When Criminal and Family Law Cross Paths


While criminal law procedure may be more familiar to television viewers, far more Canadians have hands-on experience with family law. With nearly 40% of marriages ending in divorce, millions of Canadians at one point in their lives find themselves working with a family lawyer to resolve separation, divorce, child custody and access issues. Naturally these are deeply emotional battles, and have the potential to turn highly contentious over any number of issues. Yet what most Canadians do not know is that family and criminal law actually go hand-in-hand, and why it is so important to have a criminal lawyer on your side during your family law battle. 

Anyone who has been involved as a party in a family law matter can tell you that it is rarely a smooth or pleasant experience. Emotions run high, and warring former spouses are often, figuratively speaking, ‘out for blood.’ However in separations where there has been domestic violence, or even allegations of domestic violence, such allegations are not taken lightly. While there are serious consequences for such conduct in family court, most parties involved in such allegations do not realize that the criminal justice system is also monitoring those proceedings closely. 

There is, legally speaking, no hard line separation between family and criminal law. Any evidence or allegations of criminal activity brought forth in a family law proceeding are potentially the subject of criminal law proceedings, and police have full and unfettered access to those proceedings where they alone can decide whether or not they want to press charges. 

This can have broad-ranging potential. Of course, in situations where there has been domestic violence, those crimes can and should be subject to full criminal process. Yet in the heat of ugly family law proceedings, serious allegations are sometimes made which are not supported by evidence, or which are made purely for malicious or tactical purposes. Or in some instances, a partner may mention their concern over their spouse preemptively making wild and unfounded allegations as a strategic ploy, i.e. “next she/he’s going to say that I….” While these allegations may be entirely unsubstantiated, if taken out of context they could still launch a potential police probe. Of course this is not every allegation, yet such incidents do occur, and if dealt with incorrectly can be doubly damning for the accused. 

Family law lawyers frequently take an aggressive posture depending on the circumstances which, while perhaps a helpful tactic for family law purposes, may be harmful to their client for any intertwined criminal allegations. They may seek to introduce evidence that they feel is helpful for the family law purposes, but due to their limited criminal background they have not fully considered the criminal law applications. Despite advocating with best intentions, there is unspoken potential to seriously harm their client’s potential criminal case.

These issues can arise in other areas of family law as well. 

Such issues can arise in other areas of family law as well. If one former spouse owns a business at the time of the couple’s separation, there will almost certainly be accusations that arise about ‘hidden money,’ and disputes over valuations done to determine each party’s true net worth. Even when these allegations are entirely untrue, they could flag both CRA and police as to potential targets for a fraud investigation. In other words, the consequences of such allegations could be far greater than unpleasantly high alimony payments. 

Family lawyers are generally hardworking, devoted advocates who fight tirelessly for their clients’ best interests. Yet with a limited background in criminal law, they often do not realize that their actions may have greater implications far beyond a family matter. Worse still, many family law litigants faced with mounting legal expenses instead opt to represent themselves, where they are truly unaware of how to handle the overlapping criminal issues that may arise. 

As criminal law experts, we work closely with your family lawyer to advise them on the criminal nature and implications of any allegations made in your family law dispute. Retaining a criminal lawyer early on the sidelines means that your family lawyer will have proper guidance in how to deal with the criminal aspects of your family law matter. This often stops family law matters from ‘going off the rails,’ or costing far more than you bargained for. Contact us today to set up your consultation. 


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