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Where can I find legal support if I have experienced partner abuse?

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Where can I find legal support if I have experienced partner abuse?

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Reviewed: 
May, 2016
Answer

You may need different kinds of help and support when you leave an abusive relationship.

Legal advice

A lawyer has special training that allows them to give legal advice. Legal advice means that a lawyer can explain how the law applies to your specific legal problems. For example, they can advise you on what you can do to keep your abusive partner away from you.

A lawyer can represent you in court. They can also let you know the different ways you can resolve your issues without going to court.

If you can't afford to hire a lawyer for your whole case, some lawyers provide "unbundled" or "limited scope" services. This means you pay them to help you with part of your case.

If you have experienced family violence and need immediate legal help, you might be able to get 2 hours of free advice from a lawyer. This service is offered through some women's shelters, community legal clinics, and Family Law Service Centres. Or you can call Legal Aid Ontario toll-free at 1-800-668-8258 to find out more.

If you have experienced sexual abuse and live in Toronto, Ottawa, or Thunder Bay, you might be able to get 4 hours of free advice from a lawyer. You have to complete a voucher request form. Or you can call the Independent Legal Advice for Sexual Assault Survivors Pilot Program at 1-855-226-3904 to find out more.

The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic also helps women who’ve experienced physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. The Clinic represents women in family and immigration court for free. The Clinic accepts collect calls and can be reached at 416-323-9140 or 416-323-1361 (TTY).

Luke’s Place works to improve the safety and experience of abused women in Durham Region who are or may become involved with the family law system. They can also help women find family law services elsewhere in the province. Luke’s place can be reached at 905-728-0978 or 1-866-516-3116.

Legal help

You may be able to find legal help and general advice in other places such as a Family Law Information Centre, through Legal Aid Ontario, or at a community legal clinic. Some services have special help for victims of partner abuse.

Emotional support

Whether or not you have a lawyer, it is a good idea to get emotional support before and after leaving an abusive relationship. You may want someone who can help you:

  • emotionally or mentally
  • make a safety plan before or after you leave your home
  • find housing
  • apply for Ontario Works or other support services
  • understand the criminal court process if you or your partner has been charged with a crime
  • support your children

Usually, lawyers cannot help with these kinds of issues. If you have a counsellor or support person to help you with them, you can be more focused on your legal issues with your lawyer.

Next steps

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911 for police, ambulance, fire

If you or someone you love is in danger from abuse, you need to get emergency help right away.

You may have someone you can call who can help right away. You may also want to contact the police by calling 911.

The police have a duty to contact a Children's Aid Society if they think any children have been harmed or are at risk of being harmed. The Children's Aid Society (CAS) is the government agency that is responsible for protecting children from harm and abuse.

Shelters

Shelters for abused women can provide you with a safe place to stay.

Most shelters have staff available 24 hours a day to answer you call. You can also arrange to go to the shelter to meet with someone.

You can find your local shelter by visiting sheltersafe.ca or 211ontario.ca or by calling 2-1-1 from anywhere in Ontario.

Helplines

There is emergency, 24-hour a day telephone support available. These helplines offer emotional support over the telephone and can refer you to community services for people who’ve experienced abuse. Their services are available free of charge. You can call:

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Think about the kind of support you need. For example:

Emotional support

Emotional support is important whenever a relationship breaks down. If you've been abused by your partner, emotional support is even more important.

You have to be prepared to talk about the abuse you’ve experienced. This can be difficult. You may want to speak with a trusted family member, friend, social worker, or counsellor.

Safety concerns

Your partner may bully and threaten you even after you’ve separated. This may leave you feeling unsafe both physically and emotionally. A counsellor or a friend can help you to make a safety plan.

If you have any concerns about your children, you can include them in your safety plan.

Support for your children

Your children may need professional support from a counsellor or emotional support from friends and family to help them adjust to all the changes in their lives.

Housing issues

When you leave your abusive partner, you may have to move into a shelter temporarily or to a friend's or family member's home. You may need help to find more permanent housing.

Financial issues

A lawyer can let you know what financial duties and rights you and your partner have after you separate. You may have a right to spousal support, child support, and dividing property.

You may also be able to get income support from Ontario Works if you have a low income or no income. Ontario Works, sometimes called welfare, makes income support payments. You must apply to Ontario Works.

You may not get welfare or may get less welfare if you get:

Ontario Works may refuse to pay you if you haven't made "reasonable efforts" to get child or spousal support from your partner. But sometimes you may not have to try to get support, for example, if you're leaving an abusive relationship. So it’s important to tell them if you’ve been abused.

Legal help

If you, or your partner, have been charged with committing a crime, you may want support with the criminal court process as well.

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Shelters for abused women offer many kinds of support. Counsellors can provide emotional support as well as work with you to make a safety plan.

Shelter staff are trained to find resources and support for people who've experienced abuse. They can help you with issues like housing, child care, and Ontario Works, sometimes called welfare. They can connect you with different services, speak to other agencies for you, and provide you with a support letter.

You can find your local shelter by visiting sheltersafe.ca or 211ontario.ca or by calling 2-1-1 from anywhere in Ontario.

Besides shelters, you can also contact your local Family Service Agency for support. These agencies offer individual and family counseling. Some agencies also offer other services, such as helping you create a plan to pay off and manage debt or group programs for people getting separated or divorced. Fees are based on how much you can pay.

The following organizations focus on helping people who've been abused:

  • The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic helps women who've experienced physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. The Clinic's services include:
    • representing women in family and immigration court for free
    • counselling
    • interpreter services in more than 90 languages
    • summary legal advice
    • supporting positive change in criminal law

The Clinic accepts collect calls and can be reached at 416-323-9140 or 416-323-1361 (TTY).

  • The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres is a network of 20 community-based rape crisis centres across the province that offer counseling and referrals to people who have experienced sexual abuse.
  • The Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres has centres in 35 hospitals across Ontario that provide emergency care to women, children, and men who have been sexually assaulted or have experienced partner abuse. Its services include emergency medical and nursing care, helping in a crisis situation, collecting physical evidence for courts, medical follow-up, and counseling. The Network can be reached at 416 323-7327.
  • Luke’s Place works to improve the safety and experience of abused women in Durham Region who are or may become involved with the family law system. They can also help women find family law services elsewhere in the province. Luke’s place can be reached at 905-728-0978 or 1-866-516-3116.

Helplines

There is emergency, 24-hour a day telephone support available.

These helplines offer emotional support and can refer you to community services for people who’ve experienced abuse over the telephone. Their services are available free of charge. You can call:

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Criminal court

If your partner has been charged with a crime, the Victim Witness Assistance Program contacts you. This program helps by:

  • explaining the criminal court process and what you can expect as your partner's case moves ahead
  • giving you emotional support
  • referring you to community services and resources

The Ontario government has a Victim Services Directory that helps abuse victims find programs and services in their communities. You can also talk to an information and referral counsellor by calling the Victim Support Line at 1-888-579-2888.

If you have been charged with a crime, you can talk to the duty counsel lawyer at criminal court. Duty counsel can help you with your bail hearing and may be able to give you other legal advice about your case.

Family court

Whether or not you have a lawyer, you may find it helpful to work with a Family Court Support Worker. These are professionals trained to support people who’ve experienced domestic violence in family court.

Some of the things they can help you with are:

  • explaining the family court process to you
  • recording your history of abuse for court documents
  • making a safety plan
  • applying for legal aid
  • getting the documents your lawyer asks for
  • discussing what happened in court and at meetings with lawyers, Family Law Information Centre staff, and duty counsel so you know what to do next
  • speaking with or referring you to services available in the community or in family or criminal court
  • go with you to court, if needed

Family Support Court Workers services are free and are available in every family court in Ontario.

If you need help finding a Family Support Court Worker, call the Victim Support Line toll-free at 1-888-579-2888.

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