How is Cruelty Defined in an Alberta Divorce?

How is Cruelty Defined in an Alberta Divorce?

With over 40,000 divorces in Canada each year, couples end their marriages for various reasons. However, under Canada's Divorce Act, there are only three legal "grounds" on which Canadians may file for divorce. These are separation, adultery, and cruelty. If you are considering divorce and are unsure on which grounds you should file, an Alberta divorce lawyer may be able to help you decide what is best for your situation.


You and your spouse must have been separated and have lived apart for at least one year to be eligible for divorce on the grounds of separation. If you cannot live apart during this time for practical reasons, you will need to prove the separation through other means. Filing on the grounds of separation is typically the most straightforward and inexpensive way to obtain a divorce and is the most common in Canada.


A spouse must provide the court with credible evidence that their partner had sexual relations with someone outside of the relationship to file for divorce on the grounds of adultery. You could not file for divorce on the grounds of adultery if you were the adulterer. Filing on these grounds allows you to circumvent the one-year waiting period and initiate divorce proceedings immediately.

Cruelty: Family and Domestic Violence

To file for divorce on the grounds of cruelty, you must provide the court with evidence of at least one act of domestic or family violence and demonstrate that its severity makes living together untenable.

Alberta defines family and domestic violence as an abuse of power within a family or intimate relationship. The abuse can undermine the family's or an individual's physical, emotional, and psychological security and safety, whether they are direct victims, witnesses, or simply know it is happening.

Recent amendments to the Divorce Act describe family violence as any violent, threatening, coercive, or controlling behavior that causes a family member concern for their safety or that of someone else. Family violence can include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Threats or violence against people, animals, or property
  • Harassment and stalking
  • Financial abuse
  • Neglect, or failing to provide the necessities of life
  • Excessive intoxication from drugs or alcohol

Providing Evidence of Cruelty

Proving cruelty in a marriage can be challenging because the abuse often occurs in a private setting. Examples of evidence that a court may find credible include:

  • 911 calls
  • Photographs or recordings of abuse or related injuries
  • Hospital or medical records
  • Written statements or court testimony by those who have experience or knowledge of the abuse or have witnessed its effects

As with adultery, applying for divorce on the grounds of cruelty allows you to circumvent the one-year waiting period. However, typical courtroom waiting times can often delay divorce proceedings for a year or more. Additionally, going to court to prove adultery or cruelty can be expensive and emotionally harrowing.

Applying on the grounds of adultery or cruelty can shift focus away from resolving the practical matters of divorce like support and access to shared children and toward a cycle of he-said-she-said. Filing on these grounds will also have no impact on spousal or child support.

Contact our Verhaeghe Family Lawyers Today

If you are considering divorce, our Edmonton divorce lawyers or Edmonton family lawyers may be able to help you understand your options. Contact us today for more information and to schedule a consultation.

* Please note that the information in this article is not intended as legal advice but rather as a general overview of family law. If you are seeking legal advice, please consult with a lawyer.

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