First appearance in Provincial Court

Provincial Court
Please note that because of COVID-19, most Provincial Court first appearances are currently being held by phone or videoconference. However, the information on this page will still help you prepare for a "virtual" first appearance. For general information, see also Provincial Court virtual proceedings. For general court information, see Provincial Court during COVID-19.

This page is for you after you get a Notice of Hearing in the mail from the Family Court of BC with a court date. This will be your first time in court, where you'll explain what order(s) you want the court to make.

By now, you'll have filed and served your documents, including your Application to Obtain an Order, any affidavits, and other supporting materials. At your first appearance, you won't be giving any additional "evidence" but instead you may refer to these documents to support your request if necessary.

Your first appearance won't take long. First appearances aren't actually "hearings." Generally, a judge is deciding the next steps for moving your case forward. The judge may schedule a family case conference or a hearing. However, the judge can also:

  • make an order in urgent circumstances, even if the other person hasn't agreed
  • make a temporary order
  • make an order if you and the other person agree on the issues
Your next court appearance may be many weeks away. If your situation is serious, ask for an urgent order.

    Watch below to see what can happen at a first appearance. Then we'll help you prepare a script of what you need to say, and explain what to do in court.

    Watch a first appearance 

    The following two videos are based on the scenario of asking for an urgent order in Provincial Family Court. Each video is about three minutes long.

    Jane is about to be evicted and needs an urgent court order for child support. The first video is an example of how things go wrong at her first appearance. The video will pause any time you click to read a "tip."

     

    Now watch the same scenario, but this time Jane is:

    • prepared for court, and
    • using her script.

    (There are no screen tips this time because Jane stays on track.)

     

    Key takeaways from the videos:

    • Your court appearance will be brief and quickly paced
    • The judge likely won't know any facts about you
    • Ask exactly for what you want
    • Stick to the facts (no negative comments about other people, or opinions about things)

    Make a script

    The thought of going into a courtroom might make you nervous. But your first appearance in court doesn’t have to be stressful. You can write down everything you need to say. Then, take this short "script" into court with you and read it out loud to the judge – it’s not cheating! The judge will appreciate that you're stating things clearly. If the judge interrupts you with a question, your script will help you remember where you were. Even if you have a lawyer, preparing a script is a good way to stay calm and effective in front of a judge.

    Our preparation sheet shows you how to ask for what you need. Have a look at this example of a script. Then use this fill-in-the-blanks form to easily create your own script.

    Your script must be short. In court, you will have only a minute or two to give your name, make your request, and then outline the facts that support your request. Try to keep it to as few sentences as possible.

    • Write down exactly what you need.
    • The facts to include should cover who, what, when, where, and especially why.
    • Learn the correct terms (for example, "parenting time"). When asking for a court order, it's important that you use the word "order."
    • Know what type of order(s) you want and whether your request is legally reasonable. The best way to do this is to make a "wish list" and talk to duty counsel (or a legal clinic or legal advocate) ahead of time.Then bring a list of the orders to court with you and give a copy to the judge (and the other person, if there). Or, for example, if you are asking for an order about parenting time, set out a realistic and workable schedule, get an opinion on it (consider friends or family as well), and then bring copies of the schedule to court.
    • Ask that the judge order a financial statement from the other person, if needed. (If you don't do this, it could delay your case if you show up in court again without it.)
    • When children are involved:
      • Give details about the child(ren) if you're asking for anything related to them, including their names, ages, and their living arrangements.
      • Give the specific amounts (or best estimate) from the child support guidelines if you're asking for child support.
    Remember: If you need an order right away, you must call it an "urgent" order. If you don't say the order is urgent, you will have to wait from two to five months for a Family Case Conference or another hearing.  (It's okay if you want one order for child support that is urgent, but another order for spousal support that is not urgent.)

    Practise your lines

    After preparing your script, take time to get ready for your court day. Practise speaking to the judge. Read your script out loud. The more you practise, the more comfortable you'll be with the legal terms and the idea of speaking in court. Time yourself. Is it no longer than two minutes?

    It's best to print out your script to read from it. You're allowed to read it from a phone or an ipad but that could be awkward. You can print out your script at the courthouse library.

    The courtroom

    This photo shows a typical courtroom. Your courtroom may look slightly different. The person who starts a court matter is the "applicant" and the other person is the "respondent."

     

    When you arrive

    Plan ahead to have the whole day free, for example, by booking off work or arranging child care.

    • Wear clean, neat clothing (you don't need to "dress up" or wear a suit).
    • Arrive 15 minutes early.
    • Check in with the court clerk and find out when it's your turn (you'll have a number on the court list). You can ask to be called earlier if you like.
    • See the duty counsel lawyer if you have any legal questions. They may even be able to help you speak to the judge in the courtroom. This service is free. Check their office hours before you go to the courthouse.
    • Take a seat on a bench and wait to be called.
    If you feel unsafe because your ex (or some other person) is in the courtroom, tell the sheriff when you arrive. The sheriff can stand beside you when you're at the front, and can walk with you when you leave the courtroom as well.

    Your turn

    The court clerk will say (for example), "Your Honour, I'm calling number 10 on your Honour's list in the matter of Smith and Smith."

    • Walk up in front of the judge and stay standing
    • Bow (a slight bend forward from the waist)
    • Refer to the judge as "Your Honour"
    • After you say your full name, spell out your last name
    • If the other person hasn't come to the courthouse, the judge will ask you about serving the documents
    • Be formal when you mention any other person, even your ex (for example, Mr. Smith)
    • Then read from your script!

    The judge:

    • Won't seem friendly, just neutral
    • Will have your documents on their desk and may be reading as you talk
    • May interrupt you to ask for information
    • Will not want you to interrupt them

    Always stay calm, serious, and polite (don't roll your eyes, for example). You can try to watch the judge's expression for clues about how you're doing.

    Remember that if you lose track of where you were, you can take time to find your place in your script. You’re allowed to ask the judge questions, too. And the judge will give you a chance at the end to say anything you may have left out by mistake.

    The outcome

    You might get the order you asked for that day, if:

    • you asked for an urgent order, and you provided all the information needed
    • you and the other party agree, and you asked for a consent order
    • the judge decides to make a temporary order that will last until your next appearance in court

    The registry will draft the order and send it to you (you'll want to confirm this). Otherwise, you'll be asked to set a date for a Family Case Conference or for another court appearance if you asked for more time, and the judge agrees. See Family Case Conferences in Provincial Court.

    If you wanted the judge to make an order the same day, but the judge says they won’t do this, ask for an urgent hearing.

    Here's a little quiz so you can see how much you've learned about having a successful first appearance.