1. Learn the differences between family court and criminal court

What if I have family court and criminal court issues happening at the same time?
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1. Learn the differences between family court and criminal court

Parties

In criminal court, the parties are the partner who is charged with a crime and the government. The Crown Attorney is a government lawyer who presents the case in court.

In family court, the parties are usually just you and your partner. In some cases, another party might be involved. For example, the Family Responsibility Office might be a party if there is a default hearing because one partner hasn’t been making support payments.

Purpose

Criminal courts decide if a person accused of a crime is guilty. They might also order that person to follow conditions, such as they cannot contact their partner or children. But the criminal courts don't decide your issues if your relationship ends. For example, they don't decide what custody and access plans would be in the best interests of your children after you and your partner separate.

Family courts do not decide if a person is guilty of a crime. Family courts decide how to resolve issues that partners can't agree on when they separate. For example, custody and access to children, child support, spousal support, and property division. Family courts don't need to decide why the partners separated, or who ended the relationship.

When deciding children's issues like custody and access, a family court uses a legal test called the best interests of the child. In making this decision, the family court looks at behaviour that affects a person's ability to be a good parent to a child. This includes whether a parent has been violent or abusive to the child, their partner, a parent of the child, or anyone living in the home. This does not include anything done in self-defence or to protect another person.

Legal test

In criminal court, the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. This means the evidence must show that there is no reasonable explanation for what happened, other than that the accused did it. If there is any other reasonable explanation, the accused is found not guilty.

In family court, the standard of proof is a balance of probabilities. This means the judge has to decide whose story is more believable.

There can be a different result in each court because of the different standards of proof.

For example, if your partner was found not guilty of assault in criminal court, this is because there was not enough evidence for the judge to believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, that they committed the assault. But in family court, the judge might decide to give you a restraining order because they believe your story that your partner assaulted you more than they believe your partner's story.

Outcomes

In criminal court, if your partner is found guilty, they might go to jail and get a criminal record.

In family court, usually no one goes to jail. Neither person gets a criminal record.

Your family court and criminal court orders can say different things. For example, bail conditions from criminal court can conflict with access or restraining orders from family court. If this happens, you have to go to either court to change its order.

Getting help

Someone from the Victim Witness Assistance Program (VWAP) can help you in criminal court. The VWAP worker explains the criminal court process and helps you find community services and resources to help you.

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.

A Family Court Support Worker can help you in family court. They are trained to support people who have experienced domestic violence. Their services are free of charge and are available in every family court jurisdiction in Ontario.

You May Also Need

Luke's Place (This resource is written for women in abusive relationships but might help anyone in an abusive relationship.)
Reviewed: July 31, 2017

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