If your family law case is in Kamloops Provincial (Family) Court, a judge may offer you the option of an “informal trial” before a trial is scheduled. Both you and the other person must agree to have an informal trial.
While an informal trial still happens in a courtroom, the judge relaxes strict court and evidence rules, letting you present your case more naturally. You might find this type of trial less complicated and less stressful, especially if you don’t have a lawyer.
If you’re given the option of an informal trial, you’ll be provided with lots of information and time to decide. You’ll be encouraged to talk to a lawyer about whether it’s a good choice for you.
You may still have your own lawyer at an informal trial, but what they can do is more limited. For example, your lawyer can make opening and closing statements but they can’t ask you or the other person questions.
Just like at a regular trial, a judge may allow you to bring a support person (a trusted friend or family member) to sit beside you.
If the judge doesn’t offer you the option of an informal trial, you can ask for one. The judge will consider whether the other person wants it as well and will decide if it’s appropriate in your case.
Why choose an informal trial?
An informal trial is less formal and more flexible than a regular trial. The more relaxed approach allows the judge to:
- guide the process and keep things on track,
- reduce conflict, and
- focus on trying to help you both agree on how to solve your family law issues, if possible.
At the trial, the judge will take time at the beginning to explain what will happen in easy-to-understand terms. You can stay seated at a table in front of the judge when telling them your side of the story. You don’t need to be concerned about using legal terms and phrases, how to speak or ask questions properly, or whether you’re following the court rules.
Unlike a regular trial, only the judge can ask you questions. The other person (or their lawyer) isn’t allowed to object (interrupt with a complaint) when you’re speaking or cross examine you (ask you questions) afterwards.
You'll still use evidence (documents and other materials) to convince the judge to resolve the issues the way you want, just like in a regular trial. You’ll still file documents at the court registry before the trial and disclose to the other person the evidence that you’ll use.
However, at an informal trial, the judge will allow you to say things and give them evidence to consider that might not normally be allowed in court. You can explain the issues in your own words and use your evidence without worrying if the information is okay. This can include unfiled documents or other materials, such as evidence from other people. Because of this, you may not have to have witnesses.
At the trial, the judge will decide whether what each of you says and other evidence is reliable, relates to the issues in your case, and proves or disproves your case. The judge will also decide how important and helpful the evidence is.
Because of these differences (being able to talk to the judge directly, no objections, no cross examination by the other person, possibly no witnesses), an informal trial may be shorter than a regular trial and may be able to be scheduled sooner than usual.
The informal trial process
At the start of the trial, the judge will explain the process and make sure everyone understands and agrees to it.
If you’re the person who filed the application, you’ll talk to the judge first. You’ll make a brief statement explaining the issues, what evidence you’ll be using, and what you want. Then, you’ll tell your story to the judge in your own words. The judge will ask you questions to help understand the facts and to make sure you’ve covered information about each issue.
Once you’ve spoken, they’ll ask the other person (or their lawyer) if they have any questions that they want the judge to ask you.
After the other person speaks to the judge, you’ll have your chance to suggest questions for the judge to ask them.
There can be witnesses at the trial if the judge agrees to them. You can suggest questions for the judge to ask your own witnesses or the other person’s witnesses. You’re also each allowed to have “expert” witnesses who you can directly ask questions to. But you'll need to ask the judge about having an expert witness as soon as possible before the trial. There are specific rules and time limits about expert witnesses and reports that must be followed.
At the end of the trial, you'll each have a chance to talk directly to the judge again, to say how you think the judge should decide the issues, how your evidence backs that up, and the order you want.
Just like in a regular trial, if you both agree to resolve the issues, the judge can make a final order “by consent.” Or, if you don’t agree, the judge will decide how best to resolve the issues. The judge may:
- make a final order at the end of the trial,
- ask you and the other person to come back at a later date to hear the decision, or
- write a decision that you and the other person will get at a later date.
As with any final court order, you can appeal the decision or, if things change for you, you can apply to change the order later.
The following resources are found on the BC government web page Informal Family Trial Pilot – Kamloops Registry: