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 Fiona Beveridge and Samantha Simpson, April 30, 2019.|
|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.|
Normally referred to as the "Supreme Court of British Columbia," this court hears most court proceedings in this province. The Supreme Court is a court of inherent jurisdiction and is subject to no limits on the sorts of claims it can hear or on the sorts of orders it can make. Decisions of the Provincial Court are appealed to the Supreme Court; decisions of the Supreme Court are appealed to the Court of Appeal. See "Court of Appeal," "jurisdiction," "Provincial Court" and "Supreme Court of Canada."
A court established and staffed by the provincial government, which includes Small Claims Court, Youth Court and Family Court. The Provincial Court is the lowest level of court in British Columbia and is restricted in the sorts of matters it can deal with. It is, however, the most accessible of the two trial courts and no fees are charged to begin or defend a court proceeding. Small Claims Court, for example, cannot deal with claims larger than $25,000, and Family Court cannot deal with the division of family property or matters under the Divorce Act. See "judge" and "jurisdiction."
In law, to formally deliver documents to a person in a manner that complies with the applicable rules of court. Service may be ordinary (mailed or delivered to a litigant's address for service), personal (hand-delivered to a person) or substituted (performed in a way other than the rules normally require). See "address for delivery," "ordinary service," "personal service" and "substituted service."
A court proceeding in which one party sues another for a specific remedy or relief, also called a "lawsuit" or a "case." An action for divorce, for example, is a court proceeding in which the claimant sues the respondent for the relief of a divorce order.
To determine the value or amount of something. A lawyer's bill may be assessed by a registrar to determine the actual amount the client should pay. See "appraisal."
The processes used to conclusively resolve legal disputes including negotiation, collaborative settlement processes, mediation, arbitration and litigation.
In law, a person named as an applicant, claimant, respondent or third party in a court proceeding; someone asserting a claim in a court proceeding or against whom a claim has been brought. See "action" and "litigant."
A lawyer or a person other than a lawyer who helps clients with legal issues; to argue a position on behalf of a client.
In law, the whole of the conduct of a court proceeding, from beginning to end, and the steps in between; may also be used to refer to a specific hearing or trial. See "action."
Under the Divorce Act, either of two people who are married to one another, whether of the same or opposite genders. Under the Family Law Act, married spouses, unmarried parties who have lived together in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years, and, for all purposes of the act other than the division of property or debt, unmarried parties who have lived together for less than two years but have had a child together. See "marriage" and "marriage-like relationship."
The behaviour of a person that gives rise to a claim for relief. For example, a spouse's adultery gives rise to the other spouse's right to claim a divorce. The adulterous act is the cause of action for the divorce claim.
An award of money payable by one party to a court proceeding to another, usually as compensation for loss or harm suffered as a result of the other party’s actions or omissions. In family law, damages are usually awarded to one party in compensation for breach of contract or spousal abuse. See "breach of contract" and "tort."