angry when they learn that their victim is asking the court for help. They may see it as a loss of power and control. They may be worried about what will happen in court, and what the judge will think of their actions.

As a result, your abuser may try different things to keep you from going to court. For example, they may:

  • threaten you or your family;
  • lie to you about how you will “get nothing”;
  • tell you that no one will believe you; or
  • continue to harass you through the courts.

It is important to remember that it is not up to the abuser to decide: it is a question of law. You have a right to ask the court to decide your legal matters. You have a right to be free from abuse.

For more information about things abusers may do and how you can prepare and protect yourself, see the following resources.

Web How Abusers Trick Survivors Into Denying Abuse
domesticshelters.org
English

Web What if your ex is harassing you through the courts?
Legal Services Society
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Children Used as Pawns in Court
domesticshelters.org
English

Web Moms: Protect Yourself in Court
domesticshelters.org
English

Web The Dynamics of Power and Control After Separation in Relation to the Family Law Processes
Battered Women's Support Services
English
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

Web Threatened Not to Testify
domesticshelters.org
English

PDF Court-Related Abuse and Harassment
YWCA Vancouver
English

Web National Crime Victim Awareness Week 2012 – Court Related Abuse and Harassment
Battered Women's Support Services
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

If your abuser is harassing you or threatening you, you can apply for a protective order to keep them away. See the Protective Orders Information Page.

You can also ask organizations that specialize in family violence matters about your options. See the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page.

Enforcing your court orders

“Enforcement” means forcing something to be done or forcing someone to act in a specific way because of a law, rule, or court order. Family court orders are enforced in different ways, depending on what the order is for.

Custody, access, and parenting time orders

Many people think that parenting orders can always be enforced by police. This is not true.

To be enforced, the court order must have an “enforcement clause.” An enforcement clause is a part of the court order that allows police to force a person to follow the court order.

Without an enforcement clause, the police cannot force a person to follow a family court order.

However, enforcement clauses are not included in court orders automatically. If you want one, you must specifically ask for one. Also, judges do not include an enforcement clause just because it was asked for. The person asking for the clause must show that there is a real concern that the order will not be followed (this is called a “breach”), or that breaches have occurred in the past.

For more information about enforcement clauses, see the following resources.

PDF Families and the Law: Child Custody and Parenting
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
Start on p. 18.

PDF Access Enforcement Information Sheet
Government of Alberta
English

Audio/Web How to Enforce a Parenting or Contact Order
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Video Family Law Access
AdviceScene (via YouTube)
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here. Start at 21:00.


Web Police Enforcement of Custody and Access Orders
Nelligan O'Brien Payne LLP
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

If someone breaches a family court order, there can be long-term consequences. Judges do not view such behaviour very well, and it may affect future orders. Also, the person who breached the Order may be found in “contempt of court.” This can lead to fines and/or time in jail.

See the following Information Pages for more information about other options to help enforce family court orders when there are problems.

Child support and partner/spousal support

Support orders are enforced through Alberta’s Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP). This program:

  • collects and delivers court-ordered child support and spousal/partner support; and
  • can take action to enforce those court orders.

All support orders are automatically filed with MEP. However, they are only enforced when one of the parties registers the order.

For example: You have a court order for child support. Your former partner must pay you $300 per month.

  • If you do not register your order with MEP, you will have to make your own arrangements for payment. For example, you may get a cheque mailed to you every month.
  • If you register your order with MEP, they will make arrangements for payment (such as having the money paid directly from the payor’s bank account). If payments are not made, MEP has the power to do something about it right away.

For more information about MEP and how it can help enforce support, see the following resources.

Web Child Support – The Maintenance Enforcement Program FAQs
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Families and the Law: Financial Support
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
Start on p. 16.

Audio/Web How to Enforce a Support Order
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web Child & Spousal Support
Student Legal Services of Edmonton
English
See “Maintenance Enforcement Program.”

See the following Information Pages for detailed information about the Maintenance Enforcement Program, and how to register.

Abuse by ex-spouses and ex-partners

Just because the romantic part of the relationship has ended does not mean that the abuse will completely end. It may just change. This is especially true in situations where the parties must continue to have contact. For example: when they still have to work together to raise a child.

Also, abusers may continue their abuse through resolution and court processes. As a result, dealing with family law issues may be more difficult for victims than for people ending non-abusive relationships. Sometimes, abusers even use legal processes as a tool for abuse, leading to a greater number of issues and court applications. This is sometimes called “court harassment.”

For more information about post-separation abuse in general, see the following resources.

PDF Post-Separation Domestic Violence... A Reality
Interdisciplinary Research Center on Family Violence and Violence against Women
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Safely On Your Way: Post-separation Abuse
Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Poursuivre votre vie en toute sécurité : La violence post-séparation
Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia
French
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web The Dynamics of Power and Control After Separation in Relation to the Family Law Processes
Battered Women's Support Services
English
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

PDF Spousal Violence after Marital Separation
Government of Canada
English
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

Web Violence Perpetrated by Ex-Spouses in Canada
Government of Canada
English
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

Web Actes de violence perpétrés par des ex-conjoints au Canada
Government of Canada
French
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

For more information about how abusers may use the courts as a tool for abuse, see the following resources.

Web What if your ex is harassing you through the courts?
Legal Services Society
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Court-Related Abuse and Harassment
YWCA Vancouver
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web National Crime Victim Awareness Week 2012 – Court Related Abuse and Harassment
Battered Women's Support Services
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

If Child Protective Services is involved

The law around child protection (also called “child welfare”) is different than the usual “family law” matters described above. This is because the government has the right to step in to protect any child in need of protection.

Reporting suspected child abuse

Under Alberta law, anyone who has “reasonable and probable grounds” to believe that a child is being abused, or is at risk of being abused, must report it to Child Protective Services. This is part of Alberta’s Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act.

Children rely on adults to keep them safe. Also, if you do not report suspected abuse, you could be fined up to $2,000.

Child abuse can include:

  • neglect;
  • emotional abuse;
  • physical abuse (including medical abuse); or
  • sexual abuse.

For detailed information about what these types of abuse can look like, see the Child Abuse Information Page.

If you think a child is being abused, call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1‑800‑387‑5437 (KIDS) to speak with a caseworker.

For more information about your duty to report suspected child abuse, see the following resources.

Web How can I help?
Government of Alberta
English

PDF Responding to Child Abuse in Alberta: A Handbook
Government of Alberta
English
See p. 1 of the Handbook.

Web Teachers: How to recognize and report child abuse
John Howard Society of Alberta
English

See the Child Protection Information Page for information about what will happen after a report is made.

Your responsibility to protect your children from abuse

Under Alberta’s Family Law Act, guardians are responsible for:

  • caring for the child’s physical, psychological, and emotional development; and
  • guiding the child toward independent adulthood.

This includes:

  • providing the necessities of life for the child;
  • getting or allowing needed medical treatment for the child;
  • keeping the child safe from physical injury or sexual abuse;
  • protecting the child from emotional injury; and
  • properly caring for the child.

When these responsibilities are not met, the child may be in need of protection. In these cases, Child Protective Services (which is part of the government) can step in to care for the child.

Specifically, under Alberta’s Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, there are 2 factors that will determine if a child is in need of protection. They are:

  1. there are “reasonable and probable grounds” to believe that a child is in danger; and
  2. the “survival, security or development of the child” is being endangered.

There are various situations when a child may be in need of protection:

  • there is no guardian to take care of the child;
  • a guardian is neglecting or abusing the child; or
  • the child is at risk of being hurt by an adult who is not their guardian. For example, if a guardian does not know that another adult is harming the child. Or, if a guardian knows the child is being harmed, but the guardian is at risk themselves.

This means that, if another person is harming your child, you must report that fact to Child Protective Services. This is true even if the person doing the harm is the other parent (or guardian). However, as described just below, this can get complicated in situations of separation and divorce.

For more information about when a child is in need of protection, see the “The CYFEA: When do children need protection?” section of the Child Protection Information Page.

Child Protective Services and family law matters

If a child is being harmed, a non-abusive parent may decide to call Child Protective Services (CPS). CPS has a duty to investigate any reports of abuse.

However, once the parents have separated, CPS may view the matter as a “custody dispute” and prefer that it be dealt with through the family law court system.

For more information about how family law relates to child protection matters, see the following resources.

Web Child Protection Law
YWCA Canada
English





Web Risk Factors for Children in Situations of Family Violence in the Context of Separation and Divorce
Government of Canada
English
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

If there are criminal charges

There are many reasons why the criminal justice system may be involved with your family at the same time as you deal with your family law matters. For example:

  • Your abuser may have been criminally charged by the police as a result of the abuser.
  • You may have pressed charges against your abuser.
  • Your abuser may be involved with the criminal justice system for a reason unrelated to the family violence, but it may still affect you as you deal with your family law matters.
  • You and your partner may have both been charged with a crime as a result of the family violence incident.

If your abuser has been charged with a crime as a result of violence against you

Whether the police charged your abuser or you did, you may have questions about what happens next for you, as a victim of a crime. See the Family Violence: How Criminal & Civil Law Can Help Information Page for information about:

  • What to expect from the criminal process
  • Applying for benefits and compensation as a result of a crime

How criminal legal matters and family legal matters affect each other

If your abuser is already involved with the criminal justice system, it can affect your family law matters. See the Family Breakdown and Criminal Law Information Page for information about:

  • The differences between criminal and non-criminal matters
  • How going to court for criminal matters will be different than family matters
  • Family law issues when one partner is in jail

If you and your abuser were both charged with a crime

In situations of physical violence, it is natural to try to protect yourself. This can result in “hitting back.” Although this may be natural, if the police are called, you could be charged with a crime (such as assault).

Even just a slap (as we might see in a movie) can result in an assault charge. If you are charged with assault, it can make your family issues much more complicated and can cause a great deal of difficulty.

For more information about this, see the following resources.


Web How Self-Defense Can Go Wrong
domesticshelters.org
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Domestic Violence Handbook for Police and Crown Prosecutors in Alberta
Government of Alberta
English
See p. 69-70.

Web Can I also be charged?
Community Legal Education Ontario
English, French

Web Is Mutual Abuse Real?
domesticshelters.org
English
Aboriginal & on-reserve considerations

The law around family violence is no different for Aboriginal families than non-Aboriginal families. All of the above considerations will apply to all Albertans.

However, Aboriginal families may have additional considerations when dealing with family law issues. For example:

  • There are extra requirements when considering “the best interests of the child” when the child is Aboriginal.
  • There are rules under the Indian Act that affect Status Indians living on-reserve regarding child support and partner support payments.

Also, anyone living on-reserve (whether they are Aboriginal or not) has to follow the band rules and requirements. They may also have to follow certain federal laws that apply on-reserve.

For more information about how being Aboriginal and/or living on-reserve can affect your family law issues, see the Family Breakdown if you Live on Reserve Information Page.

For organizations that help Aboriginal families specifically, see the “Help if you’re Aboriginal” section of the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page.

Concerns for immigrants & other non-citizens

One or more of the partners may not be citizens or permanent residents of Canada because they are:

  • in the process of immigrating;
  • conditional permanent residents;
  • on a study permit or student work visa;
  • on a work permit; or
  • hired as a temporary foreign worker.

In these situations, family breakdown may be much more complex. This is especially true if one partner is being sponsored by the other for immigration, or if the relationship involves domestic violence.

Although all of the general family law rules and processes still apply, immigration issues may play a huge role in deciding:

  • what to do when,
  • whether and when to involve a lawyer,
  • what you need to include in any agreement, and even
  • what you can ask for in court.

If any of the above applies to you, be sure to review the Family Breakdown and the Immigration Process Information Page. There is also information about getting legal help in other languages on the Community Legal Resources & Legal Aid Information Page.

For more information, see the following resources.

PDF Leaving an abusive relationship... If you are not a Canadian citizen
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web New to Canada
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Rose's Story
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Marriage Breakdown
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Will police contact immigration authorities?
Community Legal Education Ontario
English, French

PDF Immigrant women and domestic violence
Community Legal Education Ontario
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web What do immigrants and refugees need to know about domestic abuse?
Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Will I be forced to leave Canada if I leave my partner?
Community Legal Education Ontario
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web A Spotlight on Family Violence and Immigrant Women in Canada
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Process

Every family situation is different. You will need to learn about your options to know which steps to take. See the Law tab of this Information Page for a description of those options.

There are also organizations that can help you choose which steps to take first. See the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page for contact information.

Last Reviewed: March 2017

Provincial Court

Queen's Bench

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