How can I get a court order on an urgent family matter?

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Updated December 24, 2021 Available as a podcast!

Note: Some first appearances in family matters are being conducted by telephone, audio- or video-conference. See Virtual conferences and hearings (by phone or video) for more information.

Getting a court order on most family matters in BC Provincial Court takes time. You must file an application and serve it on (deliver it to) the other party. They then have thirty days to file a reply before you are given your first court date. Depending on your court location, you may have to take other steps as well.

But sometimes, either before or after this process has begun, an urgent issue arises. If you have an urgent need for a court order, there are ways of getting your application into court more quickly.

This article will outline procedures for getting a hearing quickly if you are asking for:

  • an order in a “priority parenting matter”
  • an order preventing a change in the location of a child's residence
  • an urgent court order in any other type of matter

Procedures for getting an urgent protection order if you fear family violence, or cancelling a protection order that was unjustified and made without notice, are outlined in How can I get an urgent protection order or set one aside?

Priority parenting matters

The definition of “Priority Parenting Matters” in the Provincial Court Family Rules includes various matters relating to actions by guardians and removal or relocation of a child.

Priority parenting matters include these actions by guardians:

  • a guardian’s consent to health-related treatments for a child, if delay will result in risk to the child’s health (including giving, refusing or withdrawing consent)
  • a guardian’s application for:
    • travel with a child or participation by a child in an activity if consent is required and is alleged to have been wrongfully denied
    • a passport, licence, permit, benefit, privilege or other thing for a child, if delay will result in risk of harm to the child's well-being (or their physical, psychological or emotional safety or security)

And these matters involving removal or relocation of a child:

  • a change in location of a child's residence, or a guardian's plan to change the location of a child's residence, if:
    • there is no written agreement or order about parenting arrangements for the child, and
    • the change of residence can reasonably be expected to have a significant impact on the child's relationship with another guardian
  • the removal of a child under sections 64 or 77(2) of the Family Law Act
  • matters relating to interjurisdictional issues under section 74(2)(c) of the Family Law Act
  • the return of a child alleged to have been wrongfully removed or retained under the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

In addition, effective January 4, 2022 concurrent applications about family law matters and child protection matters have been added to the definition of priority parenting matter. In certain circumstances, a director under the Child, Family and Community Service Act must must be given notice of an application for parenting arrangements or guardianship and complete a schedule to the Form 15 Application About a Priority Parenting Matter.

See Provincial Court (Family) Rules Part 1, Division 1, section 2  for the definition’s exact wording.

The Rules allow parties to apply for orders about priority parenting matters using an Application about a Priority Parenting Matter, with just seven days' notice to the other party. Only the matters listed as priority parenting matters in section 2 can be brought to court using this process. If you need an urgent order for another type of matter, see “Other types of matters” later in this article, or Protection Orders.

It may be possible to have a priority parenting matter heard by a judge with less than seven days notice if the matter is urgent. You would use an Application for case management order without notice or attendance  to ask a judge to shorten the notice period, and follow the instructions on the form.

See Provincial Court (Family) Rules, Part 5, Division 4 for the rules about priority parenting matters.

Changing location of a child's residence

The forms and procedures used when there’s a dispute about changing the location of a child’s residence (also called “relocation of a child”) depend on whether there is an existing court order or written agreement about parenting arrangements.

No order or agreement

If there is no existing order or written agreement and you are requesting an order about parenting arrangements, you use an Application about a Priority Parenting Matter to ask for an order preventing relocation.

Existing order or agreement

If you have a court order or written agreement about parenting arrangements, you file an Application for Order Prohibiting Relocation of a Child. See Provincial Court Family Rules Part 5, Division 5, Rule 80.   

Other types of matters  

Sometimes people need an urgent hearing in a matter that is not a priority parenting or relocation matter and doesn’t involve a protection order. In that case, you can apply for a Case Management Order to shorten the notice period or excuse you from serving your application on (delivering it to) the other party.

Some applications for a case management order can be decided by a judge based on the written application, without requiring the parties to attend court. The Application for case management order without notice or attendance contains a list of orders that can be requested without notice and attending court.

For orders that require court attendance or have all parties’ consent, use the Application for case management order.

See Provincial Court (Family Rules) Part 5, Division 2 for rules about Case Management Orders.

FAQs about urgent family matter proceedings

Do I need a lawyer?

You don’t need to have a lawyer to make applications in court or to file court documents, but you may find it very helpful to speak to a lawyer about your problem.  A lawyer can give you advice about your legal issues and can help you understand court forms and processes.  They can also help you prepare for a hearing or other court attendance.  

See Getting a lawyer or legal advice for help finding a lawyer or legal advice service. It includes free or low-cost options. 

How should I prepare for a court appearance on an urgent matter? 

Time in court is limited, particularly at a first appearance on an urgent application, so it is very helpful for the judge to be able to read any relevant documents before your court appearance. Any affidavits or documents you prepare should be as short as possible. You can provide them to a judge by filing an affidavit in the court registry and delivering a copy of it to the other party with your application.  

An affidavit should include the relevant facts. Relevant documents can be attached to it.  You may also file affidavits from other people who have heard or seen things that are relevant to your application. See The first rule about evidence – it must be relevant.

Come to court prepared to discuss your family law issues and, if possible, to resolve them.  Consider in advance what you think the outcome should be and, if the issues are related to a child, what would be in the best interests of the children.  Section 37 of the Family Law Act states that the judge and the parties must only consider the best interests of the child when  making orders or agreements about guardianship, parenting arrangements or contact with a child.

What can I expect at my first court date?

Even if you have filed an affidavit, the judge may still require you to provide other evidence by testifying at a hearing.

At a first court date on an application for a priority parenting order or an order prohibiting a child’s relocation, the judge will decide whether the issues can be decided quickly by hearing brief evidence and/or reading the affidavits that have been filed.  If that’s possible, the judge will consider the evidence and make an order.

But if the matter is more complicated or requires more evidence, the judge will refer you to a judicial case manager to set a date for a hearing (also called a trial).  An interim (temporary) order may be made to address any issues that may arise before the hearing.    If the time estimate for your trial is longer than one day, you might also be required to attend a Trial Preparation Conference to ensure you are ready for the trial.

If an order is made, will I get a copy of it?

Yes.  If an order is made, it will be typed up and signed by the judge and then both parties will receive a copy.  If the parties have lawyers, one of the lawyers will prepare the order and send it to the court for signing by the judge. Then the court registry will send copies to the lawyers to give to their clients.  If the parties do not have lawyers or are using the services of duty counsel, the court registry will prepare the order and send it to the parties.