An Example of How Family Violence is Addressed in Family Law
There’s no doubt: Family law disputes can get nasty. Emotions run high, and intemperate conduct can quickly escalate. A recent B.C. case addressed illustrated the type of misbehaviour that can result in one spouse getting a protection order against the other.
The wealthy couple – who owned assets around the world estimated to be worth $50 million – were in the midst of a very high-conflict matrimonial proceeding. They were scheduled for an upcoming trial to decide their property division matters, and their child support issues in relation to their 17-year old daughter.
The wife had earlier obtained a protection order against the husband, under the provincial Family Law Act. To do so, she established to the court’s satisfaction that she was an “at-risk person” whose safety and security was likely at risk from family violence carried out by the husband. The court described the contents of that order:
The protection order included the following terms: it restrained the [husband] from attending at the family home in West Vancouver or [their daughter’s] school with a police assistance clause; it restrained the [husband] from possessing a weapon or firearms; it authorized the police to seize any such weapons and, for that purpose, the [husband] was required to provide the security code to the gun safe in the family home to the [wife’s] counsel; and, it restrained the [husband] from communicating with the [wife or daughter], save through counsel. The protection order was stated to expire after one year …
The protection order had been made necessary by the abusive conduct of the husband mainly toward the wife, but sometimes directed at their daughter as well. The court encapsulated that misconduct this way:
The vitriolic and abusive comments of the [husband] directed at the [wife] continued and continues to this day. The description of these communications by the [husband] by his counsel as “intemperate” hardly does justice to the word. He alleges, as of late May 2017, that the [wife] is “fat and laid back” and that she was a prostitute. These past and continuing comments are simply abusive, vile and hateful.
Nonetheless, about nine months after the order was granted, the husband applied to the court to have it set aside.
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The court reviewed the provisions of the provincial Family legislation dealing with protection orders, noting that the criteria included consideration of whether family violence “is likely to occur” against an at-risk family member. In making this assessment the court was entitled to consider several factors, including: any history of family violence; whether it is repetitive or escalating; whether there is a pattern of abuse or controlling behavior; and the couple’s recent separation. The court noted that for these purposes, “family violence” was defined to include psychological or emotional abuse (including intimidation, harassment, coercion or threats) and unreasonable restrictions on, or prevention of, a family member’s financial or personal autonomy.
In terms of satisfying those criteria, the court described only some of the evidence put forward by the wife:
The evidence of the [wife] in her Affidavit … is replete with instances where the [husband] has directed both psychological and emotional abuse toward both her and [the daughter]. He has repeatedly threatened, intimidated and humiliated both of them. It appears that this controlling behavior on the part of the [husband] began at least as early as September 2015 and escalated to the time of the filing of the Notice of Family Claim.
There was a visit by the [husband] in late April 2016 which was strained to say the least. During that visit, the [husband] was screaming at [the daughter] such that the [wife] was concerned that he was going to hit their daughter. The [wife] tried to push the [husband] and the [husband] shoved her out of the way.
I had no hesitation in August 2016 in finding that the actions of the [husband] toward the [wife] and [the daughter] in the period leading to August 2016 constituted family violence.
Likewise, the court rejected the notion that the provisions dealing with firearms prohibition were overreaching in these circumstances.
In doing so, the court considered the husband’s argument that the initial protection order had been premature, since he was currently living in Singapore and there was no evidence that he planned to show up in Vancouver (where the wife and daughter lived) to harass them.
The court pointed out that – to the contrary – the husband had sent the wife an email asking for keys to their Vancouver condominium, and stating that he planned to go there within two months. The court added:
To accept the [husband]’s argument is to contend that the [wife] had to wait until he showed up on the doorstop of the West Vancouver family home before she could allege urgency. The evidence established that the [husband] came to Vancouver on a regular basis and, given the acrimony in their relationship, the [wife] could not have expected that she would be given sufficient notice of a visit to seek a protection order. There was also ample evidence to support that giving notice of an application seeking a protection order would have exposed the [wife] and [the daughter] to further abuse and threats and possible physical altercations.
After stating that it was more than satisfied that the initial protection order had been well-supported by the evidence, the court dismissed the husband’s application to have it set aside.
(Note that although Devathasan v. Devathasan is a B.C. case, an analogous remedy is also available in Ontario, where in certain circumstance a spouse, partner, or someone with whom the person had a child, can apply to the Family Court for a restraining order. The person making the application must prove reasonable grounds for fearing for his or her safety or that of any child in the person’s custody. This is established through affidavit or oral evidence presented to the court.)
These types of orders are aimed at protecting family members who are at risk. Are they the right solution? What are your thoughts?
For the full text of the decision, see: