Watch Gene C. Colman’s presentation at the Sept. 2022 Men & Families Conference – “The Newly Expanded Definition of “Family Violence” in the Divorce Act” (of Canada)
Leaving an abusive partner can be incredibly frightening and stressful for victims. These individuals deserve all the help they can get as they end a dangerous relationship. And a recent court case has set a precedent that this help can come in the form of a monetary award in a divorce.
Family violence in divorce cases
An Ontario court recently awarded a woman $150,000 for the abuse she experienced during her marriage.
Generally, family courts do not consider marital conduct or fault when making rulings related to property division or spousal support. While the Divorce Act defines and recognizes family violence, it mainly concerns parenting time and decision-making responsibility determinations.
In the recent case, however, the judge determined that the man’s pattern of psychological and physical abuse rose to the level of family violence. Citing the pattern of abuse she endured for the entirety of her marriage, as opposed to isolated or sporadic incidents, the woman requested damages from the courts in addition to child and spousal support.
Sources report that throughout their marriage, the husband allegedly:
- Physically attacked his wife
- Cut off her access to marital finances
- Belittled and harassed her
- Made threats
- Assaulted his wife
These abusive actions took a tremendous toll on the woman, which the award for spousal support did not reflect. Because of this, the judge awarded damages to account for the woman’s mental health disabilities, lost earning potential and egregious misconduct of the husband.
What does this mean for other cases?
It is expected that this case will influence family law practice in Ontario (and across Canada). Bad behaviour that causes demonstrable damage is now compensable. The case is under appeal. Might these cases become more common? Will parties push to amend the Divorce Act again to address this tort specifically? We will certainly continue to follow any developments. When we have the appeal decision, we will know better which way the wind is blowing.
In the meantime, if you or someone you love is divorcing or separating from an abusive party, it is crucial to know all the options for pursuing protection and support.
These options can include seeking restraining orders, keeping contact information confidential and, potentially, pursuing financial payments. A family law lawyer can provide the assistance to help navigate this upsetting, stressful process as safely and swiftly as possible.