Canadian Journal of Family Law

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With the implementation of the Family Law Act in 2013, the family legal system in British Columbia saw a series of progressive reforms. These include the recognition of emotional, psychological, and financial control as family violence, a new protection order process to replace the limited restraining orders formerly available to abuse victims, a mandate that courts consider how exposure to family violence impacts children, and minimum mandatory training standards for family dispute resolution professionals. While there has been a great deal of legal commentary on these new provisions, there is a paucity of scholarly research documenting the experiences of frontline workers who support abused women. We address this lacuna, drawing on in-depth interviews with family lawyers and frontline advocates who assist women exiting violent relationships in greater Vancouver. Our findings highlight the many challenges facing women in the family law system and suggest that the perceived unfairness many women experience is neither accidental nor uncommon. Rather, structural barriers to getting into the courtroom, in addition to widespread judicial ignorance about family law and family violence disadvantage women seeking just separations from abusive partners. To better meet the needs of abused women in greater Vancouver, increased funding for legal aid and support services, mandatory family violence training for judges making decisions on family files, and the transformation of victim-blaming attitudes within and beyond the courtroom are needed.