HELP Toolkit: Identifying and Responding to Family Violence for Family Law Legal Advisers – Supplemental Material

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Tab #4: Representing a Client Who May Have Engaged in Family Violence

In the event that a client discloses having engaged in family violence, this information will help you to work with them to determine appropriate courses of action in their family law matter. You can be an important support to your client in reaching out to community resources.

It can be difficult to ask clients whether they have been abusive. This document provides some guidance on how to ask clients whether they have engaged in family violence and how to respond to these disclosures. Before you ask about family violence, make sure you are aware of your professional and legal obligations, including any obligations you may have to report suspected child abuse, and discuss these with your client.

1. How to ask

2. Responding to disclosuresEndnote 33

Below are some examples of what to say when a client discloses engaging in family violence:

You can refer to Tab #9: Asking about Specific Forms of Family Violence when asking clients about whether they have engaged in family violence and in interpreting what the client tells you about family violence.

If the client acknowledges that they have been abusive, you can support them by asking if they would like help to deal with their behaviour. If so, you can offer to provide suggestions of programs that might be able to assist. You may also want to offer to call an intervention program to schedule an appointment. Explain to your client that participation in an intervention program is likely to be viewed favourably by a judge in relation to parenting and other aspects of the case.

Remember to follow up about the steps the client has taken to understand or change their behaviour. Be positive and encouraging.

3. Family violence allegations when your client is the alleged abuser

When representing a client who may have engaged in family violence, you may need to establish a safety plan for you and your office staff. See HELP Guide Section P.3.

4. False allegations of family violence

The issue of false or exaggerated allegations of family violence is a topic of much discussion. There is no doubt that a false allegation of family violence can have significant and damaging consequences for the person falsely accused, as well as for children. However, it is important to consider concerns about false family violence allegations in context.