Difference between revisions of "Provincial (Family) Court"

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{{REVIEWEDPLS | reviewer = [http://bhmlawyers.ca/team-2/samantha-rapoport/ Samantha Rapoport], Brown Henderson Melbye |date= March 2020}} {{Dial-A-Law TOC|expanded = disputes}}
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{{REVIEWEDPLS | reviewer = [http://bhmlawyers.ca/team-2/samantha-rapoport/ Samantha Rapoport], Brown Henderson Melbye |date= May 2021}} {{Dial-A-Law TOC|expanded = disputes}}
 
If you’re dealing with a family law issue, you may end up in Provincial Court (often called '''Family Court'''). There are advantages to using this court instead of BC Supreme Court. Learn what’s involved at each stage.
 
If you’re dealing with a family law issue, you may end up in Provincial Court (often called '''Family Court'''). There are advantages to using this court instead of BC Supreme Court. Learn what’s involved at each stage.
  
{{PLSStorybox
+
{| class="wikitable"
| image = [[File:Annika.png|link=]]
+
|align="left"|'''Alert!'''
| text      = "My spouse and I ended our 16-year relationship. After separating, we couldn’t reach an agreement about spousal support and who our three children should live with. So I started a court action in the Family Court near me. I didn’t have to pay court filing fees, and I found the process easier to follow than I expected. At our family case conference, we ended up with a consent order that resolved our family law issues." <br>– Annika, Maple Ridge, BC
+
This information has been updated to reflect [https://www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/enews/enews-27-04-2021 new Provincial Court Family Rules] that took effect on May 17, 2021.
}}
+
|}
  
 
==What you should know==
 
==What you should know==
  
===Family Court can deal with many family issues===
+
===Family Court can deal with many family law issues===
'''Family Court''' is a division of the [http://www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/types-of-cases/family-matters British Columbia Provincial Court]. (Other divisions of the Provincial Court deal with criminal, traffic, and small claims cases.)
+
'''Family Court''' is a division of the [https://www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/types-of-cases/family-matters British Columbia Provincial Court]. (Other divisions of the Provincial Court deal with criminal, traffic, and small claims cases.)  
  
 
Family Court deals with many, but not all, of the legal issues that affect families. It handles the following issues under the BC [https://www.canlii.org/en/bc/laws/stat/sbc-2011-c-25/latest/sbc-2011-c-25.html ''Family Law Act'']:
 
Family Court deals with many, but not all, of the legal issues that affect families. It handles the following issues under the BC [https://www.canlii.org/en/bc/laws/stat/sbc-2011-c-25/latest/sbc-2011-c-25.html ''Family Law Act'']:
 
 
* guardianship of a child and parental responsibilities
 
* guardianship of a child and parental responsibilities
 
* parenting time and contact with a child
 
* parenting time and contact with a child
Line 21: Line 20:
 
Family Court also deals with child protection cases.
 
Family Court also deals with child protection cases.
  
Family Court '''cannot''' make orders under the federal Divorce Act. It can’t:
+
Family Court '''cannot''' make orders under the federal [https://www.canlii.org/en/ca/laws/stat/rsc-1985-c-3-2nd-supp/latest/rsc-1985-c-3-2nd-supp.html ''Divorce Act'']. It can’t:  
 
+
* grant a divorce  
* grant a divorce
 
 
* divide property or debts, or make orders about family property
 
* divide property or debts, or make orders about family property
* change an order that was made under the [https://www.canlii.org/en/ca/laws/stat/rsc-1985-c-3-2nd-supp/latest/rsc-1985-c-3-2nd-supp.html ''Divorce Act'']
+
* change an order that was made under the ''Divorce Act''  
 
* make adoption orders
 
* make adoption orders
  
For these issues, [https://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/supreme_court/index.aspx you have to go to the British Columbia Supreme Court]. This is the other court in BC that also deals with family law issues.
+
For these issues, you have to go to the [https://www.bccourts.ca/supreme_court/ British Columbia Supreme Court]. This is the other court in BC that also deals with family law issues.
  
 
===Advantages of Family Court===
 
===Advantages of Family Court===
The Supreme Court can deal with all family law issues, including all of the issues Family Court deals with. So why would you want to go to Family Court?
+
{{PLSStorybox
 +
| image = [[File:Annika.png|link=]]
 +
| text      = "My spouse and I ended our 16-year relationship. After separating, we couldn’t reach an agreement about spousal support and who our three children should live with. So I started a court action in the Family Court near me. I didn’t have to pay court filing fees, and I found the process easier to follow than I expected. At our family case conference, we ended up with a consent order that resolved our family law issues." <br>– Annika, Maple Ridge, BC
 +
}}
 +
 
 +
The BC Supreme Court can deal with all family law issues, including all of the issues Family Court deals with. So why would you want to go to Family Court?
  
 
Family Court has some advantages over Supreme Court:
 
Family Court has some advantages over Supreme Court:
 
+
* The Family Court forms are easier to fill out than Supreme Court forms.
* The Provincial Court forms are easier to fill out than Supreme Court forms.
+
* No court fees are charged in Family Court.
* No court fees are charged.
+
* The rules of court are simpler than the rules of the Supreme Court. Plus, the Family Court rules encourage people to try to resolve their issues by agreement earlier on in the court process.
* The rules of court are simpler than the rules of the Supreme Court.
+
* Family Courts have '''family justice counsellors''' available. These are specially trained government workers who can help people resolve certain types of family law issues, including through mediation. Their services are free and confidential.  
 
* The atmosphere of Family Court is more informal.
 
* The atmosphere of Family Court is more informal.
* Family Courts have '''family justice counsellors''' available. These are specially trained government workers who can help people resolve certain types of family law issues, including through mediation. Their services are free and confidential.
 
 
* Many Family Courts have '''family duty counsel''' available. These are lawyers who provide free legal advice to help people with low incomes deal with their family law problems.
 
* Many Family Courts have '''family duty counsel''' available. These are lawyers who provide free legal advice to help people with low incomes deal with their family law problems.
 +
 +
===The court process varies depending on the registry and order involved===
 +
There are registries at various [https://www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/locations-contacts Provincial Courts throughout BC]. How the Family Court process works depends on the registry location and the type of court order you need.
 +
Many Family Court registries have certain requirements you have to meet before you can get a date to appear in front of a judge. We explain these below, under stages in a Family Court matter.
 +
But there are exceptions. In certain circumstances, you can fast forward the process. For example:
 +
* If you’re experiencing family violence, you can apply for a '''protection order'''. This a court order to protect one person from another.
 +
* If the other parent wants to move with the children or is refusing to agree to you taking them abroad on a planned holiday, you can apply for an '''order in a priority parenting matter'''.
 +
 +
{| class="wikitable"
 +
|align="left"|'''Self-help guides'''
 +
The Family Law in BC website from Legal Aid BC has step-by-step guides on [https://family.legalaid.bc.ca/abuse-family-violence/protecting-yourself-your-family/apply-family-law-protection-order-without#0 applying for a protection order] and [https://family.legalaid.bc.ca/bc-legal-system/court-orders/get-order-bc/provincial-court/get-order-about-priority-parenting applying for a priority parenting matter order].
 +
|}
 +
 +
===Options to resolve a case outside the courtroom===
 +
Even after a family law case has been started, you can still try to resolve your issues without going to a hearing before a judge.
 +
 +
You might try '''negotiating''' with each other to try to reach an agreement. You could do this with or without the help of lawyers. You could also get help from other family members, elders, or other community members.
 +
 +
You could try '''mediation'''. This involves meeting with a neutral person (a mediator) who helps find a solution everyone can agree on. The mediator doesn’t make decisions, but instead helps the parties make decisions for themselves.
 +
 +
You can use a family justice counsellor as a mediator. Their services are free. (At some Provincial Court locations, parties are ''required'' to meet with a family justice counsellor as one of the first steps in the court process.) Or you can hire a private mediator. 
  
===Starting a case in Family Court===
+
Or you could try '''collaborative negotiation'''. This is also known as “collaborative family law.” It’s a kind of negotiation where each party has their own lawyer and agrees to do everything possible to reach a settlement without going to court. The approach emphasizes full disclosure, communication, and a safe and respectful environment to help the parties negotiate a settlement collaboratively.
Family Court is for everyone who has family law issues, including:
 
  
* couples who are married
+
For more on these approaches, see our information on [https://dialalaw.peopleslawschool.ca/mediation-and-collaborative-practice/ mediation, collaborative negotiation, and arbitration].
* couples who aren’t married
 
* people who have had a child together
 
* anyone (such as a relative) who has an interest in a child
 
  
A case in Family Court starts with paperwork. You fill out and '''file an application''' with the court. Depending on what kind of orders you’re asking for, other forms and documents may also be required.
+
===If you can agree on the issues===
 +
If you can work out your issues, you and the other people involved can put your agreement into writing. Or you might want a judge to make a court order that reflects your agreement.  This is called a '''consent order'''. Most family law cases are settled by an agreement or consent order.
  
You make three copies of the documents. These then have to be filed at a Family Court registry. There’s '''no fee''' for filing the documents.
+
Both parties must sign the written agreement or consent order.  
  
You then '''serve''' a copy of the filed documents on the other person in the case. You and the other person are called the “parties” to the case. There are strict rules about how to give court documents to the other party.
+
Each party should get '''independent legal advice''' from a lawyer before they sign the document. This involves each party meeting with their own lawyer to get legal advice. A lawyer can explain:
 +
* what the agreement means
 +
* what rights and obligations the agreement gives to each party
 +
* how the agreement affects other legal options that might otherwise be available
  
{| class="wikitable"
+
See who can help, below, for options to get legal advice.
|align="left"|'''Tip'''
+
 
[http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/justice/courthouse-services/documents-forms-records/court-forms/prov-family-forms You can find blank court forms on the BC government website]. You can also get free printed forms from the [http://www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/locations-contacts court registry in the town or city where you live]. The wikibook ''JP Boyd on Family Law'' includes [https://wiki.clicklaw.bc.ca/index.php/Provincial_Court_Forms_(Family_Law) samples of many completed forms].
+
==Stages in the court process==
|}
+
===Starting a matter in Family Court===
 +
How you start a matter in Family Court depends on the court registry location and the type of court order you seek.
 +
 
 +
In the Victoria and Surrey registries, you have to [https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/law-crime-and-justice/courthouse-services/court-files-records/court-forms/family/pfa710.pdf file a notice with the court], meet with a family justice counsellor, and satisfy certain requirements ''before'' you can start a court matter. In other court registries in the province, you can start a court matter and then (depending on the registry location) you may have to meet with a counsellor and complete an education program before getting a court date. More on these requirements in a moment.  
 +
 
 +
In any court registry, if there’s been family violence or you have an urgent parenting issue, you can apply to get into court right away.
  
 
{| class="wikitable"
 
{| class="wikitable"
|align="left"|'''Alert!'''
+
|align="left"|'''Self-help guides'''
The Provincial Court registries in Victoria and Surrey have a specific court process that highlights early resolution. If you’re starting a family law case in Victoria or Surrey, [https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/life-events/divorce/family-justice/your-options/early-resolution see the BC government’s website].
+
In [https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/life-events/divorce/family-justice/your-options/early-resolution early resolution registries in Surrey and Victoria], you have to meet with a family justice counsellor, take a parenting course, and complete a session of consensual dispute resolution (if appropriate) ''before'' you can start a matter in Family Court.  
 
|}
 
|}
  
===After a case is started in Family Court===
+
====The paperwork====  
[https://www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/locations-contacts There are registries at various Provincial Courts throughout BC]. Different registries have different rules about what happens next. Some registries require that parties meet with a '''family justice counsellor''' before they can see a judge. Family justice counsellors can help families resolve issues about the care and support of children. Their services include mediation and counselling.
+
To start a Family Court matter, you fill out an [https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/law-crime-and-justice/courthouse-services/court-files-records/court-forms/family/pfa712.pdf?forcedownload=true application about a family law matter]. You make three copies of the application, and file it with the court registry. There is no fee involved. Depending on what kind of orders you’re asking for, other forms and documents may also be required.
  
Other court registries require parties to take a '''Parenting After Separation course''' before they can see a judge. This free course helps parents understand how to make decisions in the best interests of their child. It's a good idea to take the course whether the court requires it or not.
+
You then arrange to have a copy of the filed documents '''served''' on the other party in the case. There are strict rules about how to give court documents to the other party.  
  
The parties may be asked to attend a '''family case conference''' to see if the dispute can be resolved without a court hearing. This is an informal meeting with a judge. At the meeting, the parties talk about the issues each party has raised in the case, see what can be agreed to, and talk about how the claims will be resolved going forward.
+
{| class="wikitable"
 +
|align="left"|'''To complete the forms'''
 +
Legal Aid BC’s Family Law in BC website has a free step-by-step guide for [https://family.legalaid.bc.ca/bc-legal-system/court-orders/get-order-bc/provincial-court/get-new-family-order-provincial-court-if#0 applying for a family order] in Provincial Court. For blank court forms, see the [http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/justice/courthouse-services/documents-forms-records/court-forms/prov-family-forms BC government website] or go to your local [https://www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/locations-contacts Family Court registry].  
 +
|}
  
Family law cases are often resolved at these conferences. When the parties can agree, the judge will make a '''consent order''' at the conference.
+
===Next steps===
 +
Depending on the court registry you start your matter in, you may have to complete certain steps before you can get a date to go before a judge.  
  
===Options to resolve a case outside the courtroom===
+
In [https://family.legalaid.bc.ca/bc-legal-system/provincial-court-registries/parenting-education-program-registries these 12 registries], if you’re a parent, you have to complete a parenting education program.  
Once a family law case has been started, the parties can try to resolve their issues without going to a hearing before a judge.
 
  
The parties might try '''negotiating''' with each other to try to reach an agreement. They could do this with or without the help of lawyers. They could also get help from other family members, elders, or other community members.
+
In [https://family.legalaid.bc.ca/bc-legal-system/provincial-court-registries/family-justice-registries family justice registries in Kelowna, Nanaimo and Vancouver], you have to meet with a family justice counsellor and take a parenting education program (if you’re a parent).
  
The parties could try '''mediation'''. This involves meeting with a neutral person (a mediator) who helps find a solution everyone can agree on. The mediator doesn’t make decisions, but instead helps the parties make decisions for themselves. Parties can use a family justice counsellor as their mediator (their services are free). Or they can hire a private mediator.
+
In the [https://family.legalaid.bc.ca/bc-legal-system/provincial-court-registries/all-other-registries other BC Family Court registries], you don’t have to meet any special requirements before getting a date to go in front of a judge. But steps like talking to a family justice counsellor and taking a parenting program are always a good idea.
  
Or the parties could try '''collaborative negotiation'''. This is also known as “collaborative family law.” It’s a kind of negotiation where each party has their own lawyer and agrees to do everything possible to reach a settlement without going to court. The approach emphasizes full disclosure, communication, and a safe and respectful environment to help the parties negotiate a settlement collaboratively.
+
===Your first court appearance===
  
For more on these approaches, [[Mediation and Collaborative Practice|see our information on mediation and collaborative negotiation]].
+
Unless you have an urgent family matter, the first time you go before a judge will usually be at a '''family management conference'''. This is a 20- to 60-minute meeting with the other party and a judge. The judge will try to help you and the other party reach an agreement. If that’s not possible, the judge will help you get organized for a hearing or a trial.
  
===If the parties can agree on the issues===
+
At a family management conference, a judge can make court orders. If you and the other party agree about your family law issues, the judge will make a '''consent order'''. If you can’t agree, the judge may still make important '''interim (temporary) orders''' that can last at least until you have a hearing. Because of this, you must be prepared to tell the judge what orders you want and why. You can provide spoken and affidavit evidence to support your position.  
If the parties can work out their issues, they can put their agreement into writing. Or they might want a judge to make a court order that reflects their agreement. This is called a '''consent order'''. Most family law cases are settled by an agreement or consent order.
 
  
Both parties must sign the written agreement or consent order.
+
If issues aren’t resolved at the family management conference, the judge can decide on the next steps in your case. This can include participating in mediation, attending a '''family settlement conference''' (an informal meeting with a judge to try to resolve the dispute), or setting a hearing date.
  
Each party should get '''independent legal advice''' from a lawyer before they sign the document. This involves each party meeting with their own lawyer to get legal advice. A lawyer can explain:
+
If a hearing is needed, the judge can make '''case management orders''' about timing, witnesses, documents, and other evidence to make sure the trial is conducted efficiently.  
 +
Preparing for a family management conference
  
* what the agreement means
+
{| class="wikitable"
* what rights and obligations the agreement gives to each party
+
|align="left"|'''Preparing for a family management conference'''
* how the agreement affects other legal options that might otherwise be available
+
The Provincial Court explains [https://www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/enews/enews-11-05-2021 what to expect at a family management conference], and Legal Aid BC has more on [https://family.legalaid.bc.ca/bc-legal-system/if-you-have-go-court/fcc-provincial-court how to prepare for one].
 +
|}
  
See the “Who can help” section below for options to get legal advice.
+
===If the case goes to trial===  
 
+
If you can’t settle your issues and have to go to a trial, you’ll have a '''hearing''' before a judge.  
===If the case goes to trial===
 
If the parties can’t settle their issues and have to go to a trial, they’ll have a '''hearing''' before a judge.
 
  
 
In your community, the Provincial Court might have a separate courtroom for family law cases. Or family law cases might be heard in one of the regular courtrooms on a particular day of the week. Usually there’s one day each week or every other week when the court will hear family law cases.
 
In your community, the Provincial Court might have a separate courtroom for family law cases. Or family law cases might be heard in one of the regular courtrooms on a particular day of the week. Usually there’s one day each week or every other week when the court will hear family law cases.
  
At the hearing, witnesses give oral testimony (they tell the court their side of the case) and present documents or other evidence. Often, the parties themselves are the only witnesses.
+
At the hearing, witnesses give oral testimony (they tell the court their side of the case) and present documents or other evidence. Often, the parties themselves are the only witnesses.  
  
 
After all of the evidence has been given to the judge, each side will make arguments to the judge. They’ll explain why they think the judge should decide in their favor. The judge will then make an order resolving the issues.
 
After all of the evidence has been given to the judge, each side will make arguments to the judge. They’ll explain why they think the judge should decide in their favor. The judge will then make an order resolving the issues.
Line 111: Line 141:
  
 
===Do I need a lawyer to appear in Family Court?===
 
===Do I need a lawyer to appear in Family Court?===
You '''don’t''' have to have a lawyer when you go to court. Over a third of people bringing a case in Family Court represent themselves. The rules and forms in Family Court are simpler than in Supreme Court and the atmosphere is more informal.
+
You '''don’t''' have to have a lawyer when you go to court. Over a third of people bringing a case in Family Court represent themselves. The rules and forms in Family Court are simpler than in Supreme Court and the atmosphere is more informal.  
  
 
{| class="wikitable"
 
{| class="wikitable"
|align="left"|'''Tip'''
+
|align="left"|'''Consider getting legal advice or unbundling'''
If you’re planning to represent yourself in Family Court, consider getting legal advice about your case beforehand. Or you could explore hiring an “unbundled lawyer” to help coach you or help with part of your case. To find a lawyer who offers unbundled services, [https://unbundlinglaw.peopleslawschool.ca/ see '''unbundlinglaw.ca'''].
+
If you’re planning to represent yourself in Family Court, consider getting legal advice about your case beforehand. Or you could explore hiring an “unbundled lawyer” to help coach you or help with part of your case. To find a lawyer who offers unbundled services, see [https://unbundlinglaw.peopleslawschool.ca/ unbundlinglaw.ca].
 
|}
 
|}
  
===What can I do in an emergency?===
+
===What if my case started before the new court rules came into effect?===
After a case is started in Family Court, there is a wait time to get an appointment to see a family justice counsellor or to take the Parenting After Separation course. But in certain circumstances, different procedures apply. If you’re experiencing family violence, tell the court clerk. They can explain how the Family Court can make a '''protection order''' in an emergency. This is a court order to protect one person from another. For more on this option, [[Family Violence (No. 155)|see our information on family violence]].
+
New Provincial Court Family Rules came into effect on May 17, 2021. If a family law case you’re involved in started before that, the new rules apply and the [https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/justice/courthouse-services/documents-forms-records/court-forms/prov-family-forms new court forms] (with a couple of short-term exceptions) must be used.  
 
   
 
   
 
==Who can help==
 
==Who can help==
Line 134: Line 164:
  
 
===With more information===
 
===With more information===
Legal Aid BC’s '''Family Law website''' has self-help guides that include step-by-step instructions and blank forms you’ll need for going to Family Court.
+
The '''BC Provincial Court website''' provides information about family law, rules, and court processes as well as links to resources.
 
 
* [https://familylaw.lss.bc.ca/bc-legal-system/court-orders/get-order-bc/get-order-provincial-court Visit website]
 
 
 
The wikibook ''JP Boyd on Family Law'' explains how to start a family law action in Family Court.
 
  
* [[How Do I Start a Family Law Action in the Provincial Court?|Visit website]]
+
* https://www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/types-of-cases/family-matters Visit website]
  
The Justice Education Society’s '''HowToSeparate''' website provides online courses on how to work out family problems and instructions for going to court.
+
Legal Aid BC’s '''Family Law in BC website''' has self-help guides that include step-by-step instructions and blank forms you’ll need for going to Provincial (Family) Court.
  
* [https://www.howtoseparate.ca/ Visit website]
+
* https://family.legalaid.bc.ca/bc-legal-system/court-orders/get-order-bc/get-order-provincial-court Visit website]]
  
 
{{Dial-A-Law_Navbox|type=families}}
 
{{Dial-A-Law_Navbox|type=families}}
 
{{Dial-A-Law Copyright}}
 
{{Dial-A-Law Copyright}}

Revision as of 21:31, 8 June 2021

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Samantha Rapoport, Brown Henderson Melbye in May 2021.

If you’re dealing with a family law issue, you may end up in Provincial Court (often called Family Court). There are advantages to using this court instead of BC Supreme Court. Learn what’s involved at each stage.

Alert!

This information has been updated to reflect new Provincial Court Family Rules that took effect on May 17, 2021.

What you should know[edit]

Family Court can deal with many family law issues[edit]

Family Court is a division of the British Columbia Provincial Court. (Other divisions of the Provincial Court deal with criminal, traffic, and small claims cases.)

Family Court deals with many, but not all, of the legal issues that affect families. It handles the following issues under the BC Family Law Act:

  • guardianship of a child and parental responsibilities
  • parenting time and contact with a child
  • child support and spousal support
  • protection orders

Family Court also deals with child protection cases.

Family Court cannot make orders under the federal Divorce Act. It can’t:

  • grant a divorce
  • divide property or debts, or make orders about family property
  • change an order that was made under the Divorce Act
  • make adoption orders

For these issues, you have to go to the British Columbia Supreme Court. This is the other court in BC that also deals with family law issues.

Advantages of Family Court[edit]

The BC Supreme Court can deal with all family law issues, including all of the issues Family Court deals with. So why would you want to go to Family Court?

Family Court has some advantages over Supreme Court:

  • The Family Court forms are easier to fill out than Supreme Court forms.
  • No court fees are charged in Family Court.
  • The rules of court are simpler than the rules of the Supreme Court. Plus, the Family Court rules encourage people to try to resolve their issues by agreement earlier on in the court process.
  • Family Courts have family justice counsellors available. These are specially trained government workers who can help people resolve certain types of family law issues, including through mediation. Their services are free and confidential.
  • The atmosphere of Family Court is more informal.
  • Many Family Courts have family duty counsel available. These are lawyers who provide free legal advice to help people with low incomes deal with their family law problems.

The court process varies depending on the registry and order involved[edit]

There are registries at various Provincial Courts throughout BC. How the Family Court process works depends on the registry location and the type of court order you need. Many Family Court registries have certain requirements you have to meet before you can get a date to appear in front of a judge. We explain these below, under stages in a Family Court matter. But there are exceptions. In certain circumstances, you can fast forward the process. For example:

  • If you’re experiencing family violence, you can apply for a protection order. This a court order to protect one person from another.
  • If the other parent wants to move with the children or is refusing to agree to you taking them abroad on a planned holiday, you can apply for an order in a priority parenting matter.
Self-help guides

The Family Law in BC website from Legal Aid BC has step-by-step guides on applying for a protection order and applying for a priority parenting matter order.

Options to resolve a case outside the courtroom[edit]

Even after a family law case has been started, you can still try to resolve your issues without going to a hearing before a judge.

You might try negotiating with each other to try to reach an agreement. You could do this with or without the help of lawyers. You could also get help from other family members, elders, or other community members.

You could try mediation. This involves meeting with a neutral person (a mediator) who helps find a solution everyone can agree on. The mediator doesn’t make decisions, but instead helps the parties make decisions for themselves.

You can use a family justice counsellor as a mediator. Their services are free. (At some Provincial Court locations, parties are required to meet with a family justice counsellor as one of the first steps in the court process.) Or you can hire a private mediator.

Or you could try collaborative negotiation. This is also known as “collaborative family law.” It’s a kind of negotiation where each party has their own lawyer and agrees to do everything possible to reach a settlement without going to court. The approach emphasizes full disclosure, communication, and a safe and respectful environment to help the parties negotiate a settlement collaboratively.

For more on these approaches, see our information on mediation, collaborative negotiation, and arbitration.

If you can agree on the issues[edit]

If you can work out your issues, you and the other people involved can put your agreement into writing. Or you might want a judge to make a court order that reflects your agreement. This is called a consent order. Most family law cases are settled by an agreement or consent order.

Both parties must sign the written agreement or consent order.

Each party should get independent legal advice from a lawyer before they sign the document. This involves each party meeting with their own lawyer to get legal advice. A lawyer can explain:

  • what the agreement means
  • what rights and obligations the agreement gives to each party
  • how the agreement affects other legal options that might otherwise be available

See who can help, below, for options to get legal advice.

Stages in the court process[edit]

Starting a matter in Family Court[edit]

How you start a matter in Family Court depends on the court registry location and the type of court order you seek.

In the Victoria and Surrey registries, you have to file a notice with the court, meet with a family justice counsellor, and satisfy certain requirements before you can start a court matter. In other court registries in the province, you can start a court matter and then (depending on the registry location) you may have to meet with a counsellor and complete an education program before getting a court date. More on these requirements in a moment.

In any court registry, if there’s been family violence or you have an urgent parenting issue, you can apply to get into court right away.

Self-help guides

In early resolution registries in Surrey and Victoria, you have to meet with a family justice counsellor, take a parenting course, and complete a session of consensual dispute resolution (if appropriate) before you can start a matter in Family Court.

The paperwork[edit]

To start a Family Court matter, you fill out an application about a family law matter. You make three copies of the application, and file it with the court registry. There is no fee involved. Depending on what kind of orders you’re asking for, other forms and documents may also be required.

You then arrange to have a copy of the filed documents served on the other party in the case. There are strict rules about how to give court documents to the other party.

To complete the forms

Legal Aid BC’s Family Law in BC website has a free step-by-step guide for applying for a family order in Provincial Court. For blank court forms, see the BC government website or go to your local Family Court registry.

Next steps[edit]

Depending on the court registry you start your matter in, you may have to complete certain steps before you can get a date to go before a judge.

In these 12 registries, if you’re a parent, you have to complete a parenting education program.

In family justice registries in Kelowna, Nanaimo and Vancouver, you have to meet with a family justice counsellor and take a parenting education program (if you’re a parent).

In the other BC Family Court registries, you don’t have to meet any special requirements before getting a date to go in front of a judge. But steps like talking to a family justice counsellor and taking a parenting program are always a good idea.

Your first court appearance[edit]

Unless you have an urgent family matter, the first time you go before a judge will usually be at a family management conference. This is a 20- to 60-minute meeting with the other party and a judge. The judge will try to help you and the other party reach an agreement. If that’s not possible, the judge will help you get organized for a hearing or a trial.

At a family management conference, a judge can make court orders. If you and the other party agree about your family law issues, the judge will make a consent order. If you can’t agree, the judge may still make important interim (temporary) orders that can last at least until you have a hearing. Because of this, you must be prepared to tell the judge what orders you want and why. You can provide spoken and affidavit evidence to support your position.

If issues aren’t resolved at the family management conference, the judge can decide on the next steps in your case. This can include participating in mediation, attending a family settlement conference (an informal meeting with a judge to try to resolve the dispute), or setting a hearing date.

If a hearing is needed, the judge can make case management orders about timing, witnesses, documents, and other evidence to make sure the trial is conducted efficiently. Preparing for a family management conference

Preparing for a family management conference

The Provincial Court explains what to expect at a family management conference, and Legal Aid BC has more on how to prepare for one.

If the case goes to trial[edit]

If you can’t settle your issues and have to go to a trial, you’ll have a hearing before a judge.

In your community, the Provincial Court might have a separate courtroom for family law cases. Or family law cases might be heard in one of the regular courtrooms on a particular day of the week. Usually there’s one day each week or every other week when the court will hear family law cases.

At the hearing, witnesses give oral testimony (they tell the court their side of the case) and present documents or other evidence. Often, the parties themselves are the only witnesses.

After all of the evidence has been given to the judge, each side will make arguments to the judge. They’ll explain why they think the judge should decide in their favor. The judge will then make an order resolving the issues.

Common questions[edit]

Do I need a lawyer to appear in Family Court?[edit]

You don’t have to have a lawyer when you go to court. Over a third of people bringing a case in Family Court represent themselves. The rules and forms in Family Court are simpler than in Supreme Court and the atmosphere is more informal.

Consider getting legal advice or unbundling

If you’re planning to represent yourself in Family Court, consider getting legal advice about your case beforehand. Or you could explore hiring an “unbundled lawyer” to help coach you or help with part of your case. To find a lawyer who offers unbundled services, see unbundlinglaw.ca.

What if my case started before the new court rules came into effect?[edit]

New Provincial Court Family Rules came into effect on May 17, 2021. If a family law case you’re involved in started before that, the new rules apply and the new court forms (with a couple of short-term exceptions) must be used.

Who can help[edit]

With your case[edit]

To make an appointment with a family justice counsellor, contact the nearest Family Justice Centre by calling Service BC.

Unbundling allows you to hire a lawyer for specific parts of your case or to coach you through the court process. Unbundled Legal Services lists family lawyers who offer these services.

For options for legal advice, see our information on free and low-cost legal help. It explains options such as legal aid, pro bono services, legal clinics, and advocates.

With more information[edit]

The BC Provincial Court website provides information about family law, rules, and court processes as well as links to resources.

Legal Aid BC’s Family Law in BC website has self-help guides that include step-by-step instructions and blank forms you’ll need for going to Provincial (Family) Court.

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