Family Violence and Protection Orders

Protection orders are orders that the court can make to protect an at-risk family member from family violence. The purpose of granting a protection order is to recognize potential danger to vulnerable family members and provide the court with a means of ensuring the safety of those family members.

Protection orders are governed by the Family Law Act in BC, and may be necessary to separate family members, restrict a family member’s ability to go certain places, or restrict that person’s ability to own weapons.

Before a protection order can be made, the court must be satisfied that there is a risk of family violence as well as a family member who is at risk of being abused.

Family violence is defined in the Family Law Act as behaviour that includes physical, sexual, psychological and emotional abuse, and in the case of children, exposure to family violence. This is not a complete list, however, as the definition of family violence has been held to be broad and inclusive, and includes such things as financial abuse (Morgadinho v. Morgadinho, 2014 BCSC 192).

Pursuant to the Family Law Act a vulnerable or “at-risk family member” is a family member whose safety and security is, or is likely, at risk from family violence carried out by another family member.

In order to get a protection order for a family member, it is not necessary to bring any other claim or proceeding before the court, however, the person seeking a protection order must provide evidence of the likely risk of violence. Under section 184 of the Family Law Act, the court must consider, among other things, whether there is a history of family violence, whether the violence is repetitive and escalating, and whether there are any circumstances that may increase an at-risk family member’s vulnerability.

In the fairly recent case BHC v FGJP, 2017 BCPC 378, the court ordered a protection order on the basis that family violence was likely to occur in the future. The wife had alleged a significant history of violence from her husband, which the court found to be reliable. Because of the number and seriousness of the previous incidents, the court found that the likelihood of violence occurring in the future was “sufficiently grave” that a protection order was necessary.

Unless the court orders otherwise, where a protection order is granted, it automatically expires within one year, and may require renewal where the at-risk family member is still vulnerable to family violence.

Although protection orders are made under the Family Law Act, they are enforced under the Criminal Code. If a person breaches a protection order, they are committing a criminal offence. This is not to say, however, that once a protection order is given, the at-risk family member’s safety is guaranteed. Depending on the individual circumstances, it may be necessary to enlist the help of specialized community organizations.

If you need assistance with a family law matter, contact Richter Trial Lawyers at 604-264-5550.

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