Updated June 2021
A person who fears violence from a family member may be able to get a protection order in family court.
Section 183(2) of the BC Family Law Act says:
But section 183(2) needs some explanation. On one hand it casts a wider net than you might think. “Family violence” is not limited to physical violence - the Family Law Act defines it more widely, to include emotional or psychological abuse. On the other hand, section 183(2) does not cover every possible family member. The relationship between the “family members” must come within a list set out in the Family Law Act. As a result, protection orders are not necessarily available against every member of a family.
In this article, “parties” means the person who applies for a protection order (the party making the application) and the family member they are seeking protection from (the other party). “The Act” means the Family Law Act. Footnotes refer to the relevant sections of the Act.
Who can apply for a Family Law Act protection order?
An application for a protection order can be made 1
The application can be made without notice to the other party2. However, this is an exception to the usual rule that both parties must have a chance to be heard by a judge before an order is made affecting them. Therefore, if the applicant is seeking an order without giving the other party a copy of the application and the date it will be heard in court, the applicant must show that the matter is urgent or that special circumstances exist. Special circumstances would include a real risk of harm to you, a child, or someone else if you were required to give the other party the usual notice.
However, an order made without notice may be changed, terminated, or set aside 3 at the request of the other party, particularly if it is shown the party who sought the protection order was not truthful or left out important information. Most types of Family Law Act orders may also be changed or terminated if circumstances change. 4
In most cases, applications must be filed:
However, a party seeking a protection order may do so in any registry, with permission of the court.
From whom can you be protected by a Family Law Act protection order?
You must be seeking protection from a “family member” 5 who is either:
If the person you want protection from is not one of the listed “family members”, you will not meet the Act’s definition of an “at-risk family member” and you cannot get a protection order under section 183.
However, a person who fears violence may be able to get another type of protection order under the Criminal Code 7 and should discuss their situation with police.
To see how judges have decided whether someone comes within the definition of “family member”, it is helpful to read decisions written on this issue, available by searching "family member" at https://canlii.org/en/be/
How does the Family Law Act define “family violence” 8?
Section 1 says “family violence” includes, with or without an intent to harm a family member:
How have judges interpreted this definition of “family violence”?
The Act defines “family violence” broadly. As one judge wrote,
Harassing calls, emails or texts, and bullying, controlling behaviour may come within the definition of family violence.
However, there are limits. Judges have ruled that separating parties may engage in mutually unpleasant exchanges and arguments but without more, mere incivility is not the sort of conduct the Legislature intended would attract a protection order. Decisions written on this issue are available at https://www.canlii.org/en/bc/.
How have judges assessed the likelihood of family violence?
On a sliding scale. In Dawson v. Dawson 2014 BCSC 44 the judge said even a single act of family violence in the past may be enough to prove that family violence is likely to occur in the future. A single act may be given less weight if it happened a long time ago. But if the circumstances that contributed to it still exist, a single act could be enough to justify a protection order.
This case also says that judges should consider the seriousness of the potential harm when deciding whether family violence is likely to occur. He suggested there should be a sliding scale so protection orders can be made if there is a risk of very serious acts of violence, even if the those acts are “not particularly likely”. 10
Enforcement of a protection order
A police officer who has reasonable and probable grounds to believe a person has disobeyed a protection order may enforce the order, using reasonable force if necessary 11.
A person who disobeys a protection order may be charged with a criminal offence under s. 127 of the Criminal Code. If they are found guilty, they can be sentenced to time in jail.
How can I get an urgent protection order or have one set aside?
1 Section 183 (1)
2 Section 186
3 Sections 186 (2) and 187
4 Section 215
5 Defined in Family Law Act section 1
6 Defined in Family Law Act section 1
7 A “peace bond” under Criminal Code section 810, or a bail order if a criminal charge is laid
8 Defined in Family Law Act section 1
9 Nevertheless, in S.M. v. R.M. the respondent’s conduct was found to go far beyond “mere incivility” and come within the definition of family violence.
10 Dawson v. Dawson 2014 BCSC 44, paragraphs 44 and 45
11 Section 188 (2)
This article provides general information only and should not be used authority in court proceedings or as a substitute for legal advice. Updated May 2021