Starting a Court Proceeding in a Family Matter

From Clicklaw Wikibooks

If you need the court to make an order about anything, from the care of children to the payment of spousal support to the division of property (and even just a divorce), you must begin a court proceeding. There are certain steps you must take, certain fees you must pay and certain forms you must fill out before the court will hear your claim. Although the staff at the court registries are friendly and very helpful, they cannot provide legal advice and it is your job to prepare these materials, gather your evidence, and take the steps necessary to bring your case before a judge.

This section reviews the processes for starting a 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 Replying to a Court Proceeding.

The Supreme Court

To start a proceeding in the Supreme Court, the main document you will have to prepare is a Notice of Family Claim in Form F3, a special form prescribed by the Supreme Court Family Rules. (This document is one of the basic legal documents in a court proceeding known as pleadings.) This is the document that says who you are suing and the orders you want to the court to make.

Family law proceedings are governed by the Supreme Court Family Rules. It's important that you have a working knowledge of the rules about how court proceedings are started; as your proceeding progresses, you'll also need to learn the rules about judicial case conferences, disclosure, interim applications, and trials.

The primary rules about Notices of Family Claim and the management of proceedings in Supreme Court are:

  • Rule 1-1: definitions
  • Rule 3-1: starting a court proceeding
  • Rule 4-1: Notices of Family Claim and service requirements
  • Rule 4-3: replying to a Notice of Family Claim
  • Rule 5-1: financial disclosure
  • Rule 6-3: personal 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
  • 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 Notice of Family Claim and other court forms can be found in Supreme Court Forms & Examples. For a quick introduction to how to start a proceeding, see How Do I Start a Family Law Action in the Supreme Court? It's located in the section Starting an Action in the How Do I? part of this resource.

Quick tips: Starting an action in the Supreme Court

The following tips are located in the section Starting an Action in the How Do I? part of this resource:

  • Can't pay your court fees: If you can't afford pay court fees, you can apply for indigent status. If you are granted indigent status the court fees will be waived for all or part of your court proceeding. To find out more, see How Do I Apply for Indigent Status in the Supreme Court?
  • Not sure where your ex is: If you're not sure where your ex lives in order to start a court proceeding, see How Do I Find My Ex?

Preparing, filing and serving the Notice of Family Claim

The claimant, the person starting the court proceeding, must fill out a Notice of Family Claim and file the claim in court. The Notice of Family Claim provides: the claimant's name and address; the name and address of the person against whom the claim is made, the respondent; the basic history of the parties' relationship; and, an outline of the orders the claimant would like the court to make.

The court form that must be used is Form F3, set out in the Supreme Court Family Rules. This is a special form of claim used only in family law cases. Additional pages that require more detailed information must be added to the Notice of Family Claim when the claimant seeks orders about:

  • divorce,
  • the care of children and 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 Notice of Family Claim must be filed in the court registry and be personally served on the respondent. If you are asking for a divorce order, you'll have to fill out a Registration of Divorce Proceeding form when you file your Notice of Family Claim. It currently costs $200 to file a Notice of Family Claim, or $210 if the claim includes a claim for a divorce. When you file any document in Supreme Court (including the Notice of 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).

Personal service means physically handing the Notice of Family Claim to the respondent. The Divorce Act and Rule 6-3(2) of the Supreme Court Family Rules say that a claimant cannot serve a respondent themself. You must either pay a process server to do it or enlist the help of a friend over the age of majority. Although this ought to go without saying, don't use one of your children to serve your ex.

Deadline for reply

The respondent has 30 days to file a Response to Family Claim after being served with the claimant's Notice of Family Claim. If the respondent doesn't do this, the claimant may be able to apply for the orders asked for in the Notice of Family Claim as a default judgment, a final order made in default of the respondent's reply (and possibly without further notice to the respondent).

You should be aware that in most cases the courts are fairly lenient towards people who miss filing deadlines. A claimant should not expect to win on a technicality like this. If a respondent files their Response to Family Claim late, the court will usually give the respondent an extension of time and overlook the missed due date. However, if the respondent just ignores you and ignores your claim, at some point the court will make the order you're asking for.

The next steps

If the respondent has chosen to file a Response to Family Claim, they have decided to oppose your claim. This doesn't mean that you're necessarily going to wind up in a trial, but it does mean that, at least for now, the respondent disagrees with some or all of the orders you're asking for. One of three things is going to happen in your court proceeding:

  1. 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.
  2. You'll not be able to agree, and the intervention of the court at a trial will be required.
  3. After some initial scuffles, neither you nor the respondent 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

To start a proceeding in the Provincial Court, the main document you have to prepare is an Application to Obtain an Order in Form 1, a special form prescribed by the Provincial Court Family Rules. This is the document that says who you are suing and what you are suing for.

Family law proceedings are governed by the Provincial Court Family Rules. It's important that you have a working knowledge of the rules about how court proceedings are started; as your proceeding progresses, you'll also need to learn the rules about Family Case Conferences, disclosure, interim applications, and trials. The primary rules about Applications to Obtain an Order and the management of court proceedings are:

  • Rule 1: definitions
  • Rule 2: Applications to Obtain an Order and service requirements
  • Rule 3: replying to an Application to Obtain an Order
  • 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 Application to Obtain an Order and other court forms can be found in Provincial Court Forms & Examples. For a quick introduction to how to start a proceeding, see How Do I Start a Family Law Action in the Provincial Court? It's located in the section Starting 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 disadvantage of bringing your case to the Provincial Court is that the authority of the court is limited. The Provincial Court can only hear applications under the Family Law Act on certain subjects, including:

  • guardianship,
  • 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 your application if you are applying for orders under the federal Divorce Act or for orders relating to the division of property and debt under the Family Law Act.

Preparing, filing and serving the application to obtain an order

Most court proceedings are started in the Provincial Court by filing an Application to Obtain an Order in Form 1. (Court proceedings can also be started with an Application to Change or Cancel an Order in Form 2 where there is already a court order or separation agreement in place.) The person beginning the action, the applicant, fills out the Application to Obtain an Order and provides certain information, including: the applicant's name and address; the name and address of the person against whom the application is being made, the respondent; a list of the orders the applicant is asking the court to make; and, a very brief statement of the relevant facts.

The Application to Obtain an Order must be filed in the court registry and be personally served on the respondent. No fee is charged to file the Application to Obtain an Order.

Personal service means physically handing the Application to Obtain an Order to the respondent. Rule 2(3) of the Provincial Court (Family) Rules says that an applicant cannot personally be the one who serves a respondent. You must either pay a process server to do it or enlist the help of a friend over the age of majority. Don't use one of your children to serve your ex.

If you're not sure where you ex lives, see How Do I Find My Ex? It's located in the section Marriage, Separation & Divorce in the How Do I? part of this resource.

Deadline for reply

The respondent has 30 days to fill out and file a court form called a Reply after being served with the applicant's Application to Obtain an Order. If the respondent doesn't do this, the applicant may be able to apply for the orders asked for in the Application to Obtain an Order as a default judgment, a final order made in default of the respondent's reply.

You should be aware that in most cases the courts are fairly lenient towards people who miss filing deadlines. An applicant should not expect to win on a technicality like this. If a respondent files their reply late, the court will usually give the respondent an extension of time and overlook the missed due date. However, if the respondent just ignores you and ignores your claim, at some point the court will make the order you're asking for.

The next steps

If the respondent has chosen to file a Reply, they have decided to oppose your claim. This doesn't mean that you're necessarily going to wind up in a trial, but it does mean that, at least for now, the respondent disagrees with some or all of the orders you're asking for. One of three things is going to happen in your court proceeding:

  1. 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.
  2. You'll not be able to agree, and the intervention of the court at a trial will be required.
  3. After some initial scuffles, neither you nor the respondent will take any further steps in the court proceeding and the proceeding will languish.

Parenting After Separation

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.


Resources and links

Legislation

Resources

Links


This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Shannon Aldinger, June 8, 2017.


Creativecommonssmall.png 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.
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