The importance of family violence screening tools for family law practitioners

woman's hand holding a child's hand

Since 2003, Ontario’s Domestic Violence Death Review Committee consistently finds that a history of domestic violence and pending or recent separation are the first and second highest risk factors for lethality in domestic homicides.

Yet there is no universal family violence screening tool for Canadian family law practitioners.

Family law lawyers are often the first point of contact for those entering the family justice system. They need to be aware of any abuse history as early as possible so that decisions made reflect the best interests of the children, the legal rights of the parties and the safety of abuse survivors.

Luke’s Place was recently contracted by the Department of Justice to investigate screening in the family law context. Over the past year, we conducted research in collaboration with Sara Crann (University of Guelph), Kate Mazzuocco (University of Toronto) and Dr. Mavis Morton (University of Guelph) with input from a national advisory of family law practitioners and family violence experts.

To conduct this research, we developed an assessment methodology which we applied to 86 screening tools used in other sectors and jurisdictions. Family violence screening is common in health care and family law mediation fields and in the US and Australia.

Our findings point to the importance of universal family violence screening by lawyers, highlighting the common family dynamics where violence is present. We were also able to identify best practices for developing, administering and using screening tools across populations and sectors.

Our investigation also noted gaps in research and differences between regions and populations. In particular, a research gap exists on the topic of screening within Indigenous communities.

Our report, “What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You: The Importance of Family Violence Screening Tools for Family Law Practitioners” will be available in July 2018.

Lawyers who want to learn more about screening for family violence, may be interested our CPD accredited training, “Effective Lawyering with Clients Leaving Abusive Relationships“, which includes screening strategies.