A family law protection order is an order made by a judge that lists conditions the other person must follow. This includes things like not contacting you or your children, not coming to your place of work, and not coming to your home.
You can apply for a protection order on its own or when you're applying for other family court orders.
See Family law protection orders for other general information about protection orders.
Who this guide is for
This step-by-step guide is for you if you're afraid for your safety because:
- a family member who lives with you has:
- abused you,
- assaulted you,
- threatened to hurt you, or
- damaged or threatened to damage your property or harm pets.
- You need to protect yourself, your children, and/or another family member who lives with you.
- You want a family law protection order to prevent the person from contacting you.
- You want to apply for protection quickly, without letting the person named in the order know what you're doing.
It's important to think carefully about your situation and make a safety plan. Although you might feel afraid and alone, there are trained people ready to help you wherever you live in BC. Take advantage of the emotional and practical support available for you. You can also get legal advice about what's best for you, as well as legal help with the steps needed to get a protection order.
About this guide
The steps in this guide explain how to apply for a protection order if you don't want the other person to know in advance that you're applying for a protection order. It walks you through making a safety plan, filling out the form, appearing in court, and what to do after you get the order. Usually, when you ask the court to make orders, you must let the other person know. But in certain situations, especially for safety reasons, you can ask the judge to make an order without the other person knowing (until after the order is made). This is called a "without notice order." And, if you need to get an order quickly, the court registry staff will schedule a hearing date "urgently.”
Getting an order without notice is the right thing to do if:
- you still live with your abusive partner and/or fear that you can’t leave the house for good without risking further violence towards you or the children, or
- you don’t want to leave your house and want the other person to leave, but can’t ask them to do so without putting yourself or your children at risk.
You can ask the court to have a judge hear your case that very day or the next day if waiting any longer may put you or your children in danger. Ask for an urgent hearing.
In this guide, we use the word "partner" to describe the person you want to be protected from. In other words, someone you:
- are or were married to,
- live or lived with in a marriage-like relationship, or
- have a child with.
But you can also get a protection order to protect you against a family member who lives with you (for example, your father-in-law, or your partner's adult son). However, we use the word partner to keep it simple. For more information about who the law says is a family member in this situation, see Family law protection orders.
When to call 911 instead
It can often be hard to tell when violence may become worse. However, there are some things that usually signal that the violence is getting more dangerous and perhaps one day could be fatal for you or your children.
Violence can get worse when you have:
- recently separated, or are talking about leaving
- recently started a legal process
- become pregnant or are about to give birth
The following is a short list of some of the things that warn that the violence could become more and more dangerous:
If a family member has ever:
- threatened to harm you,
- threatened to harm themself,
- stalked you,
- acted with extreme jealousy,
- choked or tried to strangle you, or
- shown violence or neglect toward household pets.
If any of this is a part of your story, immediately call 911. There are many ways out of an abusive relationship. The fastest and safest way is to call 911. If you’re too scared to call 911, call VictimLink BC or one of the support organizations listed below to get the support you need to call 911.
Help and support
For emotional help and practical support, call the services below. People at these organizations offer emotional and practical support and can help you make a safety plan. If you apply for a protection order, a lawyer or legal advocate can help you.
VictimLinkBC is a province-wide telephone help line provided by the government.
The phone number connects you to:
- crisis (victim service) workers
- emergency shelters
- support and counselling services
- settlement workers
- multicultural services
1-800-563-0808 (call no charge)
Battered Women's Support Services
604-687-1867 (Greater Vancouver)
1-855-687-1868 (elsewhere in BC)
BC Society of Transition Houses
604-669-6943 (Greater Vancouver)
1-800-661-1040 (elsewhere in BC)
Ending Violence Association of BC (EVA BC)
For local phone numbers for support and counselling, see the Victim Services in BC Directory.
If you're Aboriginal
There is community support available for Aboriginal people from:
What is abuse?
You can be abused in different ways. Abuse includes physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse. (Threats or stalking are examples of psychological abuse.) For more information about abuse and about protection orders, see:
- Live Safe, End Abuse fact sheets and folder
- For Your Protection: Peace Bonds and Family Law Protection Orders (booklet)
Make a safety plan
- To get information about emergency services in your area.
- Next, you'll talk over and shape your plan with people who can help you. It's best to ask an advocate or victim service worker to help you make a safety plan.
- Then, you can talk to your children about what they need to know.
A safety plan is actions you can take to improve safety for yourself, your children, and other family members who may be at risk of abuse. Having a safety plan means you know how to get help if you're in danger from your partner, whether or not you've left the abusive relationship. Your children will also feel safer when they have a safety plan.
Making a safety plan is an important way to start getting control over your life.
Ways to protect yourself if you haven't left your partner
- In the few weeks before you are planning to leave, your partner may get suspicious and even more violent with fits of crying and begging for you to stay. If you are entering this cycle, call 911. Or plan to have a friend call or come by every evening at a certain time. They can call 911 if they suspect anything.
- If you’re worried about the children seeing the escalating violence or there’s violence against the children in the weeks before you leave or call 911, arrange to have them sleep at a friend or family member’s house for a few days.
- Always have a fully charged phone with you and hide it on yourself or in place where you can get to it easily when you’re being abused.
- You don't have to say much when you call 911. If you don’t have time to talk, just say a few important words like "help," "scared," "very hurt." You can even just let them overhear what's going on.
- 911 will either call you back or come to your house and ask to speak to you alone.
- If you call 911, your partner will be removed, and you and your children will get to stay in the house.
- Know where you can go if you decide to leave (such as a safe house).
- Know the phone numbers of emergency shelters or transition houses in your area.
- Find out where you can get a translator or disability support, if you need these services.
- Arrange for care for pets or other animals, if you need to do this.
- Save and set aside money in a safe place.
- Put a set of your house and car keys in a safe place.
- Pack a suitcase with extra clothes, toiletries, medicines, and prescriptions for you and your children, and leave the suitcase with a friend.
- Find a safe place to store all of your and your children's personal documents (such as birth certificates, passports, extra credit cards, etc.).
- Make photocopies of information about income and assets that are in your partner's name alone. Also write down their Social Insurance Number (SIN), BC CareCard/BC Services Card number, and birthdate.
- Screen calls on your home phone.
- If you use the internet at home, erase your browsing history whenever necessary, or use a computer at a library or other safe place.
- Tell your neighbours or friends to call the police if they hear frightening or loud noises, or if they see anything suspicious.
- Plan your emergency exits (where you'll leave your home in an emergency).
- Get legal advice about how to protect yourself and your children, and what to do about your family home and shared property.
Protect your children
- Teach your children how to call 911 or phone the police and fire department for help. Practise with them about what they'll say if they call for help.
- Choose a code word with your children and share it with friends, so everyone will understand they're in danger if they call for help.
- Teach your children where your planned emergency exits are. Tell your children that their job is to stay safe and protect themselves in an emergency, not to look after you.
Ways to protect yourself after you leave your partner
- Tell your boss, security supervisor, and other key people or friends at work about your situation. Talk to your employer about calling the police if you're in danger from your partner.
- Make sure your phone number, email address, and other personal information aren't on public lists, such as an employee phone list.
- Make sure your name isn't on your mailbox or your apartment building's directory.
- Arrange for your mail to be sent to friends or family.
- Screen calls on your cellphone and work phone.
- Shop and bank at different places and times than when you lived with your partner.
- Change your doctor, dentist, and other professional services you may use.
- Open a bank account in your own name and arrange with your bank not to mail you statements. Let all your creditors know that you aren't living with your partner. Cancel any secondary credit cards. Talk to your bank about any joint accounts: reduce limits on overdrafts and credit lines to what you owe now. If you need credit, ask the bank to open a line of credit in your name only.
- Get counselling for yourself and your children.
- Once you have a protection order, keep a copy with you at all times in case you need to show the police. Give a copy to your older children.
Protect your children
- The court won't always prevent a parent who has abused the other parent from seeing their children. But you can apply to the court to put measures in place to keep your children safe, such as supervised parenting time. Make safety plans for when your partner picks up and returns your children from visits; for example, have another adult with you or meet your partner in a safe public place.
- Let your children's school or daycare know if you have a protection order and give them a copy. Keep the school up to date about your situation. Make sure your children's school bus driver also knows about it.
For more information about planning for your safety, see:
- The Safety Planning section in the Live Safe, End Abuse fact sheets and folder
- WorkSafe BC for resources about personal safety in the workplace
If you've been abused, remember it's not your fault.
Get legal advice
Before you begin to apply for a protection order, get legal advice about whether or not it's the right choice for you.
This guide explains all the steps for applying and the court process that follows. Read through this guide to understand all the steps before you talk to a lawyer.
Where to find a lawyer
- If you can't afford a lawyer, call legal aid to apply for a lawyer as soon as possible. You may be able to get a legal aid lawyer to help you apply for the protection order. A legal aid lawyer is available if you:
- have a low income, and
- are at risk of being hurt physically by your partner, or
- suffer from emotional abuse and won't be able to represent yourself in court.
604-408-2172 (Greater Vancouver)
1-866-577-2525 (elsewhere in BC)
- You can still get some help from a free family duty counsel lawyer if you don't qualify for a lawyer to take your case.
- If you don't qualify for a lawyer to take your case, you could also call a free (pro bono) legal advice clinic.
- You may be eligible for free legal advice over the telephone from a Family LawLINE lawyer.
- In some areas of BC, a family justice counsellor or a child support officer can refer you to a family advice lawyer.
- If you want to hire a lawyer, you can call the Lawyer Referral Service.
Legal help for Aboriginal people
- In Duncan and Nanaimo, you can meet with an Aboriginal community legal worker for legal information and some legal advice.
- Native courtworkers are people who help Aboriginal families go through the court process.
Get ready to make your application
- To make some notes about the incident(s) when the abuse took place. If possible, include information about:
- the date;
- the location;
- what happened;
- if the children were there;
- whether the police were called, if they came, and what they did (include any police file numbers you may have).
Think about whether there's been a repeated pattern of behaviour or if the incidents got worse over time. You don't need to remember all the incidents or all the details. Just write down whatever you can. This will help you prepare to talk to a lawyer, the court registry clerk, and/or the judge.
You'll also need:
- Details of your relationship to the person you want to be protected from:
- how long you've lived together (include dates), and/or
- when you married, separated, or divorced,
- when in the past you lived together (if at all),
- Names and birth dates of any children you have together, where they normally live, and who they're living with now, and
- Any agreements or court orders you already have about protection or a family law matter, and other supporting documents, if necessary.
Fill out your application form
- download PDF forms from the links above and fill them out on your computer,
- print the PDF forms and fill them out in pen, or
- ask for printed forms at your local Family Court registry.
Please note that registry staff can't help you fill out your form. If you need help with these forms, see Where can you get help with filling out court forms?
This form is an affidavit that you will swear under oath or affirm to be true. The form has detailed instructions about how to fill it out. Here are some tips:
Here are some tips:
- Only fill in Schedule 1 – Affidavit for Protection Order on the form (not Schedules 2 or 3).
- “Address for service” is an address where you can receive mail and documents. You can put in a mailing address instead of your current address as long as you're able to receive mail and documents there. For example, you may have a friend willing to receive mail for you or you may want to get a PO box. You can also talk to the court registry about confidentiality when you file your documents. And you can talk to the judge about your concerns about having your address in court documents at the hearing. You may also include a fax number and/or an email address as additional addresses for service.
- Tick “I want to apply without notice to the other party because:” and write in why the application and your situation is urgent. Because your application is for an order without notice, you must give a reason why you don’t want the other person to know. Say why you believe it would put you and/or your children (or other family members you live with) in danger to let your partner know about your application. Give examples of what happened or was said to make you feel this way.
- Use the notes you prepared at Step 3 to complete your form.
- When you write down the facts about what happened to make you want protection, put in what you know about directly. The judge will consider how you feel as well as the facts of what happened. You can also include facts based on information from others that you believe to be true. (They're responsible for knowing it's true.) You must say that the information is from other people, and that you believe it to be true.
- Don’t sign the form yet.
Gather your supporting evidence
- Your completed Application About a Protection Order (Form 12)
- Supporting documents and evidence you want to show the court
- Witnesses (optional)
Orders and agreements
You must mention any existing orders or agreements in the form and include a copy of them with your application.
The court needs to know if there were any written agreements or court orders made in the past that involve family law matters. This includes:
- any agreements between you and the other person
- any court orders, in this court or any other court
- any family law protection order from Provincial Court, Supreme Court, or another jurisdiction
- any criminal order with conditions protecting a party or restraining/restricting contact between the parties
- any peace bonds
- any other order the court may need to know about that restricts or restrains contact, or protects one party and/or a child from another party
You may have additional documents such as:
- police report
- medical records
- doctor’s notes
- photographs related to an incident
You can list any documents in Form 12, state that it’s attached as an “exhibit,” and then attach it. Each exhibit gets a letter assigned to it, starting with ‘A’ and continuing through the alphabet. For example, “the police report attached as Exhibit A.”
You may bring witnesses to your court appearance (people who'll speak under oath on your behalf). Your witnesses must have seen or heard the abuse, or evidence of the abuse (for example, bruises, broken items in the home, breakdowns, children telling them about fear or abuse, etc.) You can't have witnesses who'll just say things you told them about the abuse.
Paperwork can be tedious and tiring. Take breaks, drink water, and remember you don't have to do it all at once.
Swear or affirm your form
- To swear or affirm that what you've written in your Schedule 1 – Affidavit for Protection Order (Application About a Protection Order) is true.
Take the form (and any attachments) to a clerk at the court registry to swear the affidavit. This is a free service. You can also have a lawyer or notary public swear the affidavit but they’ll likely charge a fee. See Who can swear an affidavit? for more on this.
Take picture identification with you, such as a driver's licence, BC identity card, BC Services Card, or a passport when you go to the courthouse.
Make copies of the documents
- Three copies of your Application About a Protection Order (Form 12)
Make two extra copies of your original form and two extra copies of any other supporting documents. Staple each set of documents together.
Take all the documents to the registry. The originals stay at the registry (the "court file copy"). One set is for you, and one set is for the other party if you decide to give it to them at a later date.
Note that the registry doesn't photocopy documents.
File your application
- Two copies of your completed Application About a Protection Order (Form 12)
- To be prepared to attend your hearing that day with your witnesses, if you have them
Take your form and any supporting documents to a Provincial Court Registry. You'll file one copy and keep the other. Go to the registry:
- nearest to where you or the other person who needs protection lives;
- nearest to where the child(ren) ordinarily live, if you fear for the safety of your children or there are children named in an existing protection order; or
- where your existing Provincial Court case with the same parties is filed. If your situation is urgent and you need to file the application about a protection order in another location, the court can give you permission to file the application at any Provincial Court Registry in the province.
Tell the registry staff when you file your documents that you believe it would put you (and/or your children or other family members who you live with) in danger to let your partner know about your application. Make sure the registry staff know that you've asked for an urgent order without notice on the form.
Be prepared to tell the clerk at the registry about the abuse so they know that your situation is urgent. If the clerk agrees, they will make sure your application is heard that day and you won't have to serve the application on your partner.
Attend the hearing
- Your copy of your completed Application About a Protection Order (Form 12) and all supporting documents
- Notes you've made about the abuse
- Your witnesses, if you have them
At the hearing, you provide your evidence to the judge. Your evidence includes your application and spoken evidence that you promise is true.
If you don’t have a lawyer, you may find it helpful to have a trusted friend or family member with you to provide emotional support, take notes, and organize documents during your court appearance. See Can you take a support person to Provincial Court?.
Who is in the court
Here is a diagram of the interior of most Family Courts in British Columbia.
The people who'll be in the courtroom include:
- the judge, who hears the case and makes orders;
- the court clerk, who keeps the Family Court files, receives exhibits from witnesses (such as letters and documents), and operates the tape recorder that records all evidence given at trial;
- the sheriff, who pages witnesses who aren't in the courtroom and ensures that the courtroom remains a safe place;
- other people whose family court applications are on that day.
For an application for an urgent order without notice, you'll sit (at first) in the Party 1 area, but the person you're seeking protection from won't be in the Party 2 area. Your support person, if you have one, sits with you.
On the hearing date, arrive early and wear clean, conservative clothes. If you're bringing witnesses to court, make sure that they arrive on time and are also dressed in clean, conservative clothes.
Remember to bring your copy of your Application About a Protection Order (Form 12) and any other court documents, and any notes you have about the abuse by your partner.
Whenever you're speaking to a judge, remember to stand up. Speak in a loud, clear voice, and address the judge as ''Your Honour.'' Try to have a manner that is confident but also calm.
There may be a family duty counsel lawyer in the courtroom on the day of your hearing. If you don't have your own lawyer, duty counsel may be able to speak on your behalf in court even if you didn't qualify for legal aid. If it's urgent, you can ask duty counsel for help if you've applied but not yet heard back from Legal Aid. Ask the registry staff if duty counsel is available on the day you have your hearing.
The court hearing
There'll be other people in the courtroom whose applications have also been scheduled for that day. Sit on the benches on the applicant side of the courtroom and wait for your name to be called. When your name is called, walk to the applicant table and introduce yourself to the judge.
When the judge asks you, tell the judge:
- you're asking for a protection order;
- that it's urgent; and
- that it's without notice.
For most protection order applications, the victim is the only witness. However, let the judge know if you've brought witnesses (people who'll speak under oath on your behalf). Your witnesses must have first-hand knowledge of the abuse. You can't have witnesses who'll just say things you told them about the abuse.
The judge will ask you to go into the witness box and either swear or affirm. You'll then tell your story to the judge, and give them the reasons why you want a protection order. The judge will ask you questions and expect you to tell your whole story. Be prepared to give details. It's okay to talk about how events made you feel (for example, very scared), as well as what actually happened.
If you have witnesses, they'll then have their turn in the witness box. Stand up when you're asking them questions.
Taking several slow, deep breaths can make you feel less tense.
Get the order
If the judge decides to grant the protection order, the judge will ask the court clerk to write the order for you.
The order will list the exact conditions your partner must follow. A judge can make orders that ban your partner from:
- communicating with you directly or indirectly;
- going to places where you or other family members go, including a school, a business, and a home — even if your partner owns the home; and
- following you or other family members, and
- any other terms that you think are necessary for the safety of you and your children.
The judge could allow some communication, but with set guidelines.
The judge will include in the order that it's a crime to disobey the terms of the order, and that the order can be enforced by the police and RCMP. (This means that if your partner doesn't follow the conditions, they can be arrested and charged with a criminal offence.)
The judge can also:
- tell a police officer to go with you to a house so you can remove your personal belongings;
- tell a police officer to take away weapons from your partner; and
- require your partner to report to court.
The judge can include a date when the order will end. If there's no date on the order, it'll last for one year. The judge might also make an order that could be reviewed, especially if the order is made without notice to the other party. This means the judge will order a date by which the other party is to be served with the documents and a return date for a hearing where the other party can respond.
If you've applied for other orders, the judge can then also make those orders. The orders will be put in a separate document. The protection order can only contain orders about safety.
The protection order is in effect from the moment the judge orders it verbally. Your protection order now has priority over any other existing order such as a parenting order. That means that even if your partner has the right to visit with the children, your partner no longer can if the protection order bans all contact with the children.
After you get the order
Unless the judge orders otherwise, the clerk will prepare the protection order and give copies to the protection order registry (that police can access if necessary) and to you.
It’s a good idea to keep this copy with you. You can show it to the police if your partner doesn’t follow one of the conditions. If the order includes your children, also give a copy to anyone who takes care of them when they aren’t with you, such as their teachers, child care providers, coaches, or other instructors. Tell them to call the police if your partner doesn’t follow the conditions.
The clerk also gives a copy of the protection order to the person against whom the order was made. The clerk arranges personal service with a professional process server to do this.
If the other peson wasn't in court when the order was made, you'll be asked to fill out a Request for Service of Family Protection Order to help the registry arrange service.
If the clerk is unable to arrange for service (for example, because the person lives outside BC, they didn’t get enough information about where the person can be found, or the person is evading service), they’ll tell you to arrange for service of the protection order.
Attend a second hearing, if required
If your partner doesn't agree with the order, they can ask the court to change or cancel the order. Your partner will have to ask the court registry to schedule a hearing. Then, at the hearing, they'll have to show that there's no risk of family violence.
You'll get notice of the hearing and will have to attend. You'll have to talk again about what happened. You can also bring witnesses who saw what happened.
If the judge finds you're at risk for family violence, the order will stay as it was. If your partner convinces the judge there's no risk of family violence, the judge will cancel the order. Sometimes after hearing from both of you, the judge might change the terms of the protection order.
There may be a family duty counsel lawyer in the courtroom on the day of your hearing. If you don't have your own lawyer, duty counsel may be able to speak on your behalf in court even if you didn't qualify for legal aid. Ask the registry staff if duty counsel is available on the day you have your hearing.