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Court harassment, family violence, and the Family Law Act

upset couple

Family law cases can be very contentious. There is a lot of emotion involved in these cases and, unfortunately, some people find it hard to see the forest for the trees when they’re involved in a case that involves their children or a former partner.

Sometimes this can lead to court harassment. Court harassment is when one person uses the legal system to harass the other party. This could, for example, be someone filing multiple unnecessary court applications as a way to waste their ex’s time and money. A case like this made its way through BC’s Supreme Court recently, and the ruling has important implications for family law cases in BC.

The case, M.W.B. v. A.R.B, looks at a couple who continued to go to court even after their divorce. Over the two and a half years since their divorce, the wife had delayed the sale of joint property (leading to a loss in value), hindered the father’s access to his children, and was the cause of four additional court hearings. The main point of contention in this case, however, was the father’s application to have one of the two children relocate across the province to live with him.

The interesting bit comes in here though; while the case had previously been started under the Family Relations Act, by the time it was heard, the Family Law Act applied. The new act mandates that the best interests of the child is the only factor that can be taken into account in parenting matters. One of the factors in determining the child’s best interests is the presence of family violence.

Family violence has a broader definition than just physical abuse. For this case, the judge homed in on the part of the definition that outlines emotional and psychological abuse; this includes harassment, restriction on a family member’s financial autonomy, intentional damage to property, and more. The judge ruled that the wife’s actions constituted harassment and was a form of family abuse — her actions caused financial and health issues for the husband, which indirectly affected the children’s best interests. The husband won the case.

What this means is that the court now has three ways of dealing with court harassment:

  1. The court can make an order to stop someone from taking further steps in a case if they are found to be misusing the court process.
  2. The court can strike an application or adjourn a proceeding until an order is complied with.
  3. As in this case, the court could determine that one party’s actions constitute family violence and take that into account to determine the child’s best interests or make a protection order.

For a full rundown of the judgment, you can read JP Boyd’s excellent post.

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