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IN WHICH COURT SHOULD I START MY FAMILY LAW CASE IN BRITISH COLUMBIA?


A judge presides over a court proceeding.

There are two different courts that deal with family law issues in British Columbia. It is important that you bring your family law case in the correct court because the two courts have different powers and deal with different types of issues. This blog post is intended as a general guide to help you navigate the British Columbia family court system.

British Columbia family court system


The two courts in BC that initially handle family law cases are the Provincial Court and the Supreme Court. When a family law issue arises, you must determine which court is right for your case before you file your first document.


There are other factors that will influence your decision about where to start your family law case. Provincial Court is historically less expensive, less formal, and easier to navigate than Supreme Court. So, if the issues you need to address can be dealt with in either court, you may be better off starting your family case in Provincial Court. On the other hand, the Supreme Court has broader powers to make orders due to its “inherent jurisdiction” and offers different procedural options. Your best bet is to talk your case over with an experienced family lawyer for advice on how to proceed.

In some situations, you can go to either court because there is an overlap in the types of family law cases the BC Supreme Court and BC Provincial Court can handle. In other situations, you do not have a choice and you must start your case in the court that deals with your specific family law issue. To decide which court is right, you need to know which court deals with the family law issue(s) that you need to resolve. The sections below explain which court to go to depending on the issues involved.

Parenting arrangements


In British Columbia, both the Supreme Court and the Provincial Court can make orders with respect to guardianship of a child, parenting time and parenting responsibilities. This includes issues such as where the child will live and who will be responsible for making decisions that affect the child. Both courts have powers to make orders for contact with a child under British Columbia’s Family Law Act. Contact is the time that a person who is not the child’s guardian spends with the child. Grandparents, relatives, or other important people in the child’s life can apply in either court for a contact order.

Child support and spousal support


Both the Supreme Court and the Provincial Court can make orders for child support or spousal support. If you already have an agreement or court order in place that deals with child support or spousal support and you want to enforce it or change it, you should return to the same court where the order was made.

Relocation (moving with children)


Disputes can arise when a separated parent plans to move with the children. If the move is likely to have a significant impact on parenting time, parenting responsibilities or contact with the child, a relocation order is needed. Both courts have the authority to decide relocation disputes.

Division of property and debt


Only the Supreme Court can make orders dealing with property and debt. The BC Provincial Court does not have the authority to divide family property or family debt. So, if you need a court order determining who should get what following a separation or divorce, you must start your case in the Supreme Court.

If you and your former spouse were able to resolve debt and property disputes in a negotiated Separation Agreement, and you later want to ask the court to set aside your agreement dealing with property or debt, you must apply to the Supreme Court.

Divorce


The Provincial Court has no power to grant a divorce and cannot make any orders under the Divorce Act. So, if you want a divorce order to legally end your marriage, you must apply to the BC Supreme Court.


What if you want a divorce but have other issues such as parenting and child support that need to be decided first? In that situation, you will typically want to select the court that has the jurisdiction to decide all issues in your dispute. Valerie can review your case and help you decide if this approach is right for you.


Protection orders


Both courts have the power to make personal protection orders, including emergency orders. Valerie is often asked “Can I get a protection order from a provincial court if I already have a Supreme Court action pending?”. The answer is yes. You can apply for a protection order in the Provincial Court even if you have an open case in the Supreme Court, but again, it is preferrable to keep all your litigation confined to the same court and court action.


Trust Your Family Law Concerns to Us


If you are not sure which court to go to, contact the law office of Valerie M. Little. For more information about her family law office or to schedule your private and confidential family law consultation with our experienced lawyer, please call us today.


Valerie M. Little has been helping people resolve their family issues for more than 25 years throughout the Lower Mainland of BC, including: Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Burnaby, Maple Ridge, Langley and New Westminster.

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