Family Violence Overview
If you are in danger
If your physical safety is in immediate danger, start here first:
- If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
- For crisis support, dial VictimLINK at 1-800-563-0808 for confidential and multilingual service.
- For more information visit the Clicklaw website (www.clicklaw.bc.ca) for a list of websites and other assistance under the heading "Your safety".
- MyLawBC's abuse and family violence website is a guided online tool that asks you specific questions about your situation and gives you an action plan.
The rest of this chapter talks about the various laws related to family violence. Reading it will take some time and focus.
Overview of the various laws around family violence
This chapter covers laws and legal mechanisms used to address family violence. Because family violence is not only a family law topic, the chapter discusses overlapping areas of law, including:
- the Family Law Act and its treatment of family violence,
- child protection issues,
- family violence in the context of Canada's Criminal Code, with information for victims of crime and those accused, and
- civil claims and the law of torts designed to make wrongdoers pay compensation to plaintiffs for the losses they have suffered.
The Family Law Act
Family violence includes physical and sexual forms of abuse, but under the Family Law Act it also includes harmful behaviour such as threats, harassment, emotional abuse and even acts that harm someone's financial autonomy.
The fact that the legal system's concept of violence has expanded beyond brute physical assault reflects a more responsive attitude towards the realities of how abuse among family members impacts victims and families. The impacts are not always physical. Fear and intimidation can have as much or even a greater impact than physical violence on the outcome of a family law dispute.
The Family Law Act defines family violence and provides mechanisms for dealing with it, such as family law protection orders.
Note that the Family Law Act has taken proactive measures against family violence. It is now mandatory for family law professionals to assess the potential for family violence and react accordingly. The Family Law Act requires all family dispute resolution professionals (lawyers, family justice counselors, mediators, etc.) to watch for warning signs of family violence in relationships. Where warning signs are present, legal professionals try not only to determine safety risks but also the degree to which family violence might be impairing the abused party's ability to speak for themselves, advocate for their interests and negotiate a fair agreement.
Where children are at risk, the provincial government's ministry responsible for protecting children may become involved. The involvement of the Ministry of Children & Family Development and the authority of the Child, Family and Community Service Act], RSBC 1996, c 46, may influence your family law proceeding dramatically. This chapter takes a brief look at some child protection issues, what happens when a report is made, and when children may be placed in the care of the ministry.
Criminal law context
Where domestic violence exists, both family law and criminal law can be involved. This chapter provides an introduction to the ways that criminal law deals with family violence.
The Criminal Code provides for peace bonds, which are mechanisms to protect you from another person. They are protection orders and can be obtained against abusers of all kinds, including an abuser you dated as well as an abusive spouse.
Civil law context
When individuals and corporations talk about suing each other, they are talking about enforcing their rights in civil law using the courts. A right to sue for something is called a cause of action. Being wrongfully fired or hit by a car in a crosswalk can give you a cause of action. A dishonoured loan can create a cause of action. So too domestic assault, or indeed assaults on anyone, can give rise to a cause of action.
Civil law is a broad area of law, and it includes the law of torts, better known as personal injury law. People who assault others can be sued for the damages they caused. If you were assaulted by someone outside of a family relationship, you might pursue your cause of action in a lawsuit for assault.
Where the abuser and victim are ex-partners, however, and a family law proceeding has already been started, it is more common to see the cause of action become part of a Notice of Family Claim.
- Family Law Act
- Criminal Code
- Provincial Court (Child, Family and Community Service Act) Rules
- Negligence Act
- Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
- Youth Criminal Justice Act
- Limitation Act
- E-book by Dr. Linda C. Neilson, Responding to Domestic Violence in Family Law, Civil Protection & Child Protection Cases (CanLII February 2017)
- Canadian Bar Association BC Branch: Script on applying for a peace bond and filing assault charges
- Community Safety and Crime Prevention Branch and Legal Services Society: Peace bonds and family law protection orders
- Clicklaw resources for abuse and family violence:
- Clicklaw resources for child protection
- Legal Services Society publications on abuse and family violence
- Family Law in British Columbia website information on child protection/removal
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Gayle Raphanel and Samantha Simpson, August 5, 2017.|
|JP Boyd on Family Law © John-Paul Boyd and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.|