Apply for a family law protection order

Introduction

Who this guide is for

If you're in immediate danger, call 911.

If you don't have 911 service in your area, call the emergency number for the police or RCMP that's inside the front cover of your phone book.

You have the right to ask the police to help keep you safe.

If your case is in Victoria, you will follow different procedures. See Family matters at the Victoria Courthouse.

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 the order quickly, without letting the person named in the order know what you're doing.

Although you might feel afraid and alone, there are trained people ready to help you wherever you live in BC. Before you apply for a protection order, take advantage of the emotional and practical support available for you. It's important to think carefully about your situation and make a safety plan. 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.

See Family law protection orders for more information about who the law says is a "family member" in this situation.

A family law protection order lists conditions the person named in the order must follow, which usually includes that they can't contact you. This guide tells you how to apply for a protection order: it walks you through dealing with the forms, appearing in court, and what to do after you get the order.

The steps in this guide explain how to apply for an order if you don't want the other person to know in advance what you're doing (called an "order without notice"). You may still live with your partner and/or fear their reaction. You can also ask to have your application handled quickly (on an "urgent" basis) if you feel it isn’t safe to wait to get the order.

You can choose not to apply this way; the difference is that you must let your partner know the date of the court hearing and then you'll both attend that 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.

This guide covers the Provincial Court process. See Chapter 4 of For Your Protection: Peace Bonds and Family Law Protection Orders for information about applying in Supreme Court.

Understand the risk

It's very important to think about your future safety. A protection order may not control someone's behaviour. There may also be limits to what the police can do.

Be aware of which situations pose the most serious risk for future violence. It can be dangerous if you've recently separated, recently started a legal process, and/or the family member you want protection from has ever:

  • threatened to harm you,
  • threatened to harm himself,
  • stalked you,
  • acted with extreme jealousy,
  • choked or tried to strangle you, and/or
  • shown violence or neglect toward household pets.

Please get support and safety for yourself and your children (or other family members), if any of these situations apply to you. See the services below.

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.

VictimLink BC 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
  • advocates
  • 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 (call no charge, elsewhere in BC)

BC Society of Transition Houses
604-669-6943 (Greater Vancouver)
1-800-661-1040 (call no charge, elsewhere in BC)

Ending Violence Association of BC (EVA BC)
604-633-2506

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:

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Make a safety plan

You can make a safety plan to protect yourself, your children, and other family members who may be at risk of abuse. Making a safety plan is an important way to start getting control over your life.

A safety plan is made up of actions you can take to improve safety for yourself and your children. 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.

To start, you need to get information about emergency services in your area. Talk over and shape your plan with people who can help you. Then, talk to your children about what they need to know.

It's best to ask an advocate or victim service worker to help you make a safety plan.

Ways to protect yourself if you haven't left

  • 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).
  • 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

  • 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.

More information

For more information about planning for your safety, see:

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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. Asking the police for a peace bond may be a better option in your situation. See the fact sheet Peace bonds and family law protection orders

Then, if you do apply for a family law protection order, it's best to have a family law lawyer help you go to court if possible.

This guide explains all the steps for applying and the court process that follows. You can 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 (call no charge, 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

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Get ready to make your application

Start by making 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);
  • details of your relationship to the person you want to be protected from:
    • how long you've lived together (include dates), and/or
    • when in the past you lived together (if at all); and
  • names and birth dates of any children you have together, where they normally live, and who they're living with now.

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 can apply for a protection order on its own or when you're applying for other family court orders.

Where to find the forms you need

To apply for a family law protection order in Provincial Court, you need four forms:

These forms (and instructions) are stored on the Court Services website. We link to them here for your convenience.

You can also get free printed forms at the Provincial Court registry in your area. See BC Provincial Court Locations and Hours for a map and list of BC Provincial Court addresses.

If you download the forms from the links above, you'll have to make several copies of everything (see Step 7). If you use printed forms from the registry, all the copies that you need are already included in the forms booklet.

You'll often be referred to as the applicant in these forms — and your partner (who'll eventually have a chance to respond to your application) will be called the respondent.

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Fill out your application form

If you've already filed an Application to Obtain an Order form that included asking for a protection order, go straight to Step 5.

If you filed the form but didn't ask for a protection order, you'll need to fill out another Application to Obtain an Order form to ask for a protection order.

The first form you fill out is an Application to Obtain an Order (Form 1). This form is used to start any Provincial Court case (including one for parenting and support orders).

Here's what you need to know:

  • 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.
  • Tick "protection order" where it says "I am applying for." (If you're applying for any other orders at the same time, tick those boxes as well.)
  • Fill in sections 1 to 4. In section 2, name all the children you want to protect, not just those who were involved in a specific incident. In section 4, fill in the conditions you want in the protection order. You can look at a blank Protection Order to help you decide what conditions you want the judge to order your partner to follow.

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Fill out three more forms

Notice of Motion

Use the Notice of Motion (Form 16) to start your application for a protection order. A notice of motion is used to get certain types of court orders.

Here's how you fill it in:

The "address for service" should be the same as on your Application to Obtain an Order.

For the protection order, show the court what you're asking for by ticking the following boxes:

  • An order shortening or extending a time limit set out in the Provincial Court (Family) Rules. Tick and write "urgent without notice hearing" beside this line.
  • An interim order under section 216 or 217 of the Family Law Act. Tick this box (protection orders are "interim" orders).
  • Other order.
    Write "Protection Order." After Details of order(s) requested, write what you want to have in the order, if possible.
    • For example, "Not to have contact direct or indirect with applicant or children; not attend at home of applicant, or be within two blocks of home of applicant.”
    • If you need more room, write "See attached page 2." Then write what you want in the order on a separate page, put a "2" at the top of it, and attach it to the Notice of Motion. You can look at a blank Protection Order to help you decide what conditions you want the judge to order your partner to follow.
It's very important to let the judge know exactly what you want in the order. Be very clear about the conditions you need to feel safe.
  • Any affidavits in support of this notice of motion are attached.
    Tick this because you'll be attaching an affidavit.
Applying for other court orders — You may apply for other family court orders at the same time as you apply for a protection order. Put the other order(s) that you need on your Notice of Motion (for example, an order for your partner to have only supervised parenting time with the children). Use the section of the form under "Other order," and continue as described above. (See our other self-help guides for more information about other orders you may want.)
  • There's a space on the Notice of Motion to write down the date and time of the hearing. When you file the Notice of Motion at the court registry, they'll tell you when the hearing will be and you can fill that part in.

Affidavit

The Affidavit (Form 17) is a document that states facts that you'll later swear under oath or affirm to be true (Step 6).

  • I make this affidavit in relation to an application by
    Fill in your name and after for fill in "a protection order."
  • Tick I am making the application.

On the lines beside "What are the facts?" write down all the facts about what happened to make you want protection. Put in what you know about directly. 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 in the Affidavit that the information is from other people, and that you believe it to be true.

You also need to say 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 affidavit. The judge will consider how you feel as well as the facts of what happened.

Number your paragraphs. If you handwrite your affidavit, make sure your writing is neat and easy to read.

For more help, see How do you write an affidavit?. Please note that registry staff can't help you write your affidavit.

Don't sign the affidavit yet.

Request for Service of Family Protection Order

The Request for Service of Family Protection Order (Form PFA 916) is a document that asks the court to arrange to serve (deliver) the order on the other party to avoid putting anyone at risk.

The information you put into this form will help the process server locate and identify the other party to serve the order on them.

If you fill in the section Notice of Successful Service, the process server will contact you to confirm that the other party has received the order.

Provide as much detail as you can in the section Documents to be Served On. If there are details you don't know, leave those sections blank.

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Swear the affidavit

Your next step is to swear or affirm that what you've written in the affidavit is true. You have to do this in front of a lawyer, notary public, or commissioner for taking affidavits.

Some staff at Provincial Court family registries (or at a government agent's office) are commissioners for taking affidavits and if they are, they provide this service for free. Or you can find a lawyer or notary by looking in the yellow pages under "Lawyers" or "Notaries Public." Phone first to ask how much they'll charge for this service. Some people charge a lot more than others. See Who can swear an affidavit?.

Take picture identification with you, such as a BC identity card, BC Services Card, a driver's licence, or a passport.

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Make copies of the documents

You need three copies in total of each of these:

  • Application to Obtain an Order (Form 1)
  • Notice of Motion (Form 16)
  • Affidavit (Form 17)
  • Request for Service of Family Protection Order (Form PFA 916)

If you downloaded the forms from the Internet, you'll need to make two copies of the originals, for a total of three copies of each document. If you got your forms from the registry, you won't have to make copies.

You file the originals with the registry and keep the other two copies. The set that you give to the registry is called the "court file copy."

The registry doesn't photocopy documents. You can photocopy your documents yourself at a public library or look in the yellow pages under "Copying and Duplicating Services" to find a place. Phone first to ask how much they'll charge for this service. Some places charge much more than others.

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File your forms and ask for an urgent without notice hearing

You must tell the registry staff when you go to 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. Ask for an urgent order without notice.

Usually, when you ask the court to make orders, you must let the other person (the respondent) know by serving the documents (arranging the delivery to them of copies of all the forms). Then you must wait for them to respond before you can go to court. But if something is urgent or there are special circumstances, a judge can make an order without you serving the other person. Lawyers call this an "ex parte order" or an "order without notice." And, if you need to get an order quickly, the court registry staff will schedule a hearing date "urgently."

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'll give you an early hearing date, and you won't have to serve the application on your partner.

Later, once you have the family law protection order, the court will arrange to have someone serve it on your partner (Step 11).

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Attend the hearing

Who is in the court

Here is a diagram of the interior of most Family Courts in British Columbia.

A diagram showing the layout of most BC family courts
The layout of most BC family courts

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 applicant area, but the person you're seeking protection from won't be in the respondent area.

See also the fact sheet Can you take a support person to Provincial Court?.

General guidelines

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 Application to Obtain an Order, Notice of Motion, Affidavit, any other court documents you may have, 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.

Duty counsel

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.

Sheriffs at courthouses provide support for people who are concerned about safety. Contact Sheriff Services at your courthouse if you would like to discuss safety planning and/or have someone accompany you at a court appearance.

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Get the order

If the judge decides to grant the protection order, the judge will ask the court clerk to draft (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.

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.
Remember that it's very important that the conditions in the order are very clear. Listen carefully to make sure that the judge is including all the details that you want in the order.

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.

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.

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.

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Make sure your order is registered

Check that your order is registered

The court will register your protection order with the central Protection Order Registry and have it served by personal service on your partner. You must not serve the order yourself.

This means that if you have to call the police about your partner, the police can quickly find out about the conditions in your protection order.

To make sure your order is registered and correct, call VictimLink BC at 1-800-563-0808 (no charge, 24 hours, seven days a week).

Get an Affidavit of Service

It's also important to have proof that the order was served on your partner. When you filled out the Request for Service of Family Protection Order in Step 5, you probably filled out the top part that asks for notice of successful service. You can also ask the court registry for a certified copy of the Affidavit of Service. Keep the notice or Affidavit of Service you receive with your order.

Keep your order and affidavit safe

Remember to ask your lawyer or the court staff for a copy of the order and read it carefully to make sure you understand the conditions. It's important to keep this copy with you at all times. You can show it to the police if your partner doesn't follow one of the conditions, or for another reason. Also keep a copy of the Affidavit of Service with your order. The police may ask for the affidavit to prove that the order has been served when they're enforcing the order.

If the order includes your children, give copies to anyone who takes care of them when they aren't with you — their teachers, child care providers, coaches, or other instructors. Tell them to call the police if your partner doesn't follow the conditions in the order.

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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.

Duty counsel

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.

A family law protection order lasts for one year or as long as the judge set it for. If you still fear for your safety and your order is about to end, talk to a lawyer or legal aid about getting another family law protection order.

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