The Divorce Act Changes Explained


Family violence
(Section 2(1), Divorce Act)

New section

family violence means any conduct, whether or not the conduct constitutes a criminal offence, by a family member towards another family member, that is violent or threatening or that constitutes a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour or that causes that other family member to fear for their own safety or for that of another person — and in the case of a child, the direct or indirect exposure to such conduct — and includes

(a) physical abuse, including forced confinement but excluding the use of reasonable force to protect themselves or another person;

(b) sexual abuse;

(c) threats to kill or cause bodily harm to any person;

(d) harassment, including stalking;

(e) the failure to provide the necessaries of life;

(f) psychological abuse;

(g) financial abuse;

(h) threats to kill or harm an animal or damage property; and

(i) the killing or harming of an animal or the damaging of property; (violence familiale)
Old section


What is the change

The amendment defines “family violence” in the context of the best interests of the child.

Reason for the change

Family violence can take many forms and can cause significant harm to both victims and witnesses. The new definition includes not only violent acts, but also the child’s exposure to such acts. “Family violence” means conduct that

The definition clarifies that the behaviour does not have to be a criminal offence or meet the criminal threshold of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” to be considered family violence under the Divorce Act.

A child’s direct exposure to family violence (for example a child seeing or hearing the violence) or indirect exposure (for example, a child seeing that a parent is fearful or injured) is recognized as family violence and child abuse.

The definition also includes a non-exhaustive list of different types of behaviour that could be considered family violence:


March 1, 2021.