Protection Orders are orders sought in family proceedings by intimate partners who have a fear for their personal safety based on the words or actions of their spouse that meets the legal definition of “family violence”. The first question that people should have is, what is “family violence”. When listening to the term, the image of the classic domestic abuser comes to mind. Violence means physical violence. However, the Family Law Act has a broad definition of family violence and it would be beneficial for people to understand the definition in order to modulate their behavior. I have included the definition of family violence below:
“Family violence” includes
(a) 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,
(b) sexual abuse of a family member,
(c) attempts to physically or sexually abuse a family member,
(d) psychological or emotional abuse of a family member, including
(i) intimidation, harassment, coercion or threats, including threats respecting other persons, pets or property,
(ii) unreasonable restrictions on, or prevention of, a family member’s financial or personal autonomy,
(iii) stalking or following of the family member, and
(iv) intentional damage to property, and
(e) in the case of a child, direct or indirect exposure to family violence;
Family violence includes the kinds of acts that one would expect including physical and sexual abuse. However, psychological and emotional abuse can be considered family violence and this can include repeated harassing messages and veiled threats, not just direct threats. Furthermore, the action of restraining finances and creating financial distress can be seen as acts of family violence. Finally, the case of access to a child is the direct and indirect exposure to family violence. Which means that the family violence committed against the spouse can indirectly affect the child and can impact on the ultimate order granted relating to access. This means that a person’s behavior during the breakdown of the relationship could have a serious impact on the entirety of the family case and indeed, the rest of their lives.
That impact could be a need to attend counseling, which will be a significant cost in terms of time and money. Anger Management courses and counseling are often close to $100 per session and demand at least 5 sessions. That expense can build up and cause economic hardship. The most serious impact could be a court order that limits one’s access to their kids. However, other orders may hinder a person’s ability to assert property rights and limit the ability to contact their family. And if there is a breach, a criminal investigation, arrest and a criminal record could be a consequence. Protection Orders are considered very serious because they are made when the court finds that it has a “reasonable fear” of the person under the order that they will commit family violence in the future. This finding could lead to orders that the client may not be able to live with. I urge all people to keep this in mind in the aftermath of a breakup.
The bottom line is that people need to take a breath and look in the mirror and think about the possible downside to behaving in response to how they feel while in pain after a breakup. There are thoughts that swirl around in the mind that lead people down a dark path and cause them to hurt the people they love out of pain. The best advice that I have for clients is to try and see their spouse and try to develop a friendly relationship. It is alright to feel angry, upset, sad, frustrated and anxious. What people must keep in mind is that there is a need to keep things civil when splitting up for their own best interest. If people give into those negative emotions that can lead to withholding money, engaging in arguments, restricting finances, avoidance of paying bills, and repeatedly calling, texting and emailing with offensive if not threatening language. The point is stop and think and know that in the end that behavior could impact the family case in the future in ways that you would regret.
Many mocked the “conscious uncoupling” of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin as a ridiculous new age term for a breakup. However, though the language sounds farcical it is actually something that may be useful in considering. The reason I say this is that there is a level of objectivity and intellect that must be used in preparing to break up with a spouse because the moments at the end of a relationship may set the stage for how the relationship evolves after the breakup years into the future. For example, I have seen people who want to get along and move on with their ex-spouse, but the ex-spouse is angry and begins to do things that impact the relationship. Then they enter litigation, which can have the effect to exaggerating those feelings to the point where not only is the relationship dead but the civil relationship that could have been dies also. This is what leads to a spiteful “War of the Roses”. It must always be on your mind if you are going through a split that civility is always viewed by the court positively and though you may not have the immediate satisfaction of resolving you anger, in the end you will have a better relationship with your spouse, your kids and a better court order.
The best course of action with respect to protection orders is treating everyone with respect. Ironically, taking the high road tends to be very good in the long term.