How Do I Start a Family Law Action in the Provincial Court?

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Starting an action in the Provincial Court is fairly straightfoward. Essentially, you have to fill out a document called an Application to Obtain an Order and file it in the registry of the court closest to you. There are no filing fees, and the court will tell you how to go about serving the other side.

You can get a copy of the Application to Obtain an Order from the court registry for free. The forms are also available online; see the link in the Resources & Links section of this website. The version of the form that you can get from the court registry includes lots of information about how to fill it out, and it really is quite straightfoward.

If you are making a claim for spousal support or child support, you will also have to fill out a form called a Financial Statement. The court registry will provide you with this form. Again, the form is fairly easy to fill out, however, there are certain documents you must gather and attach to the form, including your last three years' worth of tax returns, your most recent paystub, and so forth.

When to Use the Provincial Court[edit]

You should use the Provincial (Family) Court when the issues involve any of the following:

  1. custody and guardianship of children;
  2. access to children;
  3. child support;
  4. spousal support; and,
  5. personal restraining orders against the other party.

When Not to Use the Provincial Court[edit]

The Provincial (Family) Court cannot deal with issues involving assets or debts, nor can the court make divorce orders. Remember too that the Provincial (Family) Court can only deal with claims made under the provincial Family Relations Act.

What Happens Next?[edit]

Once you've filed your application, you or the court will serve it on the other person. Once the other person has been served, he or she will have 30 days to file a form called a Reply, and, if you are making a claim for spousal support or child support, his or her Financial Statement as well. The court will mail you a copy of these documents.

When the court received the other person's Reply, the court will normally set up an appointment for you to meet with a Family Justice Counsellor or schedule a date for an initial meeting with the court, called a first appearance. The Family Justice Counsellor's job is to see what sort of out-of-court options might be appropriate for you and the other person, like mediation. The Counsellor can also prepare consent orders, that is, an order that you and the other person both agree the court should make.

If you are unable to reach an agreement after seeing the Family Justice Counsellor, you can ask to be referred to a judge for a hearing of the issues. The court registry will book a time for the hearing and send a notice of the hearing to you and the other side.

Normally referred to as the "Supreme Court of British Columbia," this court hears most of the trials in this province. The Supreme Court is a court of inherent jurisdiction and has no limits on the sorts of claims it can hear or on the sorts of orders it can make. Decisions of the Provincial Court are appealed to the Supreme Court; decisions of the Supreme Court are appealed to the Court of Appeal. See "Court of Appeal," "jurisdiction," "Provincial Court" and "Supreme Court of Canada."

A court established and staffed by the provincial government, which includes Small Claims Court, Youth Court, and Family Court. The Provincial Court is the lowest level of court in British Columbia and is restricted in the sorts of matters it can deal with. It is, however, the most accessible of the two trial courts and no fees are charged to begin or defend a family law proceeding. The Family Court of the Provincial Court cannot deal with the division of family property or any claims under the Divorce Act. See "Divorce Act," "judge" and "jurisdiction."

A court proceeding in which one party sues another for a specific remedy or relief, also called a "lawsuit" or a "case." An action for divorce, for example, is a court proceeding in which the claimant sues the respondent for the relief of a divorce order.

A legal document required by the Provincial Court Family Rules to start a court proceeding which sets out the relief sought by the applicant against the person named as respondent. See "action," "applicant," "pleadings," "relief" and "respondent."

(1) A central office, located in each judicial district, at which the court files for each court proceeding in that district are maintained, and at which legal documents can be filed, searched, and reviewed, or (2) a courthouse.

A central office, located in each judicial district, at which the court files for each court proceeding in that district are maintained, and at which legal documents can be filed, searched and reviewed.

(1) The assertion of a legal right to an order or to a thing; (2) the remedy or relief sought by a party to a court proceeding.

A payment made by one spouse to the other spouse to help with the recipient's day-to-day living expenses or to compensate the recipient for the financial choices the spouses made during the relationship.

Money paid by one parent or guardian to another parent or guardian as a contribution toward the cost of a child's living and other expenses.

A legal document required by the rules of court in which a party to a court proceeding involving child support, spousal support, the division of property, or the division of debt must describe their income, expenses, assets, and liabilities under oath or affirmation. See "affirm," "oath," and "perjury."

In family law, an antiquated term used by the Divorce Act to describe the right to possess a child and make parenting decisions concerning the child's health, welfare and upbringing. See "access."

Under the Divorce Act, the schedule of a parent's time with their children under an order or agreement. Access usually refers to the schedule of the parent with the least amount of time with the child. See "custody."

In law, a person named as an applicant, claimant, respondent, or third party in a court proceeding; someone asserting a claim in a court proceeding or against whom a claim has been brought. See "action" and "litigant."

The legal termination of a valid marriage by an order of a judge; the ending of a marital relationship and the conjugal obligations of each spouse to the other. See "conjugal rights," "marriage" and "marriage, validity of."

A request to the court that it make a specific order, usually on an interim or temporary basis, also called a "chambers application" or a "motion." See also "interim application" and "relief."

A legal document required by the Provincial Court Family Rules to respond to a claim made in an applicant's Application to Obtain an Order. See "applicant," "Application to Obtain an Order," "claim" and "Counterclaim."

A dispute resolution process in which a specially-trained neutral person facilitates discussions between the parties to a legal dispute and helps them reach a compromise settling the dispute. See "alternative dispute resolution" and "family law mediator."

A mandatory direction of the court that is binding and enforceable upon the parties to a court proceeding. An "interim order" is a temporary order made following the hearing of an interim application. A "final order" is a permanent order, made following the trial of the court proceeding or the parties' settlement, following which the only recourse open to a dissatisfied party is to appeal. Failing to abide by the terms of an order may constitute contempt of court. See "appeal," "consent order," "contempt of court," "decision" and "declaration."

A person appointed by the federal or provincial government to manage and decide court proceedings in an impartial manner, independent of influence by the parties, the government, or agents of the government. The decisions of a judge are binding upon the parties to the proceeding, subject to appeal.

In law, any proceeding before a judicial official to determine questions of law and questions of fact, including the hearing of an application and the hearing of a trial. See "decision."

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