Close this search box.


When can a civil case lead to criminal charges

While family matters primarily fall under the jurisdiction of civil law, there are instances where a case can unexpectedly take a criminal turn. In this article, we’ll explore the circumstances under which a civil case may lead to criminal charges and shed light on the complexities that families may face.

Understanding the Distinction Between Civil and Criminal Cases

Family law disputes typically revolve around civil matters, such as divorce, child custody and spousal support. Civil cases are private legal disputes between individuals or entities seeking compensation, redress, or resolution of a specific issue. These cases are generally brought to court by one party (the plaintiff/applicant) against another (the defendant/respondent).

On the other hand, criminal cases involve actions deemed harmful to society and are prosecuted by the government. The goal of criminal proceedings is to punish the offender for violating laws that protect public safety and order. Unlike civil cases, where the outcome often involves financial compensation or specific actions, criminal cases can result in fines, probation, or imprisonment.

When Civil Matters Can Become Criminal Cases

While the realms of civil and criminal law are distinct, there are situations where a family law dispute can escalate, leading to criminal charges. Understanding these scenarios is crucial for families navigating the complexities of the legal system.

Domestic Violence

One of the most common situations where a civil matter may transform into a criminal case is in instances of domestic violence. Family law cases involving allegations of abuse, whether physical, emotional, or financial, can prompt the involvement of criminal charges. In Ontario, there are specific criminal offences related to domestic violence, such as assault, uttering threats, or harassment.

Child Abuse

Cases involving child custody and access can take a criminal turn when allegations of child abuse surface. If the court deems that a child’s safety is at risk, it may involve child protection services, and criminal charges against the offending party may follow. Child abuse charges may include assault, sexual exploitation, or neglect.


Matters related to property division and financial support can sometimes reveal instances of fraud. If one party intentionally conceals assets, provides false financial information, or engages in other fraudulent activities during a family law case, it could lead to criminal charges of fraud.

Violations of Court Orders

Non-compliance with court orders, such as failing to pay child support or violating restraining orders, can result in criminal charges. Contempt of court charges may be pursued, emphasizing the importance of adhering to the court’s directives.

False Allegations

In some cases, individuals may make false allegations during family law proceedings. If proven, these false statements can have severe consequences, including criminal charges for perjury or obstruction of justice.

The Intersection of Family and Criminal Law

When a family law matter transforms into a criminal case, the legal landscape becomes more intricate. The involvement of different legal systems adds layers of complexity, and individuals may find themselves facing both civil and criminal proceedings simultaneously.

Evidence and Burden of Proof

While family law cases often rely on a preponderance of evidence, criminal cases require a higher standard of proof—beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proof in criminal cases is on the prosecution, emphasizing the seriousness of the charges and the need for a thorough investigation.

Legal Representation

Individuals facing both family and criminal proceedings must navigate the legal system with adept representation. It is essential to engage a law firm that is well-versed in both family and criminal law, as its lawyers will be able to provide comprehensive guidance and ensure that the client’s rights are protected in both arenas.

Collaboration between Legal Systems

Family and criminal courts may collaborate to ensure a holistic approach to justice. For example, family court decisions may impact criminal proceedings and vice versa. Coordinating these efforts is essential to avoid conflicting orders and to address the unique aspects of each case.

Family law cases can sometimes take unexpected turns, which can lead to criminal charges with far-reaching consequences. Therefore, it is important to have a nuanced understanding of the legal landscape in order to navigate the intersection of family and criminal law. Each case has its own unique factors that require careful consideration, making it crucial to have a knowledgeable and experienced legal team on your side.