Family Violence (3:VIII)

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by the Law Students' Legal Advice Program on August 10, 2022.

A. Family Law Act

Under the FLA, a court may issue a family law protection order against a family member in a dispute when there is a likelihood of family violence. Family violence is inclusive of physical, emotional, or psychological abuse. When children are involved, both direct and indirect exposure to violence meet the definition of family violence in s 1 of the Act.

Applications for a protection order can be made alongside applications for other family court orders or on their own. The involvement of the criminal justice system is not required. Applications can be made in both Provincial Court and Supreme Court.

There is no cost to apply for a protection order in BC Provincial Court. If you are seeking a divorce, you may apply for a protection order at the BC Supreme Court for a fee ($80 for divorce proceedings that have begun, and $200 if not). It is possible to obtain an order to waive fees at the Supreme Court. The Legal Services Society publication “For Your Protection” outlines the process and the forms required to seek a protection order.

Before issuing a protection order, courts will consider the history of family violence, the nature of that violence, the present relationship between the at-risk family member and the violent family member, and circumstances which increase the risk of violence or the vulnerability of the at-risk family member (s 184(1)).

Protection orders may prohibit direct or indirect communication, attending locations frequently entered by the at-risk family member, and possessing a weapon (see s 18(3) for additional prohibitions). Unless the court establishes otherwise, an order will expire one year after the date it is issued.

B. Divorce Act

Effective March 1, 2021, the amended Divorce Act will include provisions for identifying family violence and assessing its relevance to family disputes. The following provisions will come into force on that date.

Family violence is conduct by one family member which causes another family member to fear for the safety of themselves or another person. The amended DA characterizes this as threatening or violent behaviour, or a pattern of coercive or controlling behaviour (see s 2(1) of the amended DA for the definition of family violence and a list of conduct which meets this definition). These behaviours need not be criminal offences, nor are they required to meet the threshold for proof in criminal law to qualify as family violence under the updated DA. If a child is exposed to direct or indirect violence, this is considered family violence and possibly child abuse.

Under the amended Divorce Act, family violence will be a factor under consideration in establishing parenting and contact arrangements for children (s 16(3)(j) of the amended DA). The factors provided are 16(4)(a-h) of the most recent Divorce Act. Courts may consider family violence grounds to modify or waive notice requirements for changes in residence (s 16.96(3)). Family violence will also be a factor in determining whether family dispute resolution would be inappropriate (s 7.7(2) of the amended DA).

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