Do you need to go to Provincial (Family) Court or Supreme Court?

Provincial Court
Supreme Court

Court operations during COVID-19

Because of COVID-19, many conferences, hearings, and proceedings are being held by phone or videoconference at this time. For more information, see:

First, think about whether you need to go to court at all. It can be expensive and stressful. Many couples get help to solve their family law issues without going to court. See Making an agreement after you separate and Who can help you reach an agreement? for more information on this.

In BC, the Supreme Court and the Provincial Court handle some of the same types of cases. But sometimes you don't have a choice about which court to go to. For example, if you're married and you want a divorce, you must go to Supreme Court. Or, if you want to change an order that's already in place, you usually have to go back to the same court where the order was made.

Sometimes you can use both courts, each for different things. For example, if you're married, you could:

  • get most of your orders (such as parenting and child support orders) in Provincial Court, and
  • apply for your divorce order in Supreme Court.

Using both courts might save you time and money, especially if you and your spouse agree about doing things this way.

You can only ask one court to deal with an issue. For example, you can’t apply to both courts for child support and see where you get the best result.

Which court can give you the orders you need?

Only Supreme Court can give orders... Both Supreme Court and Provincial Court can give orders...
  • for a divorce or annulment

  • to divide property or debts

  • to set aside or enforce an agreement dealing with property or debt;

  • for a parentage order when a child has been conceived through assisted reproduction and there’s disagreement about who all the parents are

  • to appoint a trustee of children's property

  • to arrange an adoption

  • for child or spousal support

  • for guardianship under the Family Law Act

  • about parenting arrangements] (allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time under the Family Law Act

  • for contact with a child under the Family Law Act

  • to protect your property or let you stay in the family home
  • to get a family law protection order (including an order that the other spouse must not come into the home)

  • to set aside or enforce an agreement dealing with guardianship, parenting arrangements, contact with a child, or spousal or child support

  • about relocation (whether someone is moving with or without a child)

  • to figure out who the father of a child is

 

What are the differences between the courts?

Supreme Court Provincial Court
  • fewer court locations

  • lots of paperwork

  • a more formal atmosphere

  • stricter rules

  • more lawyers representing people and fewer people representing themselves

  • you must give written evidence about your case (for example, an affidavit)

  • you must pay fees to file your documents

  • can award costs and expenses

  • more court locations

  • less paperwork

  • a less formal atmosphere

  • fewer and more flexible rules

  • many people representing themselves, but also lawyers representing people

  • you can give written and spoken evidence about your case

  • you don't have to pay fees to file documents

  • can award expenses but not costs (see Costs and expenses for more information about this)

 

Need more help deciding where to file your case?

See Where to go and Who to call to find out who can help you.

If you go to Provincial Court, you can take a support person to help you deal with being in court. See Can you take a support person to Provincial Court? to find out more about how a support person can help.

Some terms in the Divorce Act changed on March 1, 2021

Effective March 1, 2021, the federal Divorce Act uses terms similar to those in the BC Family Law Act.

  • The terms decision-making responsibility and parenting time replaced "custody."
  • The terms contact and parenting time replaced "access."

Which court to go to?

Leila explains how she and her ex decided which court to take their family issues to in our illustrated short story, Which court to go to?

Illustration to introduce story