The new Provincial Court Family Rules (“the Rules”) take effect on May 17, 2021. Based on extensive research, consultation, and experience gained in Victoria since 2019, these rules take a holistic approach to family disputes. They encourage people to use community resources to help with non-legal impacts and to try to resolve legal issues by agreement before going to court, unless court action is needed.
The Rules aim to help self-represented litigants with language and forms that are easier to understand. They also streamline procedures so people only need to attend court by telephone, video, or in-person, when something substantial will happen.
What do the new Rules apply to?
The Rules set out procedures for family matters in the Provincial Court dealing with:
under the Family Law Act. They also contain provisions about procedures under Family Maintenance Enforcement Act and filing orders for enforcement and setting aside registration of support orders under the Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act.
They apply to matters filed in BC Provincial Court before May 17, as well as after. If you filed an application or motion before May 17, new procedures will apply to you. For example, you’ll attend a Family Management Conference instead of a First Appearance.
There are new forms to use for specific applications. The Application to Obtain an Order, Application Respecting Existing Orders or Agreements, and Notice of Motion forms will no longer be used. Instead, you might file:
or one of several other specific applications. The forms include information on when they should be used, next steps, and tips for completing them. They use questions to help people provide the necessary information.
2. First steps
The new Rules define a “family law matter” as a case about one or more of these issues:
People must take different steps before filing an application about any of these family law matters or before setting a date for their first court appearance depending on their court location. The steps may include:
Family Needs Assessment
In a family needs assessment, a Family Justice Counsellor may:
Consensual Dispute Resolution:
The Rules define “Consensual Dispute Resolution” (CDR) as “mediation with a qualified family law mediator, a collaborative family law process, and facilitated negotiation of a child or spousal support matter with a child support officer”.
In Vancouver, Victoria, and Nanaimo, low and modest income families may use the Virtual Family Mediation Project – free online family mediation and advice services offered in a pilot project administered by Access Pro Bono.
In Richmond and at Vancouver’s Robson Square courthouse volunteer lawyers also offer free mediation to eligible families.
Parenting education programs help parents learn about the impact of separation on children and ways to reduce its harmful effects. The online course, Parenting After Separation, is one form of parenting education.
Which steps are required at my court location?
In Surrey and Victoria:
These are called “Early Resolution Registries”. Before filing an application or reply about a family law matter in an Early Resolution Registry, parties must:
Special forms are used at these Early Resolution Registries.
In Kelowna, Nanaimo, and Vancouver (Robson Square):
These are called “Family Justice Registries”, where parties may file an application in a family law matter, but before getting a date for a Family Management Conference they must:
In Abbotsford, Campbell River, Chilliwack, Courtenay, Kamloops, New Westminster, North Vancouver, Penticton, Port Coquitlam, Prince George, Richmond, and Vernon:
These are called “Parenting Education Program Registries” where parties may file an application in a family law matter, but before getting a date for a Family Management Conference they must:
All other BC Provincial Court locations:
In other court locations none of these preliminary steps are required, although completing a parenting education program is recommended. However, as additional funding becomes available it is hoped that these Early Resolution services can be extended to other court locations.
If a matter is urgent, it can be set before a judge without the parties having to complete any of these first steps. Urgent matters include applications about protection orders and “priority parenting matters”. Watch for future eNews articles on these topics.
3. Streamlined Court Processes
Family Management Conferences:
Under the previous rules, people’s first court appearance on a family matter was often in a busy courtroom where the judge had little time to do more than direct them to set a date for a future court appearance. The new rules replace these unsatisfactory first appearances with a Family Management Conference with a judge.
The judge at a Family Management Conference can help the parties define disputed issues and make interim (temporary) orders. If a hearing is needed, they may also make case management orders about timing and evidence to ensure the trial is conducted efficiently, in a manner consistent with the complexity of the case.
While in some cases all legal issues may be resolved at a Family Management Conference, they are primarily designed to stabilize a family’s situation until major issues can be resolved by agreement or trial, and to help parties begin to prepare to resolve those issues.
A simplified application for a Consent Order contains a link to the Provincial Court’s Family Law Act Orders Picklist to help people word their order using standard terms. In Surrey, where the new Rules have been in effect since December, one lawyer reported filing and obtaining a Consent Order in one day without leaving home.
The Rules contain provisions to facilitate filing documents and setting dates by email and, when the technology permits, eFiling. See Updated NP 19 Court Operations During COVID-19 for current information about filing options.
When circumstances make it necessary, unsworn affidavits may be filed. They must then be affirmed to be true during a court appearance.
4. Children’s Rights
The Rules take into account the impact that the conduct of a case may have on a child and their family. Therefore, a child may have a lawyer represent them in proceedings without having to make an application for a court order permitting this. (The lawyer files and serves a Notice of Lawyer for Child on the parties.)
When a family matter involves a child, the judge must consider the child’s views unless it is inappropriate to do so.
The new Rules are the result of five years of work by representatives of the BC Ministry of the Attorney General, the Provincial Court, Legal Aid BC, the Law Society of BC, the Canadian Bar Association BC Branch, and an organization that helps self-represented litigants.
The Rules aim to encourage people to resolve family disputes by agreement or to help them obtain a just and timely decision in a way that minimizes conflict and its adverse impact on children and families, promotes cooperation, and uses court resources effectively and appropriately. They are designed to help families build skills to communicate and parent after separation rather than to increase hostility and create lasting adversarial relationships.