Staying safe after you leave an abusive relationship is important.
You might be able to talk to your partner to make an agreement about when, where, and how they may contact you or your children. But if you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, you don't have to talk to your partner directly. You can have a lawyer or someone else talk to your partner for you. This could be a friend, family member, or religious advisor.
You might need to make changes to your life to limit your partner's contact with you. For example, you can:
- change your telephone number and email address
- change your routines, like the time you leave for work or when you usually get groceries
You can also make a safety plan to help keep you and your children safe.
Get help from the police or the court
If these changes do not keep your partner away from you, you might be able to:
- talk to the police about bringing criminal charges against your partner
- get a restraining order from the family court
- get a peace bond from the criminal court
Each of these options protects you in different ways. The one that is best for you depends on your situation. There's more information on them in the Next Steps below.
It is also a good idea to keep detailed records about your partner's abusive behavior. This should include notes about:
- what exactly happened
- when it happened
- if and how you were hurt
- who was there
- what your partner said
Keep your notes in a safe place. You can use them to refresh your memory if you are interviewed by the police, talk to a lawyer, or testify in court later. These notes will help you give detailed information.
You should also keep things like:
- threatening notes, emails, or voicemails
- photographs of injuries or property damage
Get legal advice
You can talk to a lawyer who can give you some legal information and advice on what you should do.
If you can't afford to hire a lawyer for everything, some lawyers provide "unbundled" or "limited scope" services. This means you pay them to help you with certain things.
If you can't afford to hire a lawyer at all, you might be able to find legal help in other places. You can also find emotional, safety planning, and housing help when leaving an abusive relationship.
If you have experienced family violence and need immediate legal help, you might be able to get 2 hours of free advice from a lawyer. This service is offered through some women's shelters, community legal clinics, and Family Law Service Centres. Or you can call Legal Aid Ontario toll-free at 1-800-668-8258 to find out more.
If you have experienced sexual abuse and live in Toronto, Ottawa, or Thunder Bay, you might be able to get 4 hours of free advice from a lawyer. You have to complete a voucher request form. Or you can call the Independent Legal Advice for Sexual Assault Survivors Pilot Program at 1-855-226-3904 to find out more.
If your partner is breaking the law, the police might charge them with a crime.
For example, if your partner is stalking you, they might be committing a crime called "criminal harassment". If your partner is threatening you, they might be committing a crime called "uttering threats".
Once you call the police, the police decide what happens. You do not decide.
There is always a chance that you could be charged, even if you are the abused partner.
You should give the police as much detail as you can. The police will talk to both you and your partner, and look for other evidence before deciding if they should charge either or both of you with a crime. If there are "reasonable grounds" to believe that someone has committed a crime, the police must charge that person with a crime.
Your partner might be released by the police or the court. They will usually have to follow certain conditions. These conditions are the rules your partner must follow after being released by the police or the court.
Conditions of release
The police and the court can release someone charged with a crime in different ways. Each type of release has its own name.
For example, the police might release your partner on an "undertaking with conditions". This agreement is usually made at a police station. It means your partner:
- promised in writing to appear in court on a future date
- got conditions they have to follow
If the police have concerns about releasing your partner, they must take your partner to court for a bail hearing. The judge or justice of the peace decides whether to release your partner, or to keep them in custody until the trial. If they are released, they usually have to follow bail conditions. Bail conditions are also called terms of release. These are the rules your partner must follow after being released.
The conditions set by the police or the court are very important. There are many different kinds of conditions. Common conditions in partner abuse cases include that the partner charged with a crime:
- must show up to court on the date ordered
- cannot contact the other partner
- cannot go within a certain distance of the other partner's home or workplace
- cannot have a gun or any kind of weapon
- has limited or no access to their children
The police and the courts take conditions seriously. If your partner does not follow them, they can be arrested, charged with a new crime, and face a bail hearing. After the new hearing, they might be released on stricter conditions.
Conditions can be changed by the criminal court at any time during the court process. They end when the criminal case is over.
Your partner might try to force or scare you into asking the Crown Attorney or the court to change or remove the conditions. If your partner threatens you or your children, you should tell the police. Your partner might be charged for making this type of threat. You can also get support from the Victim/Witness Assistance Program at criminal court.
If your partner is harassing you after you've left and you don't want to call the police or if the police tell you there is nothing they can do, you may want to ask the family court for a restraining order.
A restraining order is a court order that limits what a person can do in any way the family court thinks is appropriate to your situation. The order might limit where a person can go, or who they can contact or communicate with. For example, it can say one or more of these things:
- your partner cannot come within 500 metres of you and your children
- your partner cannot talk to or contact you or your children except through an agency or another person
- your partner cannot come within 500 metres of your home and work
Most people prefer to get a restraining order instead of a peace bond. This is because a restraining order can apply for a longer period of time. Also, if you have already started a family law court case, you might get one faster than a peace bond.
Who can apply
You can apply for a restraining order against your partner if at least one of these is true:
- you were married to your partner
- you lived together with your partner for any period of time
- you have a child who is in your custody
If none of these situations apply to you, you could ask for a peace bond. Anyone can apply for a peace bond. See the Next Step below called "Get a peace bond".
Prove why you need the order
You need to prove that you have "reasonable grounds" to fear for your safety or for the safety of any child in your custody. This means that you have to prove why you are afraid for yourself or any child. Things your partner has said or done in the past can prove this.
Family court restraining orders can run for a short time or for a long time. They can even be permanent. It depends on what your safety concerns are.
How to get a restraining order
How you get your restraining order depends on your situation. You may ask for a restraining order by:
- bringing a court application, where you ask for other family law orders at the same time
- bringing a court motion. You can bring a regular motion or an urgent motion. You can bring an urgent motion at any time, either with or without your partner knowing. Either way, you are asking the court to make a decision quickly.
Going to court can be complicated and it can take a lot of time. It can also be stressful and expensive. But going to court is sometimes the only way to stay safe and to make decisions about your issues.
In family court, you can ask the judge for the restraining order conditions that you think will keep you safe. You have to give the judge detailed information on why you want certain conditions.
In criminal court, the Crown Attorney decides what bail conditions to ask the judge for.
After you get a restraining order
Keep a certified copy of the restraining order with you at all times. The police need to see the restraining order before they can do anything if your partner doesn't follow it.
You might also want to give a copy to other people. For example, if there is a condition that your partner cannot contact your child, you should give a copy of the restraining order to your child's teacher or principal so that they can show it to the police if your partner tries to pick up your child from school.
If your partner does not follow the order
If your partner does not follow the restraining order, the police can arrest them, charge them with a crime, and hold them for a bail hearing. If your partner is released, it will likely be on stricter bail conditions than the restraining order.
If your partner is charged with a crime for not following the restraining order, you might have both family and criminal court happening at the same time.
If your partner is harassing you after you've left and you don't want to call the police or if the police tell you there is nothing they can do, you may want to ask the criminal court for a peace bond under section 810 of the Criminal Code. These peace bonds are sometimes called "section 810 peace bonds" or "810 recognizances".
A peace bond is a type of court order that is a signed promise to keep the peace and be of good behaviour. It can include conditions. For example, your partner may promise not to contact you or your children.
A section 810 peace bond can last for up to one year. If you need to be protected after your peace bond ends, you have to apply for another one.
Anyone can ask for a peace bond.
How to get a peace bond
To get a peace bond, you need to make an appointment with a Justice of the Peace (JP) at the criminal court. You must tell the JP why you think you need a peace bond. If the JP thinks there is enough evidence for your application to go to court, they issue a summons to your partner. A summons is a document that tells your partner that they must come to the court on a specific date.
On that date, you have to tell the court why you think you need to be protected from your partner. Your partner also gets a chance to tell the court their side of the story. The JP looks at the evidence and decides whether or not they should grant a peace bond and what conditions it should have.
You can have a lawyer represent you in court. Usually, you still have to come to court to tell your side of the story. But you don't have to come if your partner agrees before the court date to sign a peace bond.
You don't need to apply in writing for a peace bond. This makes the process easier for some people.
But the process can be very slow, especially if your partner asks the court for more time to get ready. There can be many delays before the JP decides whether to give you a peace bond. Your partner doesn't have to keep away from you or your children while you are waiting for the court to make a decision on the peace bond. You should make a safety plan for you and your children.
Mutual peace bonds
Your partner might tell the court that they are afraid of you. The JP might suggest that you both sign a peace bond and follow the same conditions. This is called a mutual peace bond. You should not agree to sign a mutual peace bond without talking to a lawyer first. A lawyer can explain how a mutual peace bond changes what you can and cannot do. Your partner might try to get you to break a condition and then call the police to report you.
If you or your partner breaks any of the conditions in the peace bond, you might be charged with breaching a peace bond. This is a crime.
After you get a peace bond
Keep a certified copy of the peace bond with you at all times. The police need to see it before they can do anything if your partner doesn't follow the peace bond.
You might also want to give a copy to other people. For example, if there is a condition that your partner cannot contact your child, you should give a copy of the peace bond to your child's teacher or principal so that they can show it to the police if your partner tries to pick up your child from school.
If your partner does not follow the peace bond
If your partner does not follow the peace bond, the police can arrest them, charge them with a crime, and hold them for a bail hearing. If your partner is released, it will likely be on stricter bail conditions than the peace bond.
If your partner is charged with a crime for not following the peace bond, you might have both family and criminal court happening at the same time.