The Provincial Court deals primarily with family law issues related to a parent’s responsibilities towards their children after separation. The issues include how they raise, financially support, and spend time with their children. These issues can also be dealt with in Supreme Court, but many people choose to go to Provincial Court because it is less expensive and the rules are more flexible, which makes it easier if you don’t have a lawyer. The Provincial Court of BC hears about half of all family matters in the province. If a case deals with divorce, adoptions, or the division of family property, it has to be heard in Supreme Court.
If a social worker determines that a child (under the age of 18) needs protection they may take steps to remove that child from their family home. However, removing a child from their home is supposed to be a last resort. So unless there is immediate danger, rather than remove the child, the social worker will monitor the family and create a plan to address any safety concerns. If they do not think the child is safe in the home, they may place the child in a foster home or with a relative. If this happens, the parents can go to Provincial Court to challenge the removal of the child or the social worker’s plan for the child.
Soon after the child is removed there is a hearing in court called the “Presentation Hearing” where the judge will determine if the social worker was
- right to remove the child, and
- where the child should live until a full hearing can take place.
Provincial Court Judges will lead mediations called a “case conference” between parents and social workers to try to come up with an agreed upon plan for the child. If they cannot agree, they will have a “Protection Hearing” to determine
- whether the child needs protection, and
- if so, what plan is in the child’s best interests.
Each parent must financially support their children. In some cases, someone may be responsible for financially supporting an ex-spouse for a certain amount of time after their separation. When couples separate they may make a formal agreement, or have a judge make an order, about child support and/or spousal support. Most of the time, the person ordered to pay the support does so voluntarily, but in some cases they do not.
If someone is not receiving the required amount of support payments, they can register their agreement or order with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP). The FMEP can then take actions to enforce the support payments in court. A judge can even order the payor be sent to jail for missing payments in the most serious cases.
Changing or Appealing Family Law Orders
The needs of families change over time. A parenting schedule that worked for a family with very young children probably won’t work for the family once those children are teenagers. For that reason, family court orders can be changed when the parties agree to change the order, or they can apply to court to have the order changed if the circumstances changed enough. There is no time limit on applying to change a family law order.
Appealing an order is different than changing an order. You have to show that the judge made a significant error in their decision. Appeals are far more difficult and expensive. There are also short time limits. If you have a final Provincial Court order, you can appeal it to the Supreme Court.