Get a final family order in Provincial Court if you can't both agree

Provincial 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:
Before you use this guide, you must start a family law case. There are two ways to do this: Once you've followed the steps in one of these guides, you can apply for a final order using this guide.

About this guide

This step-by-step guide is for people who want to apply for final family orders related to parenting or support.

This guide is also for people who can agree on some issues but not on others. For example, you may agree on how to share parenting time, but not on how much spousal or child support should be paid.

Surrey and Victoria Family Court
Family cases in Surrey and Victoria Provincial (Family) Court follow different procedures. See Surrey and Victoria Family Court for more information.
You won't be able to use this guide if you're applying for support and you or the other person lives outside BC. Contact a lawyer for advice. For more information about getting support and the forms you need, see Interjurisdictional Support Orders, an Attorney General website.

Do we have to go to court?

A Provincial Court application can take a long time and be expensive and stressful. Before you apply for a court order, consider other options for settling your differences.

If you can agree on some or all of your issues, you can have those issues form part of a consent order.

A judge can decide on the issues that you don't agree on at a trial. But the judge doesn't have to make all the decisions — it's common for people to be able to agree on everything except one or two issues before going to court.

For more information, see:

If you and the other person can't agree and none of the options for staying out of court will work for you, you'll have to go through the court process.

Where do I go and how long will it take to apply?

Applications for final family orders in Provincial Court are made to a judge in the Provincial Court of British Columbia (Family Court).

After you file your application at the court registry and have it served on the other person, you don't go straight to a trial. The first step is usually a first appearance. Depending on where your court is located, you may need to meet some court requirements to get a first appearance date.

Around four weeks is a typical waiting time for a first appearance in front of a judge. This can vary by location of the Provincial Court.

You may have other court appearances after that. Usually you also attend a Family Case Conference before a trial is held. A trial or hearing date can take many months to arrange. If a trial is going to take more than one day because there are many witnesses, it's common for the trial date to be more than six months after the court appearance to set the date.

At any stage of the proceedings — even during a trial — you can make an agreement and have a judge make a consent order covering what you've agreed.

Get legal help

It's a good idea to get some legal help before you use this guide. If you can't afford a lawyer, you can get legal help in other ways, including:

Staff at Justice Access Centres in Nanaimo, Surrey, Vancouver, and Victoria can also answer your questions and help you fill out forms.

For information about legal aid, see the Legal Aid BC website.

Get a first appearance date

When you started the family law case, you filed either an Application to Obtain an Order (Form 1) or an Application Respecting Existing Orders or Agreements (Form 2). What you need to do to get your first appearance date depends on where you filed your application.

If you filed in one of the communities listed here and you don't fulfill these requirements, you'll need a court order excusing you from these requirements to get a court date.

Rule 21 registries

  • Abbotsford
  • Campbell River
  • Chilliwack
  • Courtenay
  • Kamloops
  • Kelowna
  • Nanaimo
  • New Westminster
  • North Vancouver
  • Penticton
  • Port Coquitlam
  • Prince George
  • Richmond
  • Surrey
  • Vancouver (Robson Square)
  • Vernon
  • Victoria

Rule 5 registries

  • Kelowna
  • Nanaimo
  • Surrey
  • Vancouver (Robson Square)
  1. You must take a Parenting After Separation class.
  2. You must file at the registry:
  3. The Family Court clerk will send out a first appearance date, even if the other person hasn't filed a Reply (Form 3).
If you don't take the Parenting After Separation class, you need a court order excusing you from this requirement to get a court date. If you don't file the certificate or have a court order, you won't get a court date.
  1. You must attend a Parenting After Separation class and meet with a family justice counsellor before you can have a court hearing.
  2. You must file a Referral Request (Form 6).
  3. The Family Court clerk will send out a first appearance date, even if the other person hasn't filed a Reply (Form 3).
If you don't meet with a family justice counsellor and attend a Parenting After Separation class, you need a court order excusing you from these requirements to get a court date. If you don't file the certificate and confirmation or have a court order, you won't get a court date.

The court clerk will automatically mail you a Notice of Hearing that contains the first appearance date after the other person files his or her Reply (Form 3). You don't need to do anything further.

Attend the first appearance

The judge uses the first appearance to sort out your case and make sure that:

  • you've provided each other with all the right information, and
  • you understand what issues you agree about and what you don't.

The judge will have a long list of cases to hear. They won't have much time to spend on any one case. This means you won't have a chance to tell them much about your case. You won't usually have a chance to get the orders you asked for in your application at this time.

The judge will tell you what to do next. For more information, see Rule 6 of the Family Court Rules.

The judge may:

  • Make an interim order (for example, for support), particularly if you and the other person agree. This order is temporary, until the family case conference or hearing date.
  • Order a family case conference. A family case conference is a one-hour meeting with a judge and the other person, where you'll try to settle some of the issues around parenting. Usually the judge will order a family case conference before setting a hearing date. For more information, see Family Case Conferences in Provincial Court.

If the other person doesn't show up

The judge can make orders if the other person doesn't appear. But they might be reluctant to make an order when the other person isn't in court. The judge can:

  • issue a summons to require the other person to appear, or
  • require that notice of the next hearing be sent to the other person

Prepare for the Family Case Conference

To prepare, see our Checklist for a Family Case Conference.

If the judge orders a Family Case Conference, both of you must attend. If one of you doesn't attend, the Family Case Conference judge can make orders in that person's absence.

Attend the Family Case Conference

Although attending a Family Case Conference isn't like going to trial, remember that you're still in court and the person conducting the case conference is a judge.

  • Dress appropriately.
  • Address the judge as "Your Honour."
  • Be as calm as possible.
  • Be prepared to answer questions.
  • Act politely in the presence of your former partner.

What happens at a family case conference?

  • Both of you must appear at a Family Case Conference, with or without lawyers.
  • The conference is usually held in a conference room, with a judge sitting at a table with you both.
  • The judge can ask you direct questions, and will try to find out information that might help resolve conflicts or reduce the amount of time needed for a trial to have conflicts resolved by a judge’s decision.
  • The judge can act as a mediator, so this is a great opportunity to have a judge help you settle your issues without going to trial.
  • The proceedings are confidential. If evidence is required to decide on an issue, a hearing must be set. The Family Case Conference isn't the place for making decisions about substantial issues if you don't agree.

The judge can make orders, including:

  • sending you to a family dispute resolution professional, such as a mediatorfamily justice counsellor, or parenting coordinator, or
  • referring your child to counselling.

The judge can make these orders with or without your agreement and you may have to pay for them. For a full list of the things a judge can do at a Family Case Conference, see Family Case Conferences in Provincial Court.

What happens if the discussion breaks down?

Sometimes, no meaningful discussions happen at the Family Case Conference because one party is unable or unwilling to discuss the issues or to compromise.

If it becomes clear that nothing will be settled at a Family Case Conference, the judge may try instead to determine what matters need to be cleared up before the case can proceed to a trial.

Attend a trial preparation conference

The trial preparation conference (also called a pre-trial conference) is a meeting with a judge to make sure:

  • both of you will be ready for trial, and
  • the time you've estimated for the trial is right.

This conference is usually held about six weeks before the trial date.

What happens at a trial preparation conference?

  • The procedure is like your first appearance.
  • Your matter will usually be on a list with many other matters in court. You'll probably only be in front of a judge for five to 15 minutes.
  • The judge might make orders about things such as:
    • exchanging witness lists
    • exchanging summaries of what each witness will say
    • exchanging other documents either of you plan to use at trial

What happens if we're not ready for trial?

The judge will adjourn the trial date.

To find out what you may ask the judge to do at a trial preparation conference, see Rule 8 of the Family Court Rules.

Prepare for the trial

To be properly prepared for your court appearance, you need to:

  • know what happens in court, and
  • prepare a trial book.

These are described in detail in our fact sheet Preparing to attend a Provincial Court trial.

Get the order

If your case is in Kelowna Provincial Court, see our Child Support page for important information.

At the end of the trial, the judge either:

  • gives a decision right away, or
  • says that they will decide at a later date.

If the judge decides right away

The registry clerk will prepare the order if neither you or the other person has a lawyer. This is required by the Provincial (Family) Court Rules.

The order is effective as soon as the judge makes it, unless the judge specifies a different date.

If the judge doesn't make a decision that day

If the judge says they will decide later:

  • the clerk will give you a date to come back to court and hear the decision, or
  • the registry will contact you later to give you a date to come and hear the decision.

Sometimes the judge writes a decision that's mailed to you both. Written decisions can be 20 or more pages long. Usually the judge will say at the end what orders are being made.

The registry clerk will prepare the order if neither you or the other person has a lawyer. This is required by the Provincial (Family) Court Rules.

The order is effective as soon as the judge makes it, unless the judge specifies a different date.

Register the order with FMEP, if you want

When you receive a signed copy of the order from the court, make a photocopy of it.

  • If the order involves support and the original support order was registered with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP), and support has now been changed, send a photocopy of the new order to the FMEP.
  • If the original support order was not registered with the FMEP, you may wish to register your new support order with the program now.

You must include a certified copy of your order with your enrolment package to speed up the enforcement process. Ask at the Family Court registry for a certified copy. There may be a fee for certification; call ahead fo find out.

For more information, see Family Maintenance Enforcement Program on the Family Justice (Attorney General ministry) website or contact FMEP.

You've now gone through all the steps required to get a final family order in Provincial Court. Thank you for using our step-by-step guide.