Preparing to leave an abusive relationship or domestic violence

By Lauren Cooper  |  November 16, 2020

Lauren Cooper

The term “domestic violence” often makes people think of physical violence. For the purposes of the Criminal Code of Canada, this is often the case—the Code focuses on physical or sexual acts or threats of violence. But more recently in family law, other forms of abuse have become recognized and have even been defined in legislation in some provinces and by common law. Now, psychological, emotional and financial abuse are areas that are recognized as well.

Types of abuse

When there are incidents of physical violence, it can be easier for the victim to identify that they are in an abusive situation. In some cases, non-physical abuse is the most insidious, as the victim is unsure whether they are being abused at all. Typically, in these circumstances, the abuser will blame the victim for their actions and erode their ability to trust their own instincts. Often, the abuser will socially isolate the victim from friends, family and all outside contact, which makes it even harder for them to gather the support they need to leave the relationship. Sadly, with recent circumstances related to Covid-19, such as lockdowns, loss of employment, and requirements to self-isolate or limit social contacts, this has become even more prevalent.

What does abuse look like? How do you know if your partner is abusive? Here are just some examples:

  • Physical: hitting, pushing, burning, kicking, slapping, punching…
  • Sexual: being touched in a sexual way without your consent, continued sexual activity when you have asked for it to stop…
  • Psychological: withholding important documents, keeping you in your home, constantly questioning and monitoring your internet and phone use, not allowing you to see your friends and family…
  • Emotional: insults or humiliation, intimidation, harassment or threats, breaking your possessions, hurting or threatening to hurt your family, friends or pets, threatening to take away your children, threatening self-harm or suicide…
  • Financial: taking your money or paycheque without your permission, withholding money you need to pay for basic necessities for you or your children (such as food, shelter or medical treatment), stealing from you, using your bank or credit cards without your permission…

Stay safe

Make your safety a priority. If you are in an abusive relationship, you are at the highest risk for violence when you end the relationship with your abusive partner. Ending the relationship causes a loss of control for the abuser, who may escalate their violent behaviour in an attempt to regain that control.

Safety planning means making a plan for when you decide you are going to leave. The Faye Peterson House in Thunder Bay recommends the following:

  • If you’re in immediate danger call 911.
  • Pack ahead of time and leave items in a safe place.
  • Establish a plan for a safe place to go—is there a friend or family member you can stay with? A local shelter?
  • Take your children with you.
  • Take proper identification.
  • Take bank cards, credit cards, etc.

Faye Peterson House offers free personalized safety planning. They can be contacted confidentially (toll free at 1-800-465-6971) to speak with a counsellor to develop a safety plan.

Both Faye Peterson House and Beendigen (toll free at 1-888-200-9997) are shelters in Thunder Bay that provide emergency shelter for women and children fleeing abuse.

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Get legal advice

It’s important that you seek independent legal advice as quickly as possible, even if you’re not sure whether you need to start a legal proceeding. If your ex-partner has begun a proceeding against you, you should also seek legal advice.

If you qualify financially and need help with divorce/separation, custody/access/support, or Children’s Aid has your children or has contacted you, you may qualify for legal assistance from Legal Aid Ontario or Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services. (

If you do not qualify financially for Legal Aid but are experiencing domestic abuse, Legal Aid will pay a lawyer to give up to two hours of free legal advice. Inquire about this service at a shelter, community agency or legal clinic to receive a referral voucher. (

Remember that everyone has a right to live free from abuse. Laws in Ontario are meant to protect you from domestic abuse.

Contact Henderson Family Law to discuss your legal rights when leaving an abusive relationship.


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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