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Tips: Managing in both family & criminal court

If your ex-partner has been charged

Make sure you know who your ex-partner’s lawyers are. If he has different lawyers for each case, keep track of which lawyer is handling the family law case and which is representing him in criminal court.

If you have a family law lawyer

  • Make sure they know who your ex-partner’s criminal lawyer is, what your ex-partner has been charged with and the name of the Crown Attorney who is prosecuting the case against your ex-partner.
  • Obtain a copy of your ex-partner’s bail conditions as soon as you can. You can contact the Victim/Witness Assistance Program (V/WAP) to help you with this. Provide this information to your family law lawyer so they can provide you with legal advice about how to manage access that does not conflict with bail conditions.

If you do not have a lawyer

  • Find out what your ex-partner has been charged with and the name of the Crown Attorney who is prosecuting the case against him.
  • You will want to be sure to include information about his charges in your family court documents.
  • Obtain a copy of your ex-partner’s bail conditions as soon as you can. You can contact the Victim/Witness Assistance Program (V/WAP) to help you with this.
  • Talk to your women’s legal advocate and, if appropriate, duty counsel, to be sure you understand what the bail conditions do and do not permit in terms of contact between you and your ex-partner and between him and your children.
  • Do not be tempted or pressured by your ex-partner to ignore the bail conditions. Even though he is the one who is subject to the bail order, if you are seen to be encouraging him to break the conditions, this can create legal and safety problems for you as well.
  • If he breaches his bail conditions, let the police know. They will decide whether or not to arrest him.
  • Keep track of the progress of the criminal case through the V/WAP office.
  • Use a calendar to make brief notes about any attempts your ex-partner, his friends or members of his family make to have contact with you and/or your children.
  • Update your family court documents as needed as the criminal case progresses and is completed.
  • Update your safety plan as needed.

If you have been charged

Lawyers

  • Try to find a lawyer who can handle both your family and criminal cases. This will ensure that relevant information is shared with the appropriate court(s) and will mean you don’t have to manage communication with and between two lawyers.
  • If this is not possible, then make sure each of your lawyers knows who the other one is and encourage them to share information with one another.
  • Make sure you know who your ex-partner’s lawyer is and pass this information on to your lawyer(s).

Get information, share information with your lawyers

  • Get clear information about what you have been charged with. If you have different lawyers for your family and criminal cases, give this information to your family law lawyer.
  • Find out the name of the Crown Attorney who is prosecuting your case.
  • Review your bail conditions with your criminal and family lawyers or, if you don’t have a lawyer, with both criminal and family court duty counsel. It is really important that you understand exactly what you are and are not allowed to do, especially in terms of contact with your ex-partner and children and your access to the family home.

Protect yourself

  • Do not be tempted or pressured by your ex-partner to ignore the bail conditions. He might tell you that because he says it is okay for you to see him or the kids, you can’t get into trouble, but this is not true. He might be trying to set you up just so he can call the police to claim you have breached your bail conditions.
  • Use a calendar to make brief notes about any attempts your ex-partner, his friends or members of his family make to have contact with you and/or your children.
  • Update your family court documents as needed as the criminal case progresses and is completed.

Dealing with the two courts

  • Remember that the purposes of criminal court and family court are different as are the standards of proof, so even if you are found not guilty, your ex-partner can still raise the issue of abuse in your family court case.
  • You need to be ready to provide an explanation to the family court for what has happened that can minimize the impact of the fact that you were criminally charged. For example:
    • If you were charged once but your partner has been charged and found guilty several times, be sure to include this information in your family court documents.
    • If you were charged for something you did because you were trying to protect yourself or your children from your ex-partner, describe the circumstances.
    • If your ex-partner had a history of threatening to call the police to claim that you had assaulted him, put this information in your materials for family court.

No matter which of you has been charged, remember:

  • Your family law case will likely be delayed until the criminal case has been completed.
  • The purposes of criminal court and family court are different, as are the standards of proof, so even if your partner is found not guilty, you can still raise the issue of abuse in your family court case.
  • Family and criminal courts do not communicate with one another, so it is your job to make sure that evidence of the abuse you have been subjected to is presented to both courts.
  • The standard of proof in the two courts is different. In criminal court, the accused must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In family court, judges make their decisions based on which person’s story they find more believable on a balance of probabilities.
  • If you are the victim, you are not an official party to the criminal case. In family court, both you and your ex-partner are parties to the case.
  • Duty counsel lawyers are available in criminal court to assist people who have been charged and in family court to assist both people, subject to financial and other eligibility criteria.
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