Divorce and Domestic Violence: When Family and Criminal Law Collide

Doug Reinhardt, best known for his appearance on The Hills, commenced divorce proceedings from his wife, Natalie Sutton, in April 2018. Reinhardt, who is recovering from a recent knee operation, claims he was severely beaten by his wife with one of his metal crutches.

Reinhardt called the police who immediately arrested Sutton and charged her with felony assault and battery. She was released later that day and ordered not to go near Reinhardt.

Domestic Violence in Ontario

In Ontario, domestic violence can take the form of a one-time use of force. However, more often, these crimes follow a pattern. The violence might be intended to scare, intimidate or humiliate a person. Domestic violence can also take the form of emotional, verbal, or financial abuse. Although not always considered criminal offences, these forms of abuse are very serious.

What are Your Options?

A one-year separation is the most common and simplest way to obtain a divorce. But domestic violence can fall under the fault-based cruelty ground for divorce. If you are able to show the court that your spouse treated you with physical and mental cruelty of such kind as to render continued cohabitation intolerable, you will not need to wait the one year's separation period before filing for divorce.

Under s. 46(1) of the Family Law Act, a court may grant a person a restraining order against a spouse, or former spouse if that person has reasonable grounds to fear for their safety or the safety of any child in their lawful custody. "Reasonable grounds" means that the Court expects you to be more than merely suspicious, but doesn't require objective proof to support your fear.

Judges have the jurisdiction to order that your spouse not contact you, not come within a certain distance of any place (such as a house or school) or any provision the court feels is appropriate. Like any other order, a restraining order can be made on a temporary or final basis. If the order is temporary, it will end on a date specified by the judge. If the order is final, it is indefinite unless you or your spouse asks a court to vary the conditions of the order.

You could also apply to the court for an order granting you exclusive possession of the matrimonial home. Section 24 of the Family Law Act allows the court to grant a married spouse exclusive possession of a matrimonial home regardless of which spouse owns the home. Under s. 24 (3), the court is able to consider any violence committed by a spouse against you or your children when deciding to make an order for exclusive possession.