Replying to a Court Proceeding in a Family Matter
If a court proceeding has been started against you, you have two choices: do nothing or respond to the proceeding and defend yourself. If you agree with the orders the other party is asking for, doing nothing is the cheapest and quickest way to handle the matter. On the other hand, if you only partly agree or completely disagree you must respond to the claim or you risk losing by default.
This section discusses the process for responding to a court proceeding in the Supreme Court and the Provincial Court. For a more complete picture of the court process, read this section together with the section on Starting a Court Proceeding.
- 1 The Supreme Court
- 2 The Provincial Court
- 3 Resources and links
The Supreme Court
If you are being sued in the Supreme Court, you are the respondent in a court proceeding that has been started by the claimant. If you disagree with any of the orders the claimant is asking for, you must prepare a form called Response to Family Claim. You also prepare a form for Counterclaim if there is an order you would like to ask for. These documents, together with the claimant's Notice of Family Claim, are called pleadings.
The primary Supreme Court Family Rules to review when responding to a family claim, preparing a counterclaim, and the steps leading up to trial are:
- Rule 1-1: definitions
- Rule 3-1: starting a court proceeding
- Rule 4-3: responding to a claim
- Rule 4-4: making a counterclaim
- Rule 5-1: financial disclosure
- Rule 6-2: ordinary service
- Rule 7-1: Judicial Case Conferences
- Part 9: disclosure and discovery of documents
- Part 10: interim applications and chambers procedure
- Rule 11-4: discontinuing a court proceeding and withdrawing a response to one
- Part 13: expert witnesses
- Rule 11-3: summary trial procedure
- Rule 14-7: trial procedure
- Rule 15-2.1: guardianship orders
Links to and examples of the Response to Family Claim, Counterclaim and other court forms can be found in this resource under Supreme Court Forms (Family Law). For a quick introduction to how to reply to a proceeding, see How Do I Respond to a Family Law Action in the Supreme Court?. It's located in the How Do I? part of this resource.
Quick tips: Defending an action in the Supreme Court
The following tips are located in the section Defending an Action in the How Do I? part of this resource:
- Can't pay your court fees: If you can't afford to pay court fees, you can apply for indigent status. If you are granted indigent status the court fees for all or part of the proceeding will be waived. To find out more, see How Do I Apply for Indigent Status in the Supreme Court?
- Need to change something in the Response to Family Claim or Counterclaim: To find out what happens when you need to change something, see How Do I Change Something in My Response to Family Claim or Counterclaim?
- Want the court action to stop: You might want to stop defending the claim or stop your counterclaim if, for example, you have reached a settlement. To find out how to do this, see How Do I Stop Defending a Family Law Action in the Supreme Court?
Preparing, filing and serving your response
You must file a Response to Family Claim at the court registry within 30 days of being served with the claimant's Notice of Family Claim.
The Notice of Family Claim sets out the basic history of the parties' relationship and an outline of the orders the claimant would like the court to make. Your Response to Family Claim says which of the claimant's claims you agree with and which you oppose, and which of the facts set out in the Notice of Family Claim are inaccurate.
The form you must use is Form F4, set out in the Supreme Court Family Rules. This is a special form of response used only in family law cases.
The Response to Family Claim must be filed in the court registry and be served on the claimant by ordinary service. It currently costs $25 to file a Response to Family Claim. When you file any document in Supreme Court (including the Response to Family Claim), the registry will keep the original of the document, so you will want to make and keep at least two additional copies (one for you to keep and one to give to the other party). Ordinary service means sending a copy of the filed response to the claimant at any of the addresses for service identified in the Notice of Family Claim.
Preparing, filing and serving a counterclaim
If there are any orders you would like to ask for, you may file a Counterclaim at the court registry within 30 days of being served with the claimant's Notice of Family Claim. Your Counterclaim describes the additional orders you would like the court to make.
It can be very important to file a Counterclaim if you want the court to make an order on different terms or about a different issue than the claims made in the Notice of Family Claim. Think of it like this: your Response to Family Claim is your defence to the claims made by the claimant in their Notice of Family Claim. Your Response to Family Claim doesn't ask for anything; it just says what you do and don't agree with. Unless a Counterclaim is filed, the only person asking for any orders is the claimant. If you are successful in your defence, there may be no claims left for the court to make an order about.
Rule 4-4 of the Supreme Court Family Rules provides information about Counterclaims. The form you must use is Form F5, set out in the Supreme Court Family Rules. This is a special form of counterclaim used in family law cases. Additional pages that require more detailed information must be added to the Counterclaim when you are asking for orders about:
- children, including child support,
- spousal support,
- the division of property and debt, and
- other orders, like protection orders or orders for the change of a person's name.
The Counterclaim must be filed in the court registry and be served on the claimant by ordinary service. It currently costs $200 to file a Counterclaim. When you file any document in Supreme Court (including the Counterclaim), the registry will keep the original of the document, so you will want to make and keep at least two additional copies (one for you to keep and one to give to the other party).
Deadline for reply
The claimant has 30 days to file a Response to Counterclaim in Form F6 after being served with the respondent's Counterclaim. Very few people bother to file a Response to Counterclaim. Many would only go to the trouble of preparing a response if there was something unusual or unexpected in the Counterclaim.
The next steps
Contesting the claimant's claims and filing a Response to Family Claim or Counterclaim does not necessarily mean you will wind up in a trial. One of three things is going to happen in your court proceeding:
- You'll settle your disagreement out of court, and come up with either a separation agreement or an order that you both agree the court should make, called a consent order.
- You won't be able to agree, and the court will need to decide what should happen in your case at a trial.
- After some initial scuffles, neither you nor the claimant will take any further steps in the court proceeding and the proceeding will languish.
For more information on the next steps in a family law proceeding, see Overview of Case Conferences and Discovery in Family Law Matters in this chapter.
The Provincial Court
If a court proceeding has been started against you in the Provincial Court, you are the respondent in the proceeding. The person who started the court proceeding is the applicant. If you agree with the orders the applicant is asking for, doing nothing is the quickest way to handle things. On the other hand, if you only partly agree or if you completely disagree with what the applicant is asking for, you must prepare a Reply.
The primary Provincial Court (Family) Rules about replying to a claim, making your own counterclaims against the claimant, and the steps leading up to trial are:
- Rule 1: definitions
- Rule 3: replying to the family claim and making a counterclaim
- Rule 4: financial disclosure
- Rule 6: the first and subsequent appearances in court
- Rule 7: family case conferences
- Rule 11: trial procedure
- Rule 12: interim applications
- Rule 14: consent orders
- Rule 18: orders
- Rule 18.1: guardianship orders
- Rule 21: Parenting After Separation program
Links to and examples of the Reply and other court forms can be found in Provincial Court Forms (Family Law). As a respondent, you use the same form for your reply and any counterclaim. For a quick introduction to how to reply to a proceeding, see How Do I Respond to a Family Law Action in the Provincial Court? It's located in the section Defending an Action in the How Do I? part of this resource.
Limitations of the Provincial Court
The Provincial Court is designed for people who are not represented by a lawyer. There are no filing fees in this court, the forms are a lot easier to prepare, the rules of court are simpler, and the court registry will sometimes take care of things like drafting court orders. The main disadvantages of proceeding in the Provincial Court are that the authority of the court is limited and there are fewer opportunities to explore the other party's case before the trial. The Provincial Court can only hear applications under the Family Law Act on certain subjects, including:
- parental responsibilities and parenting time,
- contact with a child,
- child support,
- spousal support,
- protection orders, and
- payment of household bills such as mortgage and utilities pending trial or settlement.
The Provincial Court cannot hear claims under the federal Divorce Act. It cannot hear claims under the Family Law Act for orders relating to the division of property and debt.
Preparing, filing and delivering the reply
If you decide to defend yourself, you must complete a form called a Reply and file it within 30 days of the date you were served with the Application to Obtain an Order. There is no fee to file a reply.
In your reply, you can do one or more of the following things:
- agree to some or all of the orders the applicant is asking for,
- object to some or all of the orders the applicant is asking for, and
- apply for any orders you would like the court to make.
The form you must use is Form 3, set out in the Provincial Court Family Rules. The reply must be filed in the court registry and the court clerk will take care of delivering your reply to the applicant.
Deadline for the applicant's reply
The applicant has 30 days to file a Reply in Form 3 after being served with the respondent's Reply if the respondent's Reply asks for any orders. Very few applicants bother to file a Reply of their own. Many applicants only go to the trouble of preparing a Reply if there was something unusual or unexpected in the respondent's Reply.
The next steps
Certain registries may have special programs or requirements that are unique to the registry. The registry will advise you of what is needed when you file your materials.
In certain registries of the Provincial Court, the parties must meet with a family justice counsellor and, if children are involved, attend a Parenting After Separation program before you can take any further steps in your case. This may apply even if you are seeking a default judgment. The court clerk at your court registry will tell you what is needed. If necessary, the court clerk will refer you to the family justice counsellor and tell you where the Parenting After Separation program is offered.
Family justice counsellors can provide information that may help to resolve the court proceeding; they can also serve as mediators if both parties are prepared to try mediation.
The Parenting After Separation program is very useful to take, and you should seriously consider taking the course even if it isn't required in your court registry. The program is available online. The online course does not replace the need to attend an in-person course if that is otherwise required. You will have to file a certificate that you've completed the program.
For family law matters going through Provincial Court in the Victoria Registry, there is the Victoria Early Resolution and Case Management Model, described in a separate section in this chapter.
The additional steps that follow the commencement of a proceeding in the Provincial Court are a simplified version of the Supreme Court process. There are fewer hoops to jump through, but also fewer means to extract information and documents from the other side.
For more information on the next steps in a family law proceeding, see Overview of Case Conferences and Discovery in Family Law Matters in this chapter.
- Provincial Court Act
- Provincial Court Family Rules
- Supreme Court Act
- Supreme Court Family Rules
- Court Rules Act
- Provincial Court Family Practice Directions
- Supreme Court Family Practice Directions
- Supreme Court Administrative Notices
- Supreme Court Trial Scheduling
- Supreme Court website
- Provincial Court website
- Provincial Court: Family Cases
- Legal Services Society's Family Law website's information page "I've been served with a court form"
- Justice Education Society's website for BC Supreme Court
- Online Parenting After Separation Course from Justice Education Society
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Shannon Aldinger and Julie Brown, June 8, 2019.|
|JP Boyd on Family Law © John-Paul Boyd and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.|
Normally referred to as the "Supreme Court of British Columbia," this court hears most court proceedings in this province. The Supreme Court is a court of inherent jurisdiction and is subject to 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 court proceeding. The Family Court of the Provincial Court cannot deal with the division of family property or matters under the Divorce Act. See "judge" and "jurisdiction."
A legal proceeding in which one party sues another for a specific remedy or relief, also called an "action," a "lawsuit," or a "case." A court proceeding for divorce, for example, is a proceeding in which the claimant sues the respondent for the relief of a divorce order.
In law, the whole of the conduct of a court proceeding, from beginning to end, and the steps in between; may also be used to refer to a specific hearing or trial. See "action."
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 assertion of a legal right to an order or to a thing; the remedy or relief sought by a party to a court proceeding.
In law, failing to do something which is either optional or mandatory, such as failing to respond to an application or to a claim within the time limits set out in the rules of court. See "default judgment. "
The person against whom a claim has been brought by Notice of Family Claim. See “application” and “Notice of Family Claim."
The person who starts a court proceeding seeking an order for a specific remedy or relief against another person, the respondent. See "action" and "respondent."
A legal document required by the Supreme Court Family Rules in which the respondent to a court proceeding sets out their reply to the claimant's claim and the grounds for their reply. See "action," claim," "Notice of Family Claim," and "pleadings."
A legal document required by the Supreme Court Family Rules in which a respondent sets out a claim for a specific remedy or relief against a claimant. See "Notice of Family Claim" and "Response to Family Claim."
A mandatory direction of the court, 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. See "appeal," "consent order," "decision," and "declaration."
A legal document required by the Supreme Court Family Rules to begin a court proceeding, setting out the relief claimed by the claimant and the grounds on which that relief is claimed. See "action," "claim," "claimant," "pleadings" and "relief."
In law, the re-examination of a term of an order or agreement, usually to determine whether the term remains fair and appropriate in light of the circumstances prevailing at the time of the review. In family law, particularly the review of an order or agreement provided for the payment of spousal support. See "de novo," "family law agreements," "order," and "spousal support."
The testing of the claims at issue in a court proceeding at a formal hearing before a judge with the jurisdiction to hear the proceeding. The parties present their evidence and arguments to the judge, who then makes a determination of the parties' claims against one another that is final and binding on the parties unless appealed. See "action," "appeal," "argument," "claim," "evidence," and "jurisdiction."
A step in a court proceeding in which each party both advises the other of the documents in their possession which relate to the issues in the court proceeding and produces copies of any requested documents before trial. This process is regulated by the rules of court, which put each party under an ongoing obligation to continue to advise the other of new documents coming into their possession or control. The purpose of this step is to encourage the settlement of court proceedings and to prevent a party from springing new evidence on the other party at trial.
Sending legal documents to a party at that party's "address for service," usually by mail, fax, or email. Certain documents, like a Notice of Family Claim, must be served on the other party by personal service. Most other documents may be served by ordinary service. See also "address for service" and "personal service."
A step in a court proceeding in which a party may demand that the other party produce specific documents and submit to a cross-examination on oath or affirmation outside of court before trial. This process is regulated by the rules of court. The purpose of this step is to encourage the settlement of court proceedings and to make sure that each party knows what the other party's case will be at trial. See "examination for discovery."
In law, an answer or rebuttal to a claim made or a defence raised by the other party to a court proceeding or legal dispute. See "action," "claim," "defence," and "rebut."
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.
Being flat broke. Persons with limited or no income used to apply to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal for indigent status, which exempts them from paying the usual court fees for all or a part of a court proceeding. The terms indigent or impoverished are no longer used. The Rules for both the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal now refer to applications to waive fees.
A resolution of one or more issues in a court proceeding or legal dispute with the agreement of the parties to the proceeding or dispute, usually recorded in a written agreement or in an order that all parties agree the court should make. A court proceeding can be settled at any time before the conclusion of trial. See "action," "consent order," "family law agreements," and "offer."
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.
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; a courthouse.
A reply, a rebuttal, an answer to a court proceeding or an application; a statement as to why a particular claim or application should not succeed.
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 payment made by one spouse, the payor, to the other spouse, the recipient, to help with their day-to-day living expenses or to compensate the recipient for the financial choices the spouses made during the relationship.
Something which can be owned. See "chattels" and "real property."
A sum of money or an obligation owed by one person to another. A "debtor" is a person responsible for paying a debt; a "creditor" is the person to whom the debt is owed.
A contract intended to resolve all or some of the legal issues arising from the breakdown of a relationship and intended to guide the parties in their dealings with one another thereafter. A typical separation agreement is signed following a settlement reached through negotiations, and deals with issues including guardianship, parenting arrangements, contact, support, the division of property, and the division of debt. See "family law agreements."
An order resolving all or part of a court proceeding, on an interim or final basis, that the parties agree the court should make.
A party who brings an application to the court for a specific order or remedy. Usually refers to the party making an interim application, but in the Provincial Court it also means the person who starts a court proceeding. See also "court proceeding," "application respondent," and "interim application."
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 person licensed to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. See "barrister and solicitor."
The guidelines governing the court process and the conduct of litigation generally. Each court has its own rules of court.
A term under the Family Law Act which describes the various rights, duties, and responsibilities exercised by guardians in the care, upbringing, and management of the children in their care, including determining the child's education, diet, religious instruction or lack thereof, medical care, linguistic and cultural instruction, and so forth. See "guardian."
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 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."
A person who is younger than the legal age of majority, 19 in British Columbia. See "age of majority."
The conditional transfer of the title to real property by an owner to another person in return for money given by that person as a loan, while retaining possession of the property. The party to whom title is given, the "mortgagee," usually a bank, is allowed to register the title of the property in their name if the person taking the loan, the "mortgagor," fails to make the required payments. See "encumbrance" and "real property."
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."
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 judgment obtained by a claimant following the respondent's failure to reply to the claimant's claim within the proper time from service. In the Supreme Court, a respondent who has been properly served with a Notice of Family Claim has 30 days to file a Response to Family Claim. Once those 30 days have elapsed without the response being served on the claimant, the claimant may apply to the court for a judgment in default. This is the basis for divorce orders made under the desk order divorce process. See "desk order divorce" and "Response to Family Claim."
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."