Siblings Feuding Over a Business: Can You Get a Domestic Violence Protection Order?

Siblings Feuding Over a Business: Can You Get a Domestic Violence Protection Order?

“It is the purpose of this Act to afford the victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from domestic abuse that the law can provide” (Domestic Violence Act)

When sibling rivalry escalates into physical or psychological abuse, victims should take advantage of the very strong protections offered to them by the Domestic Violence Act (“DVA”). As the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has put it: “…the primary objective of the Act is to provide victims of domestic violence with an effective, uncomplicated, and swift legal remedyand placing upon the courts and law enforcement functionaries’ extensive obligations to assist and protect victims of domestic violence.” (Emphasis supplied)

The DVA, as its name suggests, is there to protect victims where the parties are in a “domestic relationship”. Victims of abuse in business or commercial relationships have other legal remedies, but they aren’t nearly as effective, quick or accessible as a DVA protection order.

So, are the DVA’s protections available to siblings who are not just closely related but are also in some form of commercial or business relationship? A recent High Court decision addressed just that question…

An abusive brother, threats of murder, and a family-owned deli business

  • A 59-year-old brother and his 56-year-old sister were not just siblings, but also had a commercial/business relationship in that the brother and his sister’s husband had been 50/50 partners in a deli business managed by the brother.
  • When her husband died, the sister tried to discuss with her brother payment of monies due to her late husband’s estate from the deli business. The resultant abuse at the hands of her brother led her to obtain a final protection order from the magistrate’s court based on (disputed) allegations of –
  • Sexual molestation by her brother when he was 15 and she was 12;
  • A continuing pattern and history of abuse into adulthood, including an assault in the presence of her two children, minors at the time;
  • Thereafter numerous threats towards her and her adult daughter, including serious threats of murder (with repeated statements that he had actually ordered a “hit” on her for trying to take his business away from him), stories of stalking her and the children with a drone, and intimidating phone calls to her daughter by third parties.
  • The brother appealed the protection order, asking the High Court to set it aside. He denied any wrongdoing and also argued that the DVA did not apply anyway, because he and his sister were not in a “domestic relationship” as defined in the DVA. Their dispute, he said, was really of a commercial nature.
  • The High Court, noting a SCA decision to the effect that “a mere blood relationship” was not enough to establish that the DVA applies, found that in this case the siblings not only had a business relationship as regards the deli, but were also in a “domestic relationship” because of their ongoing meetings about their parents’ wellbeing and care. That brought their relationship and dispute within the realm of the DVA’s protections.
  • As regards the facts, the brother had baldly denied any wrongdoing but had not addressed the various detailed allegations made against him, leading the Court to find him guilty of verbal, emotional, or psychological abuse, harassment and stalking.
  • The main objective of a protection order being “not to punish past misdeeds, but to prevent future misconduct”, the Court confirmed the final protection order accordingly.

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