Area of Law: Family Law
Answer # 128
Child and spousal abuse: Getting helpRegion: Ontario Answer # 128
Child abuse, whether it is physical or emotional, is taken very seriously in our society. So much so that when abuse is even just suspected for a child under 16 years old (or 17 and below if living under a child protection order), members of the public in Ontario are legally obliged to report it to authorities.
If your spouse is abusing you or your children, there are several things you can do. These include seeking shelter, having criminal charges laid, getting a peace bond, getting a family law restraining order or getting an order for exclusive possession of the family home. No one should have to remain in a dangerous or abusive situation. The law and community support make it possible to improve your situation.
Seeking shelter & immediate help
If you suspect abuse is happening to a child, or you yourself are in danger, there are a number of options you have for immediate help. They include:
- call 9-1-1 (if available in your area), or your local police emergency number
- contact a local crisis or help line, such as:
- the Ontario Victim Support Line (toll-free at 1-888-579-2888, or in the Greater Toronto Area, 416-314-2447),
- the Assaulted Women’s Helpline (1-866-863-0511),
- Fem-aide, a help line for Francophone women (1-877-860-7082),
- Talk 4 Healing, for Aboriginal women living in Northern Ontario who speak English, Ojibway, Oj-Cree, or Cree (1-855-554- HEAL), or
- Ganohkwasra Family Assault Support Services, for those who belong to the Six Nations of the Grand River community (1-519-445-4324)
- visit ShelterSafe.ca to find the nearest shelter for women and their children seeking safety from violence and abuse
- visit the Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres for a listing of hospital-based centres that provide 24/7 emergency care to women, children and men who have been sexually assaulted or who are victims or survivors of domestic violence
- Ontario Victim Services can help provide services such as food, clothing and shelter
- the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies can provide help and information if child abuse is suspected or taking place
- contact your family doctor
- visit YWCA Canada for a list of YWCA associations that offer shelter, housing and support services
- contact a lawyer, or a legal aid office to obtain legal help and legal services for people who cannot afford a lawyer
- contact the Ontario Ministry of Women’s Issues or the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses for services and a list of shelters in your area that can give temporary help and somewhere safe to stay
- speak with someone you trust, such as family, friends or neighbours
- visit Canada’s Department of Justice for links to websites and services dedicated to family violence
- the Kids Help Phone can connect kids, teens and young adults, from any community in Canada, to a professional counsellor 24 hours a day, 365 day a year. Call 1-800-668-6868, or go online at KidsHelpPhone.ca
- many community organizations provide social services
- Immigration and Citizenship provides a listing of services in Ontario for newcomers to Canada
Having criminal charges laid
Whether you have left for a shelter or remain in your house, you can call the police. Many police forces in Ontario have a policy that they must lay charges for domestic assault situations. However, there are still some police forces that will not automatically lay charges. They will want to see some evidence of physical abuse before they lay a charge.
If the police are not willing to lay a criminal charge against your spouse you can take steps to have a criminal charge laid yourself. To do this, you have to meet with a justice of the peace and lay what is called an “information.” The information is a document that sets out what happened. If the justice of the peace thinks there is a good reason to believe you were assaulted, your spouse will have to face criminal charges. You can arrange to meet with a justice of the peace at most court offices.
If you do not want to lay a criminal charge against your spouse, you may want to get a peace bond. This is a court order that requires your spouse to be on good behaviour and keep the peace. To get a peace bond you will have to meet with a justice of the peace and explain what happened. You must show that you have reasonable grounds to be afraid that your spouse or partner will injure you, your children or your property. If the rules of the peace bond are broken, your spouse may be sent to jail.
When issuing a peace bond, the justice can also attach a number of conditions, such as ordering your spouse or partner to stay away from you. The only way for a peace bond to help you is if you follow up on it, and actually call the police if your spouse or partner breaks any of the conditions. If your spouse refuses to sign a peace bond, or if they violate a condition of the peace bond, they could be fined or sent to prison. Because a peace bond usually expires after one year, you must reapply if you feel it is still needed.
Another option is to get a family law restraining order. This has generally the same effect as a peace bond. The advantage of a restraining order is that you can get one quickly from your local family court and without your spouse knowing. Once the court has granted you a restraining order, you should give a copy to your local police department.
For more information on restraining orders and peace bonds, visit #129 Restraining Orders and Peace Bonds.
Exclusive possession of the family home
If you or your children are being abused and you want to get your spouse out of the family home, you can go to court and ask the judge for what is called “exclusive possession of the matrimonial home” together with the contents of the home. This is a court order that requires your spouse to live somewhere else. It gives you the right to live in the family home without your spouse even if your spouse is the legal owner of the home. The court may also order your spouse to pay you money for the upkeep of the house.
Additional safety measures
There are many practical steps you can also take to keep you and your children safe, such as:
- if you feel you or your children are in danger, think about where you would go if you needed to leave your home (such as having a friend you can stay with); or where in your home is the safest place to hide or lock yourself in while you call the police;
- have emergency numbers on speed dial so you can quickly call for help
- keep a ‘safety bag’ packed in case you have to leave your home in a hurry. Your safety bag should include things such as: ID, court records, passports and other important documents; an extra set of keys; medications; cash; and any valuables
- have a ‘code’ word that your friends or family will recognize that means you are in danger but cannot talk; teach your child the word and how it should be used
- keep copies of court orders such as restraining orders with you at all times; you can do this by photographing them and keeping them in your mobile phone
- practice how you would leave the house in an emergency
- memorize important telephone numbers in case you don’t have your mobile phone with you when you need it
- if you are not living with your abuser, change your locks and add extra security to your home
- if you have a restraining order in place, tell your child’s school, daycare, etc. who can pick them up and who can’t; you can give the school a copy of the restraining order and a picture of your abuser
- make sure your child knows how to call 911 or someone else for help and what to say, including their own name and address
- make sure there is someone you trust with you if your child is being picked up or dropped off after a visit with the abuser; or arrange for a court order for pickup and drop off meetings to take place at a neutral location (such as a police station)
- if you get a new telephone number, tell the phone company to make your telephone number unlisted
How to be safe at work and in public
- tell people at work you trust including your employer and the building security department about your situation and know how to contact them if you feel unsafe at work
- have someone accompany you to your car or transit when you leave work
- make sure everyone knows not to give out your personal information to your abuser or any one else not authorized by you
- share a picture of your abuser in case they show up at your work
- don’t follow the same routines every day; change the routes you take to the stores you always go to
- have someone know where you are and when you will be home, and call someone to let them know you got home okay
- always keep your mobile phone charged; always have a charger with you
- always have a full tank of gas and cash on hand
How to be safe online
- close your social media accounts if possible, or make new ones with new passwords and new privacy settings
- do not share your personal information online
- change all passwords, including email, banking etc.
- delete your browser history
- turn off the tracking (GPS) on your mobile phone
More information about violence in the home and victim services is also available from the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General.
Getting the legal help you need
For more information on how to protect yourself from an abusive spouse, contact a women’s shelter, a domestic hotline, or a family law or criminal law lawyer. If you are considering representing yourself in a family law matter, you may wish to get help from The Family Law Coach. Their experienced family law lawyers can provide information, legal assistance, advice and practical tips to help you prepare your case and improve your outcome. They provide specific services for fixed prices, and you only pay for the services you want. If you are considering hiring a lawyer to represent you, for legal advice and assistance with domestic dispute issues and other family law matters, contact a family law lawyer.
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