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Family Law Blog

The Impact of Spousal Abuse on Divorce

The Impact of Spousal Abuse on Divorce

Spousal Abuse is a silent epidemic that’s impacting a devastatingly large number of Canadians. While it’s not an easy topic to discuss, we believe it’s important to shine a light on this issue, and reveal the suffering that many people are silently dealing with. According to Statistics Canada, 44 per cent of women who have ever been in an intimate partner relationship (approximately 6.2 million women) reported experiencing some kind of psychological, physical, or sexual abuse in the context of their relationship.

While this isn’t a phenomenon that’s exclusively suffered by women, the statistics overwhelmingly show that it’s a crisis mostly suffered by them. 79 per cent of those who reported intimate partner violence (IPV) to police in 2019 were women.

Many of the victims of spousal abuse are engaged in long term relationships and are unsure of their legal rights when it comes to family law issues such as divorce and parenting arrangements. BC’s Family Law Act provides that family violence must be considered in relation to parenting matters, and also provides a mechanism for seeking protection from further violence. 

In this week’s blog, we’ll examine how spousal abuse impacts upon divorce. Knowing your legal rights will improve your ability to make choices to keep yourself and your children safe.

Spousal Abuse and the Family Law Act

BC’s Family Law act provides the legal mechanism to deal with spousal abuse and family violence. Section 1 of the Family Law Act defines the term family violence as any of the following:

  • physical abuse of a family member, including forced confinement or deprivation of the necessities of life, but not including the use of reasonable force to protect oneself or others from harm,
  • sexual abuse of a family member,
  • attempts to physically or sexually abuse a family member,
  • psychological or emotional abuse of a family member, including
  • intimidation, harassment, coercion or threats, including threats respecting other persons, pets or property,
  • unreasonable restrictions on, or prevention of, a family member's financial or personal autonomy,
  • stalking or following of the family member,
  • intentional damage to property, and
  • in the case of a child, direct or indirect exposure to family violence

Using the Family Law Act for Protection

The Family Law Act enables a person to seek what is called a ‘Protection Order’ against a family member. Protection Orders typically include restrictions on the family member’s ability to contact the protected person, including restrictions on attending at or near the residence or workplace of the protected person. In Section 183(1), an at-risk family member, someone on behalf of an at-risk family member, or the court itself can ask for a protection order.

It’s worth noting that people who are just dating, or engaged in a non-spousal relationship, aren’t considered family members under the Family Law act. They are unable to apply for a protection order under family law legislation. 

Getting a Protection Order

When a court is petitioned by a spouse to make a protection order, they consider the following risk factors:

  • any history of family violence by the family member against whom the order is made;
  • whether any family violence is repetitive or escalating;
  • whether any psychological or emotional abuse constitutes, or is evidence of, a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour directed at the at-risk family member
  • the current status of the relationship between the family member against whom the order is being made and the at-risk family member, including any recent separation or intention to separate;
  • any factors that may increase the risk of family violence by that family member, including substance abuse, employment or financial problems, mental health problems, access to weapons or a history of violence;
  • the at-risk family member’s perception of their own risk;
  • any circumstances that may increase the at-risk family member’s vulnerability, including pregnancy, age, health or economic dependence

Speak to a Family Law Expert

If you’re dealing with spousal abuse, the team at Westside Family Law are standing by to help you in a discreet and compassionate manner. Contact us and we’ll be happy to go over your options. Your safety is our top priority.