Intimate Partner Violence: How Are Children Impacted, And What Is Considered By The Court When Making Orders About Children?

By Kristy Hansen  |  July 19, 2023

Kristy Hansen

with the assistance of law student Hannah Smith

This is the final blog in our three-part series on intimate partner violence (IPV), also known as domestic violence.

In our first blog, readers were provided with a broad overview of what IPV is as well as some potential resources available for survivors of IPV who are facing family law issues.

In our second blog, we reviewed how IPV intersects with both family law and criminal law in different ways, which can lead to confusion for IPV victims.

In this blog, we will go into more detail about how IPV can impact children – and how a family law court may take IPV into consideration when making orders involving children.

It is important for us to acknowledge that these articles will only provide broad overviews of these topics, which are expansive. There are many valuable resources and supports for those seeking more in-depth information.

Impacts of IPV on Children

IPV affects everyone in the family structure – but it can be particularly harmful to children and young adults who are just learning how to socialize, what appropriate interactions look like, and developing their own sense of self.

Unfortunately, many people believe that children are not impacted by IPV if they are not being directly exposed to it – for example, where a child is asleep in their bedroom while a physical assault takes place in the living room. However, studies have shown that children can experience harm from IPV even if they have never directly observed any acts of violence.

This Canadian study also shows that children exposed to IPV are at increased risk of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect, as well as psychological, social, emotional and behavioural problems, including mood and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and school-related problems.

IPV in Family Law

Family law courts are recognizing that IPV has a significant impact on children. In March 2022, legislation was passed in Canada (with amendments to the Divorce Act) and Ontario (with amendments to the Children’s Law Reform Act) requiring the courts to consider IPV – also referred to as “family violence” – when making any decisions about post-separation parenting issues.

The Divorce Act applies to married spouses. This Act was amended to include a definition for “family violence” – and this definition includes acts that are violent, threatening, form a pattern of coercive and controlling behavior and/or cause a family member to fear for their safety or the safety of another individual and a child’s direct or indirect exposure to such acts. Under the Divorce Act, a court must consider the impact of family violence on parenting arrangements, including impacts on the ability and willingness of the person who engaged in family violence to meet the needs of the child(ren).

The Children’s Law Reform Act can apply to both married and unmarried spouses. Similar to the Divorce Act, it directs a court making a parenting order to consider whether a person has, at any time, committed violence against (a) his or her spouse, (b) a parent of the child, (c) a member of the person’s household, or (d) any child.

It should be noted that a history of violence will not necessarily disqualify a person from having parenting time with a child, but may instead require that safeguards are put in place. Family violence may also affect whether shared decision-making responsibility (formerly known as “custody”) is appropriate.

For married spouses, your lawyer may recommend that you apply to the court for “exclusive possession” of the matrimonial home – which would force the other spouse out of the home, regardless of whose name is on title to the home. And in all situations (for both married and unmarried partners), it may also be suggested that you seek a restraining order from the court, for your protection as well as for the protection of your children, if necessary.

It is very important for you to disclose the existence of IPV to your family lawyer, as it may change your family lawyer’s legal advice to you and their overall approach to your case.

Supports for Children/Youth in Urgent Need

Children and victims of IPV may need mental health support to process and heal from its impacts. Supports are available to help children and youth facing the impacts of IPV on an urgent basis:

  • Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868)
  • Childhelp National Child Abuse 24/7 Hotline (1-800-422-4453)
  • CMHA Crisis Response Services Thunder Bay (1-807-346-8282)

Children are incredibly resilient and, with time and proper support, they can recover well from situations of IPV.

Accessing legal assistance and disclosing IPV can be an essential part of escaping and healing from the impacts of IPV. At Henderson Family Law, we strive to provide a safe and supportive environment for survivors who seek our assistance with their family law issues. Please contact us to learn more.


This content is provided as a general informational source by Henderson Family Law, and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, or establish a lawyer-client relationship. Every situation is complex and fact-specific, and appropriate advice will vary accordingly. Do not rely on this information for legal decision-making under any circumstances. Please consult with us and obtain proper advice and strategy concerning the specifics of your particular situation.

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