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 of all, think about whether you actually need to go to court. 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.

If you need to go to court to apply for a court order, find out which court you need to apply to. In BC, the Supreme Court and the Provincial Court handle some of the same types of cases. But there are differences in how they work and how much they cost. See the tables below for more information about Supreme Court and Provincial Court.

Sometimes you don't have a choice

Sometimes you don't have a choice about which court you go to. For example, 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. Get legal help if you want to go to a different court.

The first table shows you which court you have to go to for certain types of problems. The second one shows you some differences between the courts.

Which court do you go to?

Supreme Court to... Supreme or Provincial Court to...
  • apply for a divorce or annulment
  • get an order for custody under the Divorce Act
  • get an order for access under the Divorce Act
  • divide property or debts
  • get an order to protect your property or let you to stay in the family home
  • set aside or enforce an agreement dealing with property or debt
  • ask for a parentage order (when you ask the court to declare the someone is the parent of a child)
  • ask the court to appoint a trustee of children's property
  • arrange an adoption
  • get an order for child or spousal support
  • get an order for guardianship under the Family Law Act
  • get an order about parenting arrangements (allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time) under the Family Law Act
  • get an order for contact with a child under the Family Law Act
  • get a family law protection order (including an order that the other spouse mustn't come into the home)
  • set aside or enforce an agreement dealing with guardianship, parenting arrangements, contact with a child, or spousal or child support
  • ask for a parentage order, but only when you're asking for another order that needs the judge to decide who the parents of a child are (for example, an order for child support when the other person says he isn't the father)

What are the courts like?

Supreme Court has... Provincial Court has...
  • a more formal atmosphere
  • fewer court locations
  • lots of paperwork
  • many and stricter rules
  • more lawyers representing people and fewer people representing themselves
  • rules that say you must give written evidence about your case (for example, an affidavit) to get an interim order
  • filing fees, including fees to start your case ($200) and then to apply for an interim order ($80)
  • the ability to award costs and expenses
  • a less formal atmosphere
  • more court locations
  • less paperwork than the Supreme Court
  • fewer and more flexible rules
  • lawyers representing people, but also many people representing themselves
  • rules that let you give spoken evidence about your case
  • no filing fees
  • no ability to award costs (but can award expenses) (see Costs and expenses to find out more about this)

The benefits of using both courts

Sometimes it's better to use both courts but for different things. For example, you could:

  • get most of your orders in Provincial Court, and
  • just apply for your divorce order in Supreme Court.

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

But sometimes dealing with two different courts just makes things harder. For example, things can get complicated if you ask more than one court to deal with parenting and support issues.

Do you need more help deciding where to file your case?

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

Some terms in the Divorce Act will change on March 1, 2021

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

  • The term decision-making responsibility will replace custody to describe the responsibility for making important decisions and getting information about the children after separating.
  • The term parenting time will be used to describe the time that a spouse spends with their child and is responsible for supervising and caring for the child.
  • The term contact will be used instead of access to describe the time children spend with a person who isn't a spouse. This includes grandparents, aunts and uncles, and others.

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