Provincial Court judges deal with family matters under various British Columbia laws:
- Under the Family Law Act they help separated couples to agree on parenting arrangements and financial support, and judges conduct hearings and make decisions when a couple cannot agree. Judges can also make protection orders to protect at risk family members from family violence. This web page briefly outlines procedure in these matters and provides links to more detailed information.
- Under the Child, Family and Community Service Act judges conduct hearings to decide whether parents’ care of a child should be supervised by a social worker, or whether children must be removed from their parents’ care because of abuse or neglect. They also conduct Family Case Conferences to help families and social workers agree on what is necessary to reunite the family. The Provincial Court (Child, Family and Community Service Act) Rules set out procedures in these matters. Get links to more info here.
- Under the Family Maintenance Enforcement Act they make orders to collect unpaid child and spousal support. Find links to more info here.
- Under the Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act judges make orders about child and spousal support where the parties live in different jurisdictions (provinces, states and countries). For info on these procedures, see:
How do you get or change a support order when the other party lives outside BC?
What to expect if you receive an application made outside BC to obtain or change a support order
- And under the Adult Guardianship Act they make orders to protect abused or neglected adults who are unable to seek assistance for themselves due to illness, injury or some other condition. The Provincial Court (Adult Guardianship) Rules set out procedures. Find info on it here.
Should I be in Provincial Court?
All child protection matters under the Child, Family and Community Service Act are dealt with in the Provincial Court (although protective intervention orders and restraining orders can also be obtained in the Supreme Court of British Columbia).
Both the Provincial Court and the Supreme Court of BC can make orders about guardianship of children, parenting arrangements, and child and spousal support under the Family Law Act - the two courts have “concurrent jurisdiction” in those matters. However, once the Supreme Court has made an order about a particular issue, applications to change the order must be taken to Supreme Court.
Only a judge appointed by the federal government can make orders about divorce and division of a family’s property, so the Supreme Court of BC has “exclusive jurisdiction” in those matters.
For information on choosing a court see Choosing a court for Family Law Act matters.
Procedure in Family Law Act matters
Trials and hearings in a courtroom are adversarial procedures. They are sometimes necessary to resolve family disputes, but they can increase hostility between parents and therefore be harmful to children.
New Provincial Court Family Rules (“the Rules”) encourage people to resolve their family disputes by agreement unless urgent court action is needed. They make trying to reach agreement the first step in the court process, rather than just an alternative to court.
The Rules allow people to meet with a judge to discuss their issues in different types of “conferences” held at various stages of a family court matter.
However, if parties can’t agree, the Rules are designed to provide a timely, fair decision in a way that:
• takes into account the impact of court proceedings on children and the family
• minimizes conflict and promotes cooperation
• provides efficient court processes that are consistent with the complexity of the case
These new Rules apply to matters in BC Provincial Court under the Family Law Act dealing with:
• protection orders
• parenting arrangements including parental responsibilities and parenting time
• child support and spousal support
• contact with a child
• guardianship of a child
They also contain provisions about procedures under the Family Maintenance Enforcement Act and filing orders for enforcement and setting aside registration of support orders under the Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act.
Some court proceedings may be conducted by telephone or videoconference using the Microsoft Teams platform. Current information on how different types of proceedings are being conducted can be found in Practice Directions and Notices to the Profession and the Public issued by the Chief Judge. Find guidance on how to appear remotely in a virtual conference or hearing at Attending Remotely.
The first steps
The Rules require people to take different first steps before filing an application in a “family law matter”, depending on where their court is located. See What you need to know about the new Provincial Court Family Rules for the definition of “family law matter” and the steps required in each court location.
For urgent matters, such as protection orders and those defined as “priority parenting matters”, the rules permit a party to a make an application before completing any first steps. See:
Without Notice Applications
Usually, someone seeking a court order must deliver a copy of their application and documents to the other party before any court appearance is set. Fairness requires that a judge hear both sides before making an order.
To get an order without giving the other party notice of your application, you must get an order from a judge permitting you to proceed “without notice”. You must satisfy the judge that there would be a real risk if notice were required.
You should only make an application to proceed without giving the other party the required notice in an emergency where an immediate court order is necessary to protect you or a child, or the interests of justice clearly demand it.
See Urgent Without Notice applications for more information, including a flowchart.
First court appearance – a Family Management Conference
If you haven’t agreed on all issues after taking the required first steps, your first appearance in court will be a Family Management Conference - an informal, time-limited conference with a judge to identify unresolved issues, explore possibilities for agreement, and/or help parties to prepare for a trial (also called a hearing). The judge may make case management orders, consent orders, and interim (temporary) orders to address needs until the parties resolve their family law issues. See What can I expect at a Family Management Conference.
If a trial (also called a hearing) is needed, the parties provide evidence by testifying and presenting documents and witnesses before a judge. The judge decides the issues by assessing the evidence to determine what facts have been proven and applying the law to those facts. See Preparing for a family court trial for links to helpful information.
Support Person at a hearing or trial
If you do not have a lawyer, you may find it helpful to bring a trusted friend or family member to your family court trial to provide emotional support, take notes, and organize documents. The Provincial Court has adopted Support Person Guidelines that explain when you are permitted to have a support person sit beside you and what they can do. For more information see our Support Persons Guidelines page and poster.
Find links to information on all types of family matters in Provincial Court, as well as preparation guides, help with court procedures, and ways to get legal advice at Resources for Family Court.
This website provides general information only and should not be used as legal advice.
Updated September 21, 2021