Choose a process that is safe and fair
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Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General
Ontario Women's Justice Network (OWJN)
How does an abusive relationship affect my family law issues?
Choose a process that is safe and fair
There are many ways or processes you can use to resolve your issues with your partner. For example, you can:
- negotiate on your own
- work with a family law professional, like a mediator or arbitrator, out of court
- go to court
The law says the process you use to resolve your issues must be fair. But a history of partner abuse may make it difficult for some processes to be safe or fair.
For example, you cannot be forced, threatened, or unfairly pressured to sign any agreement. If your partner controlled the finances, you may feel like you have to agree to what they want before they give you any money. This may mean that the process is not fair.
If you're in this situation, it’s a good idea to talk to a lawyer. Your lawyer can talk to your partner for you and help you protect your rights.
Negotiating on your own
Think about whether you can negotiate things safely and fairly if you've been abused. For example, if you are meeting in person, see if you can find a place that is safe and that you can leave if you don't want to talk to your partner any more. Take notes so that you can remember what you talked about.
Or, you may decide you can discuss things with your partner only by email or phone, or with someone else there. Or with the help of someone you and your partner respect and trust. This could be a family member, a friend, a colleague, or a religious advisor.
Resolving your issues out of court
In family law, you must think about using an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process or a family dispute resolution process to resolve your issues out of court if it's suitable for your situation. ADR might not be right for you if one person is afraid of another person because there is a history of family violence.
Think about whether a family law professional can help you and your partner resolve your issues safely and fairly. These are people who are trained to work with both of you to help you reach an agreement or make a decision for you, without taking sides.They use ADR processes to help solve your issues without going to court. Some of these processes are collaborative family law, mediation, and arbitration.
Many of these ADR processes screen you and your partner to see if the family law professional can help you resolve your issues safely and fairly. Screening means that someone meets with each of you separately to find out if there are things like:
- a history of partner abuse
- a mental illness, such as depression
Sometimes, even in cases of partner abuse, the family law professional can do things to make the process work for your situation. For example, if you aren't comfortable being in the same room as your partner, the mediator can talk to each of you in separate rooms. They go back and forth to talk to each of you. They can also plan for both of you to come and go at different times.
In other cases, after screening you and your partner, the family law professional might decide that they do not think the process can be done in a way that is fair or safe. If this happens, court might be the only way to resolve your issues.
A family court makes decisions using the family law rules and laws. Going to court can be a complicated process and it can take a lot of time. It can be stressful and expensive, but it is sometimes necessary to decide your issues.
If you go to family court, you may find it helpful to work with a Family Court Support Worker. They are specially trained professionals who are not lawyers. Their job is to provide family court support to victims of domestic violence.
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Reviewed: March 1, 2021