Allegations of family violence or abuse change the playing field for the parents in a parenting dispute. A parenting dispute involve issues like with whom the child will primarily live with, with whom the child will spend time with and how much time will be spent with that person. Courts are required by the law to immediately act in cases where there is a presence of family violence or abuse and even just the risk of it.
Family violence under the Family Law Act means violent or threatening behaviour of a person or such behaviour that coerces or controls a member of that person’s family or causes the family member to feel fear. Even a child’s exposure to violence is one of the considerations which the court will take into account in deciding a parenting dispute. A child is considered exposed to family violence if he sees or hears family violence or experiences the effects of it.
Abuse is defined under the Family Law Act by an enumeration of certain acts that constitute abuse in relation to a child. These acts are assault or sexual assault to a child, involving the child in sexual activity, causing psychological harm to the child including exposure to family violence and serious neglect of the child.
A Form 4 can be filed with the court which is a “Notice of Child Abuse or Family Violence”. The Form 4 will be served on the alleged perpetrator. The law mandates that courts must act immediately upon receipt of a Form 4. The court may even halt family law proceedings to appoint an Independent Children’s Lawyer or appoint an expert witness to investigate the allegations.
In a parenting dispute the most important consideration is the best interest of a child and all the more if there are allegations of family violence or abuse. The arrangements which the court will set out in its orders will be aimed at the protection of the child and what it is in his best interest.
The Family Law Act has created a presumption that shared and joint custody of a child is in the latter’s best interest. However, there is an exception and this is if there are allegations of family violence or abuse. Parties to a parenting dispute can expect the following scenarios which the court can order:
The violent parent is required to undergo counseling.