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Toronto criminal lawyer Joseph Neuberger says there’s been a “definite” uptic over the past ten years in the number of criminal charges being laid in Ontario arising out of family law matters.
And, there is “a growing trend to use the criminal court process for leverage in family court proceedings, which is highly disturbing,” he adds.
“I can say without a doubt that there has been a significant increase in charges arising out of domestic disputes during separations leading to divorce,” says Neuberger, a partner with Neuberger Rose LLP.
“It has become quite common to see charges such as assault or threatening or allegations of historical abuse, come to the forefront during a particularly acrimonious moment in a separation or divorce.”
Neuberger says that in the 19 years he has practised criminal law he has handled nearly 400 domestic-related cases, and the “vast majority” have resulted in withdrawals or acquittals. He notes that currently fifty percent of his practice deals with domestic-related issues and all of them have family law cases ongoing.
Neuberger says while there’s definitely a rise in the number of these crossover cases, some are legitimate and some aren’t. He says the increase in legitimate charges could be attributed to “education and that people are more comfortable coming forward with allegations.
“However, I believe there is a trend for fabricating allegations in order to gain leverage in family court proceedings.”
Why? ”Because it works,” says Neuberger. “Because it can get immediate exclusion from the home and restricted access. I’ve also seen in some cases within the family law proceedings an action being brought for past assaultive behaviour and sometimes the damages that are sought happen to miraculously equal the other spouse’s equity in the home. It could just be a coincidence but you know what they say about coincidence: it takes a lot of planning.”
Neuberger recently had three cases that moved from family to criminal court and in each instance perjury was proven.
“The reality is I spend an inordinate amount of time on these files, combing through all of the family court documents scrutinizing the credibility of the complainant or other witnesses, and I use these documents extensively in the criminal trial. They inevitably assist in providing a motive to fabricate,” says Neuberger. “But you have to know how to marshall this type of evidence and how to deal with these types of cases.”
Neuberger adds the implications of these matters are ”extremely serious. People can be alienated form their children for months if not years which can have an ongoing impact on their relationship with their children.”