Ring in the New Year with updated family court rules!

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The Provincial Court and government of BC are engaged in a multi-year project to help families experiencing separation reduce conflict, focus on children’s best interests, and resolve parenting and support issues earlier. As part of that process, new Provincial Court Family Rules were introduced in May 2021. Effective January 4, 2022, those Rules will be updated to incorporate feedback received in the last seven months.

Here’s a summary of the changes.

Parenting After Separation

People filing Family Law Act applications at all registries in the province will now have to take the Parenting After Separation or Parenting After Separation for Indigenous Families course. Previously, this was only required at 21 of BC’s 89 court registries.

However, the Rules taking effect on January 4, 2022 do not apply to an application about a family law matter filed before that date in a court registry that was not a parenting education program registry when it was filed.

New category of priority parenting matter

Sometimes families are involved with both the child protection system and the family justice system at the same time. Urgent concurrent applications about family law and child protection matters are being added to the definition of “priority parenting matters” given priority for hearing by a judge. This change can help identify and prevent delay in cases where a family law order might prevent a child being in care.

Appearing remotely in court

During the pandemic, the Court expanded its capacity for people to attend remotely. The ability to appear in family law matters in person, by telephone, video conference, or other means of electronic communication is now being incorporated in the Rules.

Default ways to attend court

While the Rules make attendance in person the default method of attending family court appearances, they allow the Chief Judge to change this for various types of proceedings. The Chief Judge has issued a new practice direction to make attending remotely the default method to attend conferences in family matters.

Practice direction FAM 11 - Default Method of Attendance for Certain Court Appearances makes telephone or Microsoft Teams audio- or video-conference the default ways to attend the following proceedings, unless a judge orders or directs otherwise:

• family management conferences
• family settlement conferences
• family case conferences
• trial preparation conferences
• pre-trial conferences
• pre-trial applications

The court registry will give parties information about how to attend and how to connect for telephone or Microsoft Teams appearances.

The Court encourages people to use Microsoft Teams video-conference rather than telephone to attend remotely whenever possible.

Before attending court remotely
The Practice Direction requires parties and lawyers to read:

including the requirement for lawyers to have cameras on unless there is a technical or other reason why they are unable to do so, in which case they must advise the presiding judge at the commencement of the proceeding

What if I’m not able or willing to use the default method of attending?
If you wish to attend court in a different way from the default method, you make an application to a judge. For example, you may apply to attend in person if the court appearance is scheduled to be heard by video or telephone.

New forms

The Form 4 Financial Statement has been amended in response to helpful feedback from court users and other forms are amended to be consistent with the Rules changes.

On January 4, 2022 the updated forms will be available on the government website using their current URLs and the online forms service “Apply for a Family Law Act Order” will be updated.

Rule applying to Family Maintenance Enforcement Act (FMEA) matters

For these matters, Rules amendments also:

• clarify the use of the Written Response to Application form
• allow for an FMEA application to suspend, change or cancel an order for imprisonment made in the absence of a debtor
• add a field to enforcement forms to provide the Family Enforcement Maintenance Program file number

Informal Trial Pilot location

Kamloops is named as the designated registry for an informal trial pilot project with rules that will come into effect on May 16, 2022. This project will explore the possibilities for a new, less adversarial, trial process.

More information

Find the amendments in OIC 647/2021 online on BC Laws.

An updated version of PCFR Explained will be posted on the government website when the new rules come into force. See page 89 for more on the Informal Trial Pilot Project.

Resources for family court matters

Videos about the Provincial Court Family Rules