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.
- Under the Child, Family and Community Service Act they decide whether children should be removed from their parents’ care because of abuse or neglect and help families and social workers agree on what is necessary to reunite the family.
- Under the Family Maintenance Enforcement Act they make orders to collect unpaid child support.
- Under the Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act they make orders about child and spousal support where the parties live in different jurisdictions (provinces, states and countries).
- 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.
Two Trial Courts
People seeking court orders for guardianship of children, parenting arrangements, and child and spousal maintenance under the Family Law Act may go to either the Provincial Court or the Supreme Court of British Columbia, since the courts have “concurrent jurisdiction” in those matters. However, 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 B.C. has “exclusive jurisdiction” in those matters. 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.
Alternate Dispute Resolution
In an effort to deal with rising numbers of family cases and recognizing the benefits of mediated dispute resolution for families and children, the Provincial Court initiated judge-led case conferences in family matters in 1996 and these have been incorporated into new rules and processes in both family and child protection legislation.
The Family Law Act now emphasizes ways to assist families to agree on parenting and support plans through parenting education, involvement of Family Justice Counsellors, and mediation by judges and other professionals. Before there is a hearing on any family application, the parties may attend a family case conference in which they sit around a table with a judge in a conference room to discuss their parenting plan, determine whether they can settle the dispute, and identify any issues that require a full hearing. If a hearing is needed, the parties provide evidence by testifying and presenting documents and witnesses before a judge in a traditional courtroom. The judge decides the issues by assessing the evidence to determine what facts have been proven and applying the law to those facts.
The procedures for making applications under the statutes mentioned earlier are set out in the Provincial Court (Family) Rules, the Provincial Court (Child, Family and Community Service Act) Rules, and the Provincial Court (Adult Guardianship) Rules. Find links to more information and help with court procedures at Resources for Family Court.
If you do not have a lawyer, you may find it helpful to bring a trusted friend or family member with you to provide emotional support, take notes, and organize documents during a family court hearing or trial. The Provincial Court has adopted Support Person Guidelines that explain when you are permitted to have a support person help you, and what they can do. For more information on Support Persons see this eNews article and poster.
BC has some new resources to help families through separation. MyLawBC helps people solve common legal problems - divorce and separation, wills and personal planning, and mortgage foreclosure, using interactive online technology or “guided pathways”. It asks you questions and uses your answers to give you a personalized action plan, complete with a list of resources. HowToSeparate provides online courses, both spoken and written, on working out family problems, and detailed instructions on taking them to court, including training to build and present your case. FamiliesChange offers age-appropriate guides to the emotional aspects of separation and divorce for children, teens and adults. Finally, some BC family lawyers are offering “unbundled” legal services. They will help you develop a plan to resolve your problems and divide the tasks as you wish, doing only the tasks you hire them for.
Parenting After Separation
Under Rule 5 of the Provincial Court (Family) Rules, in some locations people must attend a Parenting After Separation information session and meet with a Family Justice Counsellor who will assist them in resolving all or part of their dispute before they can appear in court. Attending a Parenting After Separation programme in your community or using the online programme offered in English, Punjabi and Mandarin is recommended, even if it is not compulsory in your area, because the course offers valuable information on helping children adjust to their parents’ separation.