Affordable access to justice for separating families

Posted to: 
Help
17/01/2017

Updated June 2021

How can separating and divorcing families in BC get help to resolve their disputes safely, effectively, affordably, and without undue delay? The BC Ministry of Justice’s Family Justice Services Division (FJSD) provides services to do just this at 25 centres around the province and by web, phone and videoconferencing. This eNews will tell you more about their services and how to access them.

Family Justice and Justice Access Centres
FJSD provides free, confidential legal information and mediation services at 20 Family Justice Centres and 5 Justice Access Centres (JACs) in BC. The full range of services by telephone and web-based videoconferencing are also available throughout the province regardless of whether there is a Family Justice Centre located in your community or the parents reside in different communities. Services can be tailored to best meet the needs of families.

In 2019/2020 FJSD provided:

  • 53,000 services related to separation and divorce to nearly 26,000 individual parents in 14,000 families
  • Served over 1,100 clients who identified as Indigenous
  • Assisted close to 6000 clients with non-family civil issues
  • Successfully resolved some or all client issues in 86% of mediation cases

Family Justice Centres are staffed by trained interviewers and Family Justice Counsellors (FJCs). The interviewers provide early information and determine clients’ initial needs. FJCs are accredited mediators available to assist you in making important decisions when experiencing separation or divorce. For example, you may need to sort out parental responsibilities, who the child will live with, when they will see each parent and how much child support will be paid. Where appropriate, they can involve children in the mediation process if requested by the parents. There are also Child Support Officers (CSOs) in some locations who specialize in facilitating child and spousal support negotiations. They can assist with consent orders or variations in both Provincial and Supreme Court.

Video: Family Justice Counsellors in British Columbia - YouTube

JACs are located in Abbotsford, Nanaimo, Surrey, Vancouver and Victoria. They provide a greater range of services, delivered by various partner organizations as well as FJSD staff. In addition to the services available at Family Justice Centres, JACs offer self-help resource rooms to support people with various family and civil justice needs (such as separation and divorce, housing or debt issues), limited legal advice from lawyers onsite, debt counselling, and civil mediation.

As a result of COVID-19 provincial health orders, Family Justice and Justice Access Centres remain closed at this time, however a full range of FJSD services are available by telephone and video conferencing. More information on Family Justice Services’ during COVID-19 can be found here. Find contact information through the Clicklaw Help map and call the centre nearest to you or through Enquiry BC’s toll free number 1-800-663-7867 to learn more about these options.

What happens after you contact FJSD?
After you contact a Family Justice Centre, or Justice Access Centre, an interviewer will talk to you about your reasons for making contact and provide a brief summary of FJSD’s services. The interviewer will make a preliminary assessment of your needs and you can consider whether the services available might help your family.

If you want to proceed with services, you will have an appointment with a Family Justice Counsellor or a Child Support Officer. After speaking with you, the Family Justice Counsellor or Child Support Officer will contact the other party if:

  • you are interested in mediation
  • your issues are ones the FJSD deals with, and
  • the case is considered appropriate for mediation (e.g. no safety concerns and/or protection orders preventing contact).

A Family Justice Counsellor or Child Support Officer will meet separately with each party for an intake interview, and assess any issues related to safety, domestic violence and capacity to participate in the process. Family Justice Counsellors are mindful of these issues in all the services they provide.
If you reach agreement with the help of FJSD services, they will help you formalize your agreement. You can take a draft agreement to a lawyer to get legal advice before you sign it. With FJSD’s help, you may be able to obtain or change a written agreement or court order in Provincial Court without even having to attend court. If you are going to Supreme Court, they can give you information on how to proceed there. But be aware that Family Justice Counsellors do not provide legal advice or assist with property, debt or pension division matters.

Parenting after Separation Courses
FJSD also offers free online Parenting After Separation (PAS) and Parenting After Separation for Indigenous Families courses available to parents and others who have a responsibility to make decision for children or provide care to children. The courses provide helpful information about various issues related to separation and divorce and are designed to support informed and child-focused decisions when families separate.

More information is available at www.gov.bc.ca/familyjustice and at your local Family Justice Centre.

You can access the online PAS courses at: www.gov.bc.ca/parentingafterseparation

If you require a certificate before going to court, please make sure you complete the online course registration.

Mandatory Services
The services just described are all voluntary. However, FJSD also provides some services required by the Provincial Court Family Rules.

  • In many Provincial Court locations, people involved in a Family Law Act matter must attend a parenting education course such as Parenting After Separation or Parenting After Separation for Indigenous Families.
  • Three locations in the province, Vancouver (Robson Square), Kelowna and Nanaimo are referred to as Family Justice Registries. If filing in these court registries, in addition to a parenting education course, clients must attend a meeting with a Family Justice Counsellor before a court appearance can be scheduled for most Provincial Court family matters.
  • Surrey and Victoria are Early Resolution Registries. Clients filing in these registries must complete a parenting education course, attend with a Family Justice Counsellor for an assessment and participate in a consensual dispute resolution session if appropriate prior to their matter being heard in court.

You can also find out more about the Provincial Court Rules here.

Report Service
For some families involved in the court process, FJSD provides a Family Justice Report Service. A Provincial or Supreme Court judge may order a Full Reports or Views of the Child Reports under s. 211 of the Family Law Act. A specialized team of Family Justice Counsellors interviews parents, children and others, and writes these reports which are intended to help a judge make decisions about parenting arrangements by providing impartial observations.

Conclusion
Through its dedicated Family Justice Counsellors, Child Support Officers, interviewers and other staff, the FJSD provides invaluable help to separating and divorcing families in BC. Their mediation services help many families resolve disputes themselves, inexpensively and without unnecessary delay. However, when people cannot settle some or all of their issues, the Provincial Court provides both judge-led conferences and hearings based on evidence to determine family law issues.


1. All Family Justice Counsellors are certified as Family Relations Mediators with Family Mediation Canada and maintain that status by completing at least 20 hours of continuing family mediation education every year.
2. All Family Justice Counsellors are accredited family mediators appointed under BC’s Family Law Act.