What to do if you are in an abusive relationship


The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide only general information on legal issues within the province of Alberta. The purpose is to make you aware of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.

This topic discusses possible actions to take if you are in an abusive relationship. An abusive relationship is one where you are subjected to physical beatings, forced sexual activities, forced confinement, threats and mental torment. This is applicable to married partners but also, partners that have resided together and were in an intimate relationship.

More often, the abused spouse will hold on to hope of their partner changing or will think that they can do something to change their ways. Though it is natural to think this way, the abuser has deep psychological concerns that cannot be treated by victims of violence. In fact, it causes the abuser to be more triggered. Any promises or guarantees made by the abuser will not be permanent and even if they are seeking counseling, there is no guarantee on how long the process will take to change them or its effectiveness. It is your right to be treated with respect, be safe from violence and your duty to ensure your children are offered the same. It is natural to fear taking such steps and facing the unknown. However, there are several community resources, shelters and laws that are available to offer you and your children security and protection.

Particularly in circumstances where there is physical violence, your first priority is to ensure your safety and the safety of your children. You should not wait until there is another violent incident. Continuing to reside in the home after violent incidents will not encourage your spouse to change their ways. Your first step is to request your spouse to leave the residence if you think they will leave voluntarily and will not respond with any further violence. In the event that the abusing spouse will not leave the residence, which is often the case, your next option is to remove yourself and your children from the residence. If you leave, you will not be giving up any rights to the property you and your spouse own or to any financial support. Never leave your children behind with your abuser as they may take their frustration out on them or use them as a bargaining tool to force you to come back.

It is important that you figure out a proper escape plan on how and what time to leave the residence so that you may quickly and safely leave without being in further harm. This includes finding a safe place to stay for yourself and your children, having your emergency contacts on hand or memorized and being prepared to have your essentials ready to leave at a moments notice. You could go the home of a trusted relative, neighbor, and friend or to a shelter.  For essentials, pack your house keys, money, credit cards, bank books, health cards, medications, passports or birth certificates, driver’s license and clothing and any other essentials. To protect your privacy, be careful about your smartphone’s locations settings, accounts access and using a secure form of communication. You may even want to consider the option of using a trusted persons phone or buying a burner phone to communicate with your emergency contacts.

 

If you are in an emergency situation, contact the police immediately. Tell the police that you and if you have any kids, are being threatened or have been victims of violence and that you fear for the safety of yourself and your children.  Be sure to speak slowly and clearly so that the police can get your name and address.  The police will be able to advise you of a safe place to go if you cannot stay with relatives or friends.  They will also provide you with information on how to lay charges against your abuser.

Get medical attention as soon as possible.  If you have been physically or sexually assaulted and have bruising or other marks of a beating, you should tell the doctor that your injuries are the result of family violence.  Ask the Doctor to take color photographs of any visible injuries. These photographs can be used as evidence to corroborate your story in Court proceedings.

You should contact a lawyer if you have suffered from any family violence.  The lawyer can assess your particular situation and provide you with information concerning your particular situation. For example, you can find out about your legal rights to property and financial support, custody and access of your children, and Protection Orders.  Contact the Lawyer Referral Service for names of lawyers in your area.  If you cannot afford a lawyer, the Legal Aid Society can provide you with one.  Legal Aid will pay the lawyer for you, but you will be expected to reimburse Legal Aid once you have achieved a certain level of financial independence. For more information, you may contact Legal Aid at 1-800-845-3425.

If you have any pets that are also in danger at the residence and you have them with you or left them behind, there is an Alberta pet safekeeping program that provides temporary pet care at no charge. You can contact them at 1-800-455-9003.

You may also contact the Alberta Family and Social Services for financial support.  They can also assist you in finding counseling and other help to support. If you are in Calgary, Calgary Legal Guidance offers special services for victims of domestic assault.  You may call Calgary Legal Guidance at 403-234-9266 for information on their service.

Dial-A Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.