Dealing with child support issues when one parent lives outside BC

Posted to: 
Law
21/06/2016

Suppose you live in B.C. and need a court order for child or spousal support but the other parent lives in another province or country. How do you get it? British Columbia has made agreements with all the Canadian provinces and territories and several foreign countries to recognize each other’s child and spousal support orders and agreements.

The B.C. Ministry of Justice Family Justice website provides Interjurisdictional Support Order (ISO) forms online. The site guides you to the right forms; you fill them out and mail them with supporting documents to an office in Vancouver. The ISO office then takes care of sending the necessary information to the other province or country. There, the other parent appears in court and an order can be made without your having to attend.

But what if one parent lives in Saskatchewan, has an order for child or spousal support under provincial legislation*, wants to change it, and the other parent has moved to British Columbia? B.C.’s Interjurisdictional Support Order Act (ISO) established a process for doing that as well. Unfortunately, the process was very long and involved.

The challenge was to make sure that the process was fair to both parties, and that both had an opportunity to present evidence and be heard before any court order was made. Where the parties live in different provinces or countries it has been difficult to achieve this without long delays. For example, if a party located outside B.C. didn’t provide enough information, their hearing had to be adjourned (continued on another day) and a request sent off to obtain more evidence. This could take several months.

As a result, judges of the B.C. Provincial and Supreme Courts entered discussions with the provincial Ministry of Justice to try to improve the way applications like this are dealt with. Those discussions culminated in a new process.

The Ministry retained a process serving firm to speed up delivery of ISO court documents. It also provided dedicated ISO staff to work with parents before their matters go to court to see if they can reach an agreement. If that is not possible, ISO staff work with them to prepare sufficient evidence and submissions for a judge to decide their issues in a single court appearance. ISO lawyers review parties’ materials before any hearing to make sure they are complete and ready for court. Having complete, consistent and well organized material means fewer adjournments to obtain more information, and it is a tremendous help to a judge trying to understand all the issues, determine relevant facts, and apply the law properly.

Lawyers appearing as amicus curiae (as a “friend of the court” rather than for either party) should be available for every case that goes to hearing. Lawyers appear in person only at the Surrey and Vancouver Robson Square Provincial Courts, but elsewhere by video or telephone. It is expected that in-person lawyers will be added for other large courthouse locations in the future. The Provincial Court has made available standard form orders to help ensure timely preparation of child support orders.

Discussions on the ISO process began in 2013, with implementation beginning in 2014. The results so far indicate that significant progress has been made in reducing the time it takes to get an ISO order in Provincial Court. The average time taken to get a decision on an application has been reduced from over 20 months to 9.3 months. Significantly, not a single application has been stayed or adjourned generally (put off with no date set) since the new process was launched.

The process is being evaluated to identify any further changes needed.

*The procedure is different for orders made under the federal Divorce Act. There’s a helpful step-to-step guide to child support when one person lives outside BC on the Legal Services Society’s Family Law website. It can take you through the steps that apply to your circumstances.