When there is a court order or written agreement for child or spousal support payments, unpaid amounts become a debt that must be paid in the future. People who have had trouble paying support because their income has decreased since January 2020 due to COVID-19 may want to apply to court to change or suspend their support order. The Provincial Court of BC has set up a new 2-step process to deal with these applications more quickly.
If you want to change or suspend an existing BC Provincial Court support order or an agreement about support that has been filed with the Court, you may choose to use this process, although you don’t have to. Here’s how it works.
Who can use the new process?
What are the two steps in the process?
How do I begin?
1. Contact the Family Justice Services Division to arrange an interview (called a “needs assessment”). You can:
2. Unless your court file is in the Victoria Provincial Court, fill out the “Notice of intention to change existing child or spousal support agreement or order (PFA 918)” form and provide a copy to Family Justice Services and all other parties as noted on the form.
If your order or agreement is filed in the Victoria Provincial Court registry, the process is a little different. See How does it work in Provincial Court in Victoria? for the forms used there.
What happens in the “needs assessment”?
A Family Justice Counsellor or Child Support Officer will talk to you by telephone or videoconference to identify the issue(s) that need to be resolved in your case and decide whether the early resolution process is appropriate. They will also refer you to legal advice and other appropriate community supports. When assessing whether your case is suitable for the early resolution process they will likely contact the other party.
What happens in the Early Resolution Process?
If they decide that the early resolution process is appropriate in your case, they will tell you the options available for you and the other party (or parties) to meet with a dispute resolution professional and talk about whether you can agree to change your support order or agreement.
The dispute resolution professional may be a family justice counsellor, a family law mediator, a collaborative family law practitioner, or a child support officer.
Both you and the other party or parties must provide any financial information and documents the dispute resolution professional asks for.
If you reach an agreement the dispute resolution professional may help you:
If you do not reach an agreement but you have completed the Parenting After Separation Program (if your court file is in Abbotsford, Campbell River, Chilliwack, Courtenay, Kamloops, Kelowna, Nanaimo, New Westminster, North Vancouver, Penticton, Port Coquitlam, Prince George, Richmond, Surrey, Vancouver (Robson Square), Vernon, or Victoria Provincial Court) and at least one party has completed a needs assessment, you may use the expedited court process to schedule a hearing.
Family Justice Services will complete the bottom of the “Notice of intention to change existing child or spousal support agreement or order” form to show that one or all of the parties have completed a needs assessment.
How do I take part in the Expedited Court Process?
1. Complete Parenting After Separation, if required
To apply to change a child support order in the Abbotsford, Campbell River, Chilliwack, Courtenay, Kamloops, Kelowna, Nanaimo, New Westminster, North Vancouver, Penticton, Port Coquitlam, Prince George, Richmond, Surrey, Vancouver (Robson Square), Vernon, and Victoria Provincial Court locations, you must complete the Parenting After Separation Program or Parenting After Separation for Indigenous Families and download and file a certificate of completion. The courses are both online and take about two to four hours.
However, if you have completed the program in the last 24 months, you do not need to repeat it. See Provincial Court (Family) Rules, Rule 21.
The Parenting After Separation course is not required to make an application in other court registries.
2. Fill out and email forms
If your court file is at a court location other than Victoria, fill out and email all these forms to the Pre-court Case Management Service (the “Case Management Service”) at email@example.com (call 604-660-2528 or Toll free 1-866-660-2684 if you can’t email the forms):
Use the links to forms in this article or find the documents on the government Forms web page under “Provincial Court (Family) Rules” and “General”.
The Case Management Service will review your documents to make sure they are complete, and then file them in Court by email.
3. Provide documents to other parties
You must provide copies of each of these documents to all other parties and follow the directions on the application form about “service”. (“Serving” a document means giving it to someone.)
4. Provide application to Family Maintenance Enforcement Program if they’re involved
If your support order is registered with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program, you must provide a copy of the Application respecting existing orders or agreements (PCFR Form 2, PFA004) to your enforcement officer.
After you have filed proof that you’ve provided copies of your documents to the other parties and they have filed a Reply or the dead line for filing a Reply has passed, the Court will set a date and time for your hearing.
It will take place by telephone or videoconference unless a judge orders otherwise.
The judge may require you and the other party or parties to provide more financial information.
In some cases, an “Amicus” (a lawyer who does not represent any party but helps the Court) may make submissions to the judge in your hearing. Generally, an Amicus may be involved in more complex cases, for example, where there is corporate income, previously imputed income, or lack of adequate financial information and one party is self-represented. You will be told whether an Amicus will take part in your hearing before the hearing.
Find information on preparing for a family court hearing on the Family Cases Resources web page and on telephone and video hearings in the Guide to Remote Proceedings and eNews - What to expect in a family or small claims hearing held by telephone or video.
What should a person who receives an application to change support do?
A person who is served with (receives) an Application respecting existing orders or agreements must file a Reply (PCFR Form 3, PFA111) within 30 days. They may also need to file a Financial statement (PCFR Form 4, PFA022). (See s. 21(2) of the Federal Child Support Guidelines or the instructions on the Form 4 cover page.)
They should email the Case Management Service at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 604-660-2528 or 1-866-660-2684 Toll Free for help to make sure their documents are complete and to file their Reply.
How does it work in Provincial Court in Victoria?
There are some differences in the process and forms used at the Victoria Provincial Court because there is a pilot program there called “the Victoria Early Resolution and Case Management Model”.
If your court file is at the Victoria Provincial Court registry:
If you don’t reach agreement in the early resolution process in Victoria and want an expedited hearing, you email these forms to the Case Management Service at email@example.com (call 604-660-2528 or Toll free 1-866-660-2684 if you can’t email the forms):
Use the links in this article or find the documents on the government Forms web page under “Early Resolution and Case Management Registry Forms (only in the Victoria court registry)”.
You must provide copies of these forms to all other parties and follow the directions on the claim form about “service”. If your payments are sent through the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program, you must provide a copy of the Family law matter claim form to your enforcement officer.
You must also complete the Parenting After Separation Program or Parenting After Separation for Indigenous Families and download and file a certificate of completion. The courses are both online and take about two to four hours. However, if you have completed the program in the last 24 months, you do not need to repeat it. See Provincial Court (Family) Rules, Rule 21.
What can I do if I want to change my child or spousal support order, but I don’t meet the requirements for the new process?
For any other court order related to child or spousal support (including orders about arrears outstanding before January 2020 or counterclaims not involving COVID-related loss of income), either the payor (the person required to pay support) or the recipient (the person entitled to receive the payments) may mail or email an Application to Change or Cancel an Order to the court registry where the order was made, or fax it to a court registry listed in GEN 01 Practice Direction. After July 13, 2020, you may file it in person at a Provincial Court Registry, although the Court encourages you to use a remote option. (See Notice NP19 for updates on how to file.)
This is an explanation of the procedures set out in Practice Direction PD FAM 08. See too the BC government’s COVID-19 Legal Questions web page and Getting a lawyer or legal advice (including free or lower-cost options).
The Court appreciates the work of the BC Ministry of the Attorney General, the Family Justice Services Division and the Pre-court Case Management Service in establishing these new dispute resolution and expedited hearing processes to meet the needs of people affected by COVID-19.