Respond to an application to change an order in Provincial Court

Provincial Court

Introduction

About this guide

This step-by-step guide is for people who:

  • receive notice that their former partner applied to change an order that was originally made in the Provincial Court of British Columbia (Family Court), and
  • can't agree with the other person about how to change an order about parenting or support.

It's a good idea to get some legal help before you begin a guide. You need to know if an application to vary an order is the right choice, or if you need to appeal. To appeal a court order, important time limits must be met. If you have an interim order, you may require a longer trial or a hearing to get a final order. When you go to get legal advice, take a copy of your court order with you.

If you can't afford a lawyer, there are other ways to get legal help, including:

This guide includes:

  • step-by-step instructions for what to do,
  • links to blank copies of the court forms you will need and instructions for filling out these forms,
  • information about what happens when you go to court, and
  • tips on how to represent yourself if you don't have a lawyer.

Get a first appearance date

What you need to do to get notice of your first appearance date depends on where you filed your Reply (Form 3).

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 Notice of Hearing (Form 3) that will tell you when you need to appear in court. This is called a first appearance.
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 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 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 their 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.

If you didn't file a Reply (Form 3), but decide to go to court for the first appearance date, the judge will likely give you an opportunity to participate in the proceedings and may give you more time to file a Reply (Form 3).

especially sections 6[4] and 6[10]. The other party could ask the judge to make a final order. If the judge agrees, the case will be over..

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 you don't show up

If you don't file a Reply (Form 3) and don't show up for the first appearance, the judge has many options for dealing with the situation (see Rule 6, especially sections 6[4] and 6[10]). The other person could ask the judge to make a final order. If the judge agrees, the case will be over.

But judges are often reluctant to make orders if one person isn't in court. They might

  • order that a summons be served on you (to give you another chance to respond and file a reply), or
  • set a hearing date, either with or without ordering that you be given notice.

If you didn't file a Reply (Form 3), but decide to go to court for the first appearance date, the judge will likely give you an opportunity to participate in the proceedings and may give you more time to file a Reply (Form 3).

Prepare for and attend the FCC

The judge might order you both to attend a Family Case Conference (FCC) before any hearing.

If a Family Case Conference is ordered, both of you must attend. If one of you doesn't attend, the case conference judge can make orders in their absence.

To prepare for the FCC, see our Checklist for a 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 both 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 mediator, family 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 of you 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 preparation conference

The trial preparation conference is a meeting with a judge to make sure both of you will be ready for the trial and to make sure the time you've estimated for the trial is enough. It's usually held close to the trial date.

The procedure at a pre-trial conference (as the trial preparation conference is sometimes called) is like your first appearance date. Your matter will usually be on a list with many other matters in court. You'll probably only be in front of the judge for five to 15 minutes.

The judge might make orders about things like exchanging witness lists and summaries of what each witness will say, and exchanging other documents either of you plan to use at the trial. This conference is usually held about six weeks before the trial date. If it looks like you won't be ready for the trial, the judge will adjourn the trial date.

For a full list of what the judge may do at a trial preparation conference, see Rule 8 of the court rules.

Get the order and notify the FMEP

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

At the end of the hearing, the judge either:

  • gives a decision right away, or
  • reserves their decision to a later date.

If the decision isn't made that day:

  • the clerk will give you a date to come back to court and hear the judge give their 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 long. Usually the judge will state at the end what orders are being made.

The registry clerk will prepare the order if neither of you has a lawyer, as required by the Provincial (Family) Court Rules. If only one of you has a lawyer, usually that lawyer will draft the order.

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

You'll need:

  • A photocopy of your new order, if your previous order was registered with FMEP, or
  • A certified copy of your new order, if your previous order wasn't registered but you want to register the new one

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 can register your new support order with the program if you want.

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. Call ahead to find out if there is a fee for certification.

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