About this guide
This step-by-step guide is for people who want to respond to an application 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.
It's a good idea to get some legal help before you begin a guide. If you can't afford a lawyer, there are other ways to get legal help, including:
Get a first appearance date
After you file your Reply (Form 3), nothing further may happen for more than a month. The court clerk has up to 21 days after you file your Reply to deliver it to the applicant. How you will get notice of your first appearance date depends on where you filed your form.
If you filed in one of the communities listed here and you don't fulfill the registry's requirements, you'll need a court order excusing you from these requirements to get a court date.
Rule 21 registries
- Campbell River
- New Westminster
- North Vancouver
- Port Coquitlam
- Prince George
- Vancouver (Robson Square)
Rule 5 registries
- Vancouver (Robson Square)
If you live in a Rule 21 registry
- You must take a Parenting After Separation class.
- You must file at the registry:
- your original Parenting After Separation Certificate of Attendance, or
- a completed Parenting After Separation Exemption Request (Form 31) (scroll down the page to find the form for your registry)
- 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 live in a Rule 5 registry
- You must attend a Parenting After Separation class and meet with a family justice counsellor before you can have a court hearing.
- You must file at the registry:
- 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 live outside the Rule 21 and Rule 5 registries
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.
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.
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 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 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 you have to prepare a trial book.
See Preparing to attend a Provincial Court trial for detailed information about these.
Get the order
At the end of the hearing, the judge might give a decision right away or might delay giving the decision until a later date.
If the judge doesn't make their decision that day:
- 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, or
- the judge will write their decision and mail it to you and the other parent.
If you or the other person has a lawyer, one of the lawyers will prepare the order. If neither of you has a lawyer, the registry clerk will prepare the order.
The order is effective as soon as the judge makes it, unless they specify a different date.
You've completed all the steps to respond to an application to enforce a parenting order or agreement. Thank you for using our step-by-step guide.
Your emotions may change often. Whatever you feel is normal and okay.
Register the order with the 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.
You've now gone through all the steps required to respond to an application for a final family order in Provincial Court. Thank you for using our step-by-step guide.