I Just Separated from the Other Parent of My Children

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If you and the other parent of your children have separated, you need to make decisions about who will have parental responsibility for the children, which includes things like:

  • making day-to-day decisions affecting the children,
  • having day-to-day care of the children,
  • making decisions about where the children will live, and
  • making decisions about the children's education and extra-curricular activities.

You will also need to decide if the other parent will have parenting time or contact with the children, and how you will handle support (regular financial support for the children and, if necessary, you or the other parent).

First steps[edit]

  1. Get some initial help with:
    • finding out what your legal rights and those of your children are. A lawyer is the professional most likely to assist you; and
    • deciding whether mediation, collaborative family law or other kinds of alternate dispute resolution (ADR) are safe and likely to work fairly for you. If there have been problems of violence, threats, intimidation, or financial abuse, or if there has been a history of controlling behaviour, ADR may not be right for you at this time, due to a power imbalance in your relationship. Family Justice Counsellors, mediators and lawyers are the professionals most often assisting with this.
  2. If there has been family violence, see the article My partner is abusing me and my kids.
  3. You may want to take or retain copies of tax, banking and financial documents, passports, marriage certificates and other financial documents with you.
  4. If you need a lawyer but cannot afford one on your own, see if you qualify for legal aid representation. If you don't qualify for legal aid representation, or if you think you can resolve your issues through mediation, you may wish to contact a Family Justice Centre. Counsellors at Family Justice Centres can provide information, mediation and assistance with applications involving guardianship, parenting time, and support in Family Court. However, they have no jurisdiction to help with divorce or division of family property and debts.
  5. If you want to apply for a court order dealing with who the children will live with, parenting time, or financial support, you can apply to Family Court. Family Court forms and self-help information are available online at the Family Law in BC website. Click on the shortcut "Self-help guides," scroll down to "Family orders" and click on the appropriate link. If you feel the situation is urgent, you may ask the judge to make the order "without notice," meaning that the court can make its order if justified, without your ex-partner being notified in advance that you are seeking an order, or having a chance to be heard. "Without notice" orders are almost always interim (short-term), and provide a date for your case to come back to court, etc.

What happens next[edit]

If you qualify for legal aid representation, a lawyer will be appointed to represent you in your case and lead you through the court process.

If you apply for a court order, you will have to arrange to serve your ex with a copy of the application and notice of the court date, unless it is dangerous or impractical to do so. A court date will be set by the court once your ex files a reply.

Where to get help[edit]

See the Resource List in this Guide for a list of helpful resources. Your best bets are:

Before meeting with a lawyer or advocate, complete the form Preparing for Your Interview included in this Guide. Make sure you bring copies of all documents relating to your case.

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Stephen Wright, March 2017.

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