I Have a Family Problem and I Want to Resolve It out of Court
| Alert: Extensive changes to family law in British Columbia came into effect on March 18, 2013. The changes include additional supports for people to settle their family law cases without having to go before a judge. JP Boyd on Family Law has extensive, updated coverage of Resolving Family Law Problems out of Court.
There are many alternatives to going to court if you have a family law problem. Most family law problems are resolved out of court. However, legal advice or assistance is usually important to making fair agreements.
Families come to an agreement on their own, often through mediation or with the help of services available to help people resolve issues outside the courtroom. Mediation is an approach to solving problems in which a third party (a mediator) helps people with family law problems reach a resolution without going to court. A mediator is a person who is specially trained to help people resolve conflict.
Among the services available to help people resolve family issues without having to go to court are:
- Family justice counsellors: At Family Justice Centres, family justice counsellors are available to provide information, conduct mediations, and assist with writing separation agreements. Family justice counsellors can assist with family issues such as guardianship, parenting arrangements, contact and support. They cannot assist with getting a divorce order or division of property.
- Family advice lawyers: At some Family Justice Centres, the counsellors can refer you to family advice lawyers provided by the Legal Services Society for parents with low incomes. There is also initial legal advice provided by lawyers through Access Pro Bono and other organizations.
- Family LawLINE: If you are a person with a low income and a family law problem, you may be eligible for brief over-the-phone "next step" advice through the Family LawLINE about family law issues such as parenting, child and spousal support, property division, family agreements, and adoption.
- Family mediators: Most family mediators are professionals in private practice who assist couples in trying to resolve their family issues by agreement. Some family mediators are also family law lawyers. They almost always charge for their services.
- Collaborative family law: This approach involves the spouses and their lawyers signing an agreement that they will work together and make their best efforts to resolve their matter, and to create the best situation for their children, but that if one of them takes the matter to court, both lawyers must resign and the spouses must get new lawyers.
|For help with challenges in caring for children, see "I am having challenges with my children and don't want the Ministry to remove them" in this Guide.|
- Decide if the situation you are facing is one that can be safely and fairly resolved without involving lawyers and the courts. If the other party has dominated, harassed or abused you or your children, or has denied you the parenting time that you are entitled to, it may be difficult to resolve your problems fairly without going to court. It is best to speak with a lawyer, advocate or family counsellor for advice on whether your problem is one that can probably be resolved out of court.
- To meet with a family justice counsellor, contact a Family Justice Centre and make an appointment to speak with a counsellor. Some Family Justice Centres have specialists in child support called child support officers. You can ask your family justice counsellor if a child support officer can be involved in your case.
- Call the Family LawLINE to see if you qualify for "next step" advice from a LawLINE lawyer (contact details are in the Resource List).
- To find a mediator in your area, look in the Yellow Pages or on the Mediate BC website (click on the "Directory of Family Mediators" link).
What happens next
If you meet with a family justice counsellor or a family mediator, they will discuss your options. They can contact your ex to see if he or she agrees to resolve your issues out of court. If so, the counsellor or mediator will communicate with both of you separately or together to help you reach an agreement. If it appears that you cannot resolve your matter outside of court, a family justice counsellor may assist you in preparing court documents or refer you to a lawyer on any legal matters. Family mediators may assist in drafting agreements, but are unlikely to assist you with other court documents.
The Family LawLINE can give you advice about how you can proceed with your case and may refer you to other services, but will not represent you in a mediation or in court. Family LawLINE services are provided through brief phone calls.
|If you and your ex have resolved all the other issues between you, and you are only seeking a straightforward divorce, there are a number of publications to help you do this. (See below under "Where to get help".) However, if you and your ex are still discussing how to divide your property (house, money, vehicles, furniture, etc.), you should definitely speak with a lawyer. Division of family property is a complicated area of the law.|
Where to get help
See the Resource List in this Guide for a list of helpful resources. Your best bets are:
- Mediate BC.
- Family Justice Centres to make an appointment with a family justice counsellor to discuss guardianship, parenting time, contact with a child, or support, or to arrange a mediation.
- The Family Law in BC website, for forms, self-help materials and other legal information about family legal issues.
- The Clicklaw Wikibook JP Boyd on Family Law and in particular the chapter "Resolving Family Law Problems out of Court."
- The Clicklaw common questions "Our marriage is over; do we have to go to court?" and "How can mediation help me with a divorce agreement?".
Before talking with a family justice counsellor, mediator, or lawyer, complete the form Preparing for Your Interview included in this Guide. Make sure you have the dates of birth of your spouse and children, your date of marriage or cohabitation (if applicable), your date of separation, information about your income and property and those of your ex, and some notes on the issues that concern you.
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Stephen Wright, March 2017.|
|Legal Help for British Columbians © Cliff Thorstenson and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.|
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.
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 term under the Family Law Act which describes the arrangements for parental responsibilities and parenting time among guardians, made in an order or agreement. "Parenting arrangements" does not include contact. See "contact," "guardian," "parental responsibilities" and "parenting time."
A term under the Family Law Act that describes the visitation rights of a person who is not a guardian with a child. Contact may be provided by court order or by the agreement among the child's guardians who have parental responsibility for determining contact. See "guardian" and "parental responsibilities."
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."
Something which can be owned. See "chattels" and "real property."
Money paid by one spouse to another spouse either as a contribution toward the spouse's living expenses or to compensate the spouse for the economic consequences of decisions made by the spouses during their relationship.
In family law, the act or process of taking another person's child as one's own. The child becomes the adopting parent's legal child as if the child were the adopting parent's natural child, while the natural parent loses all rights and obligations with respect to the child. See "natural parent."
A term under the Family Law Act which describes the time a guardian has with a child and during which is responsible for the day to day care of the child. See "guardian."
A person licensed to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. See "barrister and solicitor."
A lawyer or a person other than a lawyer who helps clients with legal issues; to argue a position on behalf of a client.
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.
In law, a court proceeding; a lawsuit; an action; a cause of action; a claim. Also the historic decisions of the court. See "action," "case law, " "court proceeding," and "precedent."
A term under the Family Law Act referring to property acquired by either or both spouses during their relationship, as well as after separation if bought with family property. Both spouses are presumed to be equally entitled to share in family property. See "excluded property."
A person who is younger than the legal age of majority, 19 in British Columbia. See "age of majority."
Under the Divorce Act, either of two people who are married to one another, whether of the same or opposite genders. Under the Family Law Act, married spouses, unmarried parties who have lived together in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years, and, for all purposes of the act other than the division of property or debt, unmarried parties who have lived together for less than two years but have had a child together. See "marriage" and "marriage-like relationship."
In family law, the decision of one or both parties to terminate a married or unmarried relationship; the act of one person leaving the family home to live somewhere else with the intention of terminating the relationship. There is no such thing as a "legal separation." In general, one separates by simply moving out, however it is possible to be separated but still live under the same roof. See "divorce, grounds of."