People generally believe that once you leave an abusive relationship, the abuse stops. Theoretically it makes sense. Leave the person who is hurting you and then they can’t hurt you anymore. Simple, easy, what more could you want. I wish it was that easy but it’s not.
Abuse takes on many forms. Because we associate it with physical violence, we forget that relationship violence can happen through a series of behaviours, many of which don’t appear violent at all on the surface. It’s the combination and the relentlessness that all contribute to this bigger picture of domestic violence. Family court can be a particularly difficult situation to deal with after leaving. Many abusers use child access as an opportunity to continue to threaten, harass, intimidate, and assault their partners. The more information you have to prepare yourself and help protect yourself, the better off you’re going to be on many levels.
When it comes to family court, it is very important that you understand your rights and your obligations both now and in the future. Many people who have experienced domestic violence are still quite afraid and / or intimidated by their former partners – with good reason. The person has gone out of their way to make sure of that and even though you’re not physically with the person any more, it does take time to recover. The challenge (or one of) is that these fears and feelings of intimidation can impact your decision-making and this can affect you and your children’s future. Because of this, it is a good idea to go into family court with a perspective of now and future possibilities (such as new partners, possible step-families and so on).
If you are planning to initiate family court proceedings or have recently initiated them, or if you are planning to leave a relationship or have recently separated, you should be aware that this is likely a risky time for you. Safety planning at this time is very important in order for you to stay safe and to keep your children safe. Safety planning means thinking about what your current or former partner might do, what he/she has done in the past, and how you can protect yourself and your children from potential harm.
When it comes to family court, it is important to keep in mind that your lawyer is your advocate and his/her role is to protect your interests within the law. It is very important to understand what the lawyer is doing, and how it will impact you and your case. Ask any questions that arise and, if you do not understand the information, keep asking until you do.
Before meeting a lawyer, you should:
- Write down all the details of your case. This will make talking about the legal issue easier;
- Call to make an appointment with the lawyer, and ask what to bring to the meeting;
- Be prepared: Write down your questions before visiting and make sure your lawyer explains any confusing or complicated information.
At the first meeting, remember to:
- Bring all papers and court documents to the lawyer’s office along with your list of questions;
- Give your lawyer as much information as possible about your legal issue;
- Answer all questions completely and truthfully. Giving private information might be uncomfortable or embarrassing, but a lawyer is there to support, not judge you;
- Be clear about what you expect. A lawyer needs to understand exactly what you want so they can better assist you;
- Write down the answers to your questions, and anything your lawyer requires you to do or bring for the next appointment.
Because court outcomes are based on evidence, it is important for you to be able to show to the court that domestic violence was present in your relationship with your partner. It is common for people who are abusive towards their partners to try to discredit their victims, which is why it is so important to document the abuse. Try to remember past incidents of abuse and write down as many specific details as you can. Here are some tips that you can follow:
- Document physical and non-physical abuse
- They should relate specifically to claims being made
- Be direct and give factual information
- Be careful to avoid over-representing or under-representing the facts, neither exaggerating nor overstating them as this may damage your credibility
- Collect and organize this information in a coherent manner – make sure the information is in order either from first incident to now or start now and go backwards to the first incident
- It is important to be aware that any information contained in court documents will be available to the abuser
- Save any proof of the abuse such as photographs, damaged clothing or property, notes, emails, letters, text messages, voice mails, unwanted or damaged items
It is unusual for a Judge to make an order denying access to a parent unless there is strong evidence that the parent has abused or neglected their children in the past, and that the children are at risk of further abuse or neglect.
Here are some other suggestions you might consider to make access smoother and safer for you and your children:
- Have as much precise detail in the access terms of the order as possible (for example, pick up and drop off times and locations, holiday schedules, and so on).
- Have multiple copies of the order so one is always available to show to the authorities if a problem arises.
- Orders should include a condition that the terms of the order are enforceable by the police.
- Document any and all problems – complaints the children have following access visits, suspicious injuries, comments made by the children about what went on in the visit, times the other parent missed or was late for the visit, any threats made regarding the children, and so on.
- If your children are in school or daycare, and you think your partner might try to take them from there without your knowledge, discuss the situation with the school staff immediately. Give them a copy of any court orders. If you have a custody order that states your partner cannot pick up the children at school, the staff should refuse to let your partner take them. If the order says that he/she has access to the children on certain days at specific times, the school should not give them to him/her at any other time.
- A non-removal order is an order a court makes to be sure that one or both parents do not take a child out of a specified area, such as a county or province. If you have custody of the children and your partner has threatened to leave the area with them, get legal help right away. See a lawyer as soon as possible and ask about getting a non-removal order. If you are afraid that your partner may take the children out of the area immediately, and you do not have time to find a lawyer, go to the Court House and ask for help from a duty counsel or advice counsel lawyer.
- Consider counseling for your children so they can have an outside third-party with whom they can talk through their concerns.
- Have a witness present for access exchanges.
- When there are serious concerns for the children’s safety, contact the children’s aid society and the police.
- Monitor the children’s phone/email contact with the other parent and end calls or exchanges that become inappropriate.
- Have caller ID installed to screen calls and only access calls from the abuser at times when the children can talk to him/her.
- Limit what can be spoken about during calls with the abuser and end the call if it becomes intrusive or abusive.
- Remember that you don’t have to respond to every text message, phone call or email immediately if ever.
- If telephone contact isn’t working, limit contact to email and save them.
- Open a new email account just for communication with the other parent.
- Arrange access exchanges away from your home – for example, in a public place, using family members or friends to supervise exchanges or access, using school or daycare as the drop-off and pick-up points.
- Resist the temptation to spend special occasions such as children’s birthdays and cultural/religious celebrations with the abuser.
- Let the other parent receive information about the children’s health, education and general welfare directly from children’s care providers (doctor, dentist, school, daycare, etc).
- Limit contact with former in-laws and family members who behave in an abusive or disrespectful manner.
- Adjust Facebook and other social networking sites’ settings to ensure privacy.
For more information, please visit; http://lukesplace.ca/resources/