You can apply for a family law protection order in family court (in either Provincial Court or Supreme Court) if:
- you've experienced family violence, or
- you think there's a risk of family violence.
The protection order can be to protect you or any other family member who's at risk.
A protection order made in BC usually applies only in BC (not the rest of Canada).
What is family violence?
Family violence is violence by a family member that includes:
- abusing you or a family member physically, sexually, emotionally, financially, or psychologically
- following or stalking you
- harassing you through social media, text message, email, phone, or in-person
- damaging your property
- exposing your children to family violence
The law says a family member can be:
- someone you are or were married to
- someone you live or lived with in a marriage-like relationship (you might call it a common-law relationship)
- your children's other parent or legal guardian
- a relative of your spouse who lives with them
- a relative of your children's other parent or legal guardian who lives with them
- a relative of yours who lives with you
- your own children
What does a protection order say?
A protection order can tell the person named in the order:
- to stay away from your home, workplace, school, or other places where you, your children, or other family members spend time
- not to contact you, your children, or other family members who might be in danger
- not to follow you, your children, or other family members
- not to have a weapon
It can also say that the police can:
- go with you to your home if you need to get your personal belongings, or
- make the person named in the order leave the family home.
How do you get a protection order?
While applying for a protection order, you may want to consider getting:
- help from a community support organization to make a safety plan, and
- legal advice from a lawyer to assist you in your application for an order.
Usually you apply for a protection order in BC Provincial Court. It's free to apply for one there. Provincial Court is less complicated to navigate than Supreme Court if you're self-represented (if you don't have a lawyer).
If you already have a case going on Supreme Court, you can apply to Supreme Court for a protection order. But you don’t have to. Even if you have a file open in Supreme Court, you can apply for a protection order in Provincial Court to save money, and to go through an easier process.
In both courts you can apply:
- just for a protection order, or
- for a protection order at the same time you apply for other family court orders.
A protection order can only include orders about safety. Anything else, such as parenting time or support, needs to be in a separate order. Only Supreme Court can make orders dealing with property.
The judge can make the order even if you haven't applied for one if:
- you're before the judge for another reason, and
- the judge decides you need a protection order.
Do you have to tell the other person you're applying for one?
You don't need to give notice (tell the other person) that you're applying for a protection order if it would put you in more danger.
But once you have the protection order, the registry will get a sheriff to serve (give) the protection order to the other person. If you think the sheriff won’t be successful because the other person is in another country or might try to hide from the sheriff, it’s important to tell the court this. You can suggest a different way such as using email or by leaving it at their family member's house. Make sure you tell the court why you feel certain that this different way will work.
Once the order is served, the other person can go to court and ask for the order to be cancelled or changed. If they can show that there's no risk of family violence, the order will be set aside (cancelled).
What do you do with the order?
Once you have your protection order:
- keep a copy of it with you all the time so you can show it to the police if the other person doesn't follow one of the conditions; and
- keep a certified copy of the Affidavit of Service with you all the time so you can prove that the person named in the order was properly served and knows about it. If you have to contact the police, they might ask for proof that the other person knows about the order.
How long does a protection order last?
A protection order lasts for one year unless the judge puts another date on the order. That could be longer or shorter than one year.
What happens if your protection order says something different from another court order?
You have to do what the protection order says, even if it says something different from any other court orders you have.
For example, if you have a parenting order that's different from the protection order:
- the protection order must be obeyed first, and
- the parenting order goes on hold until the protection order ends (even if the parenting order was made before the protection order was made).
So, for example, if there's an order under the Family Law Act that says your spouse can see the children but the protection order says they can't, your spouse can't see the children while the protection order is valid.
What if the other person doesn't obey the protection order?
If the other person breaches (doesn't obey) the protection order, call the police. The police can arrest them and charge them with a criminal offence. The protection order explains this.
When a situation settles down, spouses sometimes want to see each other after a protection order is made. Even if you want them to contact you, they could be arrested. They’ll be “in breach” of the order even if you invite them to visit you. (You wouldn't be arrested, because the order isn't against you.)
If an order is in place to protect you, and you invite the other party to visit, you can still call the police if the visit gets dangerous for you.
Be aware, that if you’re involved in the child protection system, the Ministry of Children and Family Development may question your judgment if you continue to bring an abusive person around you and your children when a protection order is in place.
What if you want to change the protection order?
What is the Protection Order Registry?
In BC, protection orders made by BC courts are added to a confidential computer database called the Protection Order Registry. This means the police can get up-to-date information about your order 24 hours a day if you call them.
To get more information about your protection order, you can contact the provincial Victim Safety Unit by calling 604-660-0316 (Greater Vancouver) or 1-877-315-8822 (elsewhere in BC).
Can you get legal help to apply for a protection order?
If you apply for a family law protection order, it's best to have a family law lawyer help you go to court and advise you about all the options for protection. You can hire a lawyer or talk to Legal Aid to find out if you can get a free lawyer.
To find out more, see:
- Apply for a family law protection order without notice
- For Your Protection: Peace bonds and family law protection orders
- Protection Orders in Live Safe, End Abuse
WorkSafeBC also has a list of resources about personal safety in the workplace.
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