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Do you know a woman who is being abused? A legal rights handbook

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Can I take my children with me?

Both parents have an equal legal right to custody of their children when their relationship ends. This is true even if one parent did most of the child care, or if one parent abused the other. Only a court order or agreement changes this equal right to custody.

If you leave your partner and take your children with you, your partner might say that you abducted the children.

This does not mean you have to leave your children behind when you leave your partner. Talk to a lawyer about this before you leave your partner, or soon after you leave. Shelters can help you get up to 2 hours of free family or immigration law advice.

The shelter can also help you apply for a Legal Aid certificate for your family law case. Tell the shelter and the lawyer you speak to if there is already an order related to your children.

Legal Aid certificate: a document that says Legal Aid Ontario has agreed to pay for a certain number of hours of a lawyer's time to work on your legal issues. Not all lawyers accept these certificates. You have to find a lawyer who agrees to work for you and agrees to accept your certificate. You can find a lawyer who accepts Legal Aid certificates online at www.legalaid.on.ca/en/getting/findingalawyer.asp.

If it is safe: leave a note for your partner that says you have left with the children, that they are okay, and that you will contact him soon so he can see the children.

If it is not safe: leave a message for your partner once you are in a safe place. Make sure your message does not include any information that he can use to find you.

Keep a copy of any note or message that you leave for your partner.

If you do not take your children with you

If you decide to leave your partner and you do not take your children with you, your partner might say that you agreed to give him custody and let the children live with him.

If you want custody of, or access to, your children, or want them to live with you in the future, leave a note that says you do not want your partner to have custody. Keep a copy of the note.

You should also try to stay in close contact with your children when you are not living with them. It is important to make custody and access plans as soon as possible after you leave. Talk to a lawyer about this.

What to take with you

When you leave, try to bring these things with you:

  • clothes for a few days, for you and your children
  • your children's favourite toys or blankets
  • things like toothpaste, diapers, and soap
  • money and keys
  • any medication you or your children need

You should also bring these documents with you:

  • identification, including birth certificates, health cards, passports, immigration documents, your driver's licence, and credit cards
  • any documents from family or criminal court, such as bail conditions, a restraining order, or a custody and access order
  • Restraining order: a court order that says what your partner cannot do. For example, the order might say where he cannot go, or who he cannot contact.
  • other documents, such as the deed for your house or lease for your apartment, pay stubs, social assistance cheque stubs, your Social Insurance card, and marriage certificate
  • any proof of the abuse, such as photos, threatening notes, recorded telephone messages, or your diary
  • names and badge numbers of police officers you have called in the past