Introduction: Best Practices for Representing Clients in Family Violence Cases

By Elizabeth Jollimore Q.C.

Family violence is an issue of great importance. In 2003, twenty-eight percent of all substantiated cases of children's maltreatment were cases of exposure to spousal violence[1]. Increasing research shows that spousal violence has negative effects on children, including a greater likelihood of child abuse and greater risk of emotional and behavioural problems.

Cynthia L. Chewter's article, "Best Practices for Representing Clients in Family Violence Cases" provides an excellent guide for counsel in cases involving family violence, outlining practices to be followed from initially accepting the retainer to ultimately concluding the trial.

While the general thrust of child-centred justice strategies promotes non-adversarial dispute resolution, the dynamic of family violence can make mediation and other, similar techniques inappropriate.

Chewter reviews parenting options and summarizes the reasoning behind preferred parenting options and conditions, because it is rare that there will be no contact ordered. Recommended options are sole custody, with specified or supervised access. Imposing a condition of no direct contact between parents is also appropriate. It is important to be cognizant of remedies for breaches of family law orders, including criminal charges, restraining orders, peace bonds and the options offered by domestic violence statutes.

For ourselves, our clients and the Courts, it is critical to dispel common myths about family violence. We should be aware that family violence continues after separation. Family violence is relevant to parenting and the contact that an abusive spouse has with children. This article will assist us in recognizing the myths.


[1]  Nico Trocmé, Barbara Fallon et al., Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect – 2003: Major Finding s, Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2005, at 2.