General Information

Family Violence


Many people think of physical abuse when they think of family violence, but family violence can occur in many different ways.

Under the Divorce Act the definition of family violence includes not only violent acts, but also the child’s exposure to such acts. “Family violence” means conduct that:

  • is violent, or

  • is threatening, or

  • forms a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour, or

  • causes a family member to fear for their safety or the safety of another individual.

The behaviour does not have to be a criminal offence or meet the criminal threshold of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” to be considered family violence under the Divorce Act.

Types of behaviour that could be considered family violence include:

  • Physical abuse, such as punching, slapping, kicking and forcible confinement. Actions taken by someone to protect themselves or another person are excluded.

  • Sexual abuse, including sexual assault.

  • Threats to kill or cause bodily harm to another person, such as a threat to physically harm a child’s friend.

  • Harassment and stalking.

  • Failure to provide the necessities of life, such as preventing a family member from receiving required medical attention.

  • Psychological abuse, such as a pattern of ridiculing, yelling at and criticizing a family member. To be considered family violence, the abuse must be threatening, form a pattern of coercive and controlling behavior, or cause a family member to fear for their safety or for the safety of another person.

  • Financial abuse, such as not giving a spouse access to their bank account or paycheque, or preventing them from working. Such behaviour often aims to coerce and control a family member.

  • Threats to kill or harm an animal or to damage property, or actually causing that harm. Such threats and actions often aim to coerce, control or cause fear.

A child’s direct exposure to family violence (for example, a child seeing or hearing the violence) or indirect exposure (for example, a child seeing that a parent is fearful or injured) is recognized as family violence and child abuse.

Many forms of family violence, such as physical or sexual abuse, threats, harassment and stalking, are against the law. If you or a family member is experiencing abuse, the police in your neighborhood can help. A person who does any of these things to a family member may be charged under the Criminal Code of Canada. If you are involved in the family court process, speak with your lawyer or court staff if you have experienced any form of family violence.

Criminal law and child protection matters

Families sometimes become involved with multiple parts of the justice system at the same time. This is often true in cases of family violence, when the criminal justice system, the child protection system and the family justice system may be involved. Coordinating the involvement of these systems can be challenging. For example, if a family court is unaware of a criminal order that prohibits contact between the parties, it might make a conflicting parenting order that makes it difficult to enforce the other order, confuses the parties and creates safety risks.

Family court files and criminal court files are not linked. Family court staff do not have access to criminal court files. They rely on you to share any relevant information.

Please be sure to notify court staff and your lawyer if:

  • there have been any criminal law orders or charges between you and the other party;

  • if there has been an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) or no-contact order between you and the other party;

  • if there has been violence or threats between you and the other party, or any other safety issues, regardless of whether there have been charges laid.

Court staff have no way of knowing this information unless you, or the other party, tell them. This information can affect how your family law case proceeds. 

Safety and Confidentiality in Family Court Matters

When you are involved in a family law court application, the other party (or parties) will see the documents you provide to the court.

If you wish to keep your contact information confidential, speak with court staff or your lawyer about how to do this.

It is always recommended you obtain legal advice.  Click here for information about legal support and advice options in Nova Scotia, including no and low-cost services.

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