Family Violence Initiative

Staying or leaving

The decision to stay in the relationship or leave will be difficult for you. You may believe the abuser will change someday. You may fear that leaving will make the situation worse. You may fear that your children will be taken from you if you leave. You may worry about what others will think or you may feel too ashamed to leave. You may love the person who is abusing you and not want to leave. You may be financially dependent on the person who is abusive. You may be afraid you will be deported if you leave the relationship. You may not know where you can get help.

What should you do?

When you are deciding whether to stay or leave, find a person you trust who can help you make your choice. In making your decision, here are some important things to consider:

  • Has the person who abused you threatened to kill you or someone you love?
  • Has that person used sexual violence against you?
  • Has the person threatened or tried to commit suicide?
  • Is the person very controlling or very jealous?
  • Does the person refuse to accept the possibility of a separation?
  • Has the person stalked you before?
  • Does the person drink too much or take drugs?
  • Has the person been involved with criminal activity?
  • Has the person been violent with your children?
  • Has the person sexually abused your children?
  • Has the person used a weapon such as a knife to hurt you or the children?
  • Has the person been violent towards other people?
  • Is there a gun in the house?
  • Are you afraid for your children's safety?
  • Are you afraid for the safety of your pets?
  • Are you afraid of leaving?
  • Are your friends or family members afraid for you?
  • Do you feel powerless, depressed or very anxious?

If you answer "yes" to some of these questions, you will need help and support no matter what you decide to do. It is important to listen to your fears and your feelings. Speak with someone you trust about those fears. If you don't want to tell anyone you know, tell the police, or call a help line. They are there to help you without judging you. If you do decide to go to a shelter, you can bring your children with you. The shelter staff won't tell anyone where you are. They can help protect you and help you to make decisions.

If you choose to stay and expect the abuse to stop, make sure the person hurting you will take responsibility for their actions. That person must be willing to get professional help to learn how to change their behaviour. If drugs or alcohol play a role in the person's violent behaviour, they need to seek help to remain sober and drug-free in order to stop the violence. Behavioural changes usually take a very long time. You will both need a lot of support throughout this period. You will need to figure out a way to stay safe. Develop a safety plan. A social worker or police officer can help you with this. Even if the person is trying to change, they may use violence again. Have a list of emergency numbers handy.

Whether you decide to stay or leave, if your children stay in the home where the abuse happened, you must tell child protection services about the abuse.

What about the children if you decide to leave?

If you leave an abusive situation, you can still apply for a parenting or custody order.* If you think your children might be in danger, contact the police and ask them to take you and your children to a shelter or somewhere else where you will be safe.

Once you are safe, contact a lawyer to help you apply to the court for a custody or parenting order. If you can safely contact a lawyer before you leave, it might be helpful to get legal advice as early as possible. If your child will be visiting the other parent, you may want someone else (such as a grandparent or other relative or friend) to be there when the children go or come back from the other parent's home. In some places there may be a service available for supervised exchanges.* If you are worried about your child's safety with the other parent, ask the judge to order supervised visits. In very rare circumstances, if the other parent poses a danger to the child even if they are supervised, you can ask the judge to order no visits.

You can find a list of family justice services where you live.

The safety of your children and your safety come first. Do not stay in a dangerous situation because you are worried about money. Shelters can provide you and your children with short-term help while you look for housing and long-term support. They can help you look for financial support.

Parental child abduction

Tell a lawyer if you think the other parent or someone else will try and take your children out of the country. If you ask, the judge may order that the child's passport be kept by the court. If your children are Canadian citizens, call Passport Canada toll-free at 1-800-567-6868 or TTY services 1-866-255-7655. Ask them to put your child's name on a list so you can be called if anyone tries to get another passport for them.

Most abducted children are taken by someone the child knows. The person who takes them is most often a parent.

Parental child abduction happens when one parent takes a child without either the legal right or the permission of the other parent. Parental child abduction is a crime in Canada. An exception may apply when a parent takes the child to protect them from immediate harm.

What to do if you are afraid the other parent may abduct your child

  • Contact a lawyer.
  • Contact your local police.
  • Keep records of all important information about your child and store it in a safe place.
  • Keep a copy of your custody or parenting order or agreement with you.
  • Ask your local passport office to add your children's names to the Passport Control List. If your children are citizens of another country, contact that embassy or consulate to ask them to refuse passports for your children.
  • Talk to your child about using the phone and explain how your custody situation works if you are separated or divorced.
  • If it is safe to do so, try to maintain good relations with the other parent and any extended family.
  • Keep photos, recordings or other proof of the family violence.

If your child is abducted

  • Contact your local police immediately.
  • If you are out of the country, make sure to report the disappearance to the federal government's Consular Services at 613-996-8885. You may call collect, where available.
  • If you are inside Canada and you think your child is outside Canada, call the federal government's Consular Services at 1-800-387-3124 (TTY 613-944-1310 or 1-800-394-3472) or go to
  • Contact a child search organization in your province or territory and register your child as missing.
  • Visit the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) site at and search for "Our Missing Children."
  • Visit the Global Affairs Canada website at, and look under "Publications" for a booklet called "International Child Abductions: A Guidebook for Left-Behind Parents" or access the booklet at the following link:

If you are not a Canadian citizen

You do not have to live with abuse. If you are concerned about your status in Canada, speak with someone who has the right information such as an officer from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, a lawyer or social worker, or a member of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council. Keep in mind that you may still qualify for financial assistance and other services if you leave an abusive situation. Make sure you obtain reliable information.

If you are already an accepted refugee or permanent resident, separation from your spouse because of abuse or neglect should not affect your status.

Things to take with you if you leave

In an emergency, leave as quickly as possible. Do not stop to collect things, just go. However, if you do have some time, try and take as many of these things as possible:

  • important documents such as birth certificates, health care cards, passports, immigration papers, parenting or custody order or agreements, other court orders, social insurance numbers;
  • money, credit cards, bank cards
  • cheque book, bank book, savings bonds
  • medicine
  • personal telephone and address book
  • house keys
  • driver's licence, car keys
  • children's favourite toys
  • clothing for a few days, and
  • valuable jewellery.

If you are thinking about leaving, it may be a good idea to keep some of these things together, in a safe place so you can grab them quickly.

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