In Surrey and Victoria, the Provincial Court is an early resolution registry. In these registries, you must try to resolve certain family legal issues by agreement, if possible, before going to court. This can be much better both emotionally and financially than waiting for a judge to decide your matter in a courtroom. This "early resolution" process is for issues about:
- guardianship of a child,
- parenting time,
- parenting responsibilities,
- child support and/or spousal support, or
- contact with a child.
Before filing a court application (or a reply) about any of these family law issues, you will go through the following steps:
- have a needs assessment with a family justice counsellor,
- take a parenting course, and
- participate in at least one free consensual dispute resolution session if it's okay to do this with the other person.
Who doesn't go through the early resolution steps?
When you have an urgent issue and need a decision from the court quickly, you'll go directly to a hearing in front of a judge. For example:
- you need a protection order (when your or your child's safety is at risk)
- your issue is a priority parenting matter
- you need to prevent children from being relocated
- you want the court to enforce a court order or filed agreement
You don't need to go through the early resolution steps if you agree on your issues and want a consent order, or if you need a case management order.
As well, the following issues aren't included in the early resolution process:
- child protection cases
- divorce or other proceedings in the Supreme Court of BC
- property division and pension division
- interjurisdictional support orders
Start the early resolution process
You begin the early resolution process for your family law case by filling out a form called Notice to Resolve a Family Law Matter (Form 1).
This form is available as a fillable PDF. It comes with detailed instructions for how to fill it out. You can also get a paper copy from your local Justice Access Centre (JAC) or the court registry.
After completing this form, file it at the court registry and give a filed copy to the other person (in person, by mail, text message, email, etc.).
Next, contact the Justice Access Centre to arrange a needs assessment with a certified family mediator called a family justice counsellor.
After your needs assessment, the JAC will contact the other person in your case to begin the early resolution steps with them as well.
To start your needs assessment, you fill in a questionnaire. Then you'll talk privately with the family justice counsellor (FJC). During this conversation, the FJC will:
- help you identify your issues,
- give legal information about next steps and how to get legal advice or a lawyer,
- refer you to non-legal community services and programs (such as counselling) that might be helpful to you and your family,
- give information about preparing financial statements and other supporting documents,
- explain the parenting course you take,
- give you referrals to family violence resources if needed,
- discuss the risk of family violence with you and decide whether consensual dispute resolution (such as mediation) would be okay for you and the other person to try.
Parenting education program
If you have children under 19, the FJC will ask you to take a short online course called Parenting After Separation or Parenting After Separation for Indigenous Families.
The purpose of the course to help you deal with the difficulties of co-parenting after separation. It gives you tools and practical tips on how to communicate with the other parent and how to focus on the best interests of your children. You'll also learn about how separation can affect you and your children, and ways to reduce any harmful effects.
You don't have to take the course if your only issue is spousal support or if all the children involved are over 19. You also won’t have to repeat the program if you’ve already completed it in the last two years.
See Parenting After Separation course for more information.
Consensual dispute resolution
If the FJC decides it's okay, you and the other person will both attend at least one mediation session or some other type of consensual dispute resolution. The goal is to help you find a solution to your issues and avoid having to go to court.
All Family justice counsellors provide free mediation. FJCs are trained mediators who can help you both work together to solve your separation issues. Mediators don't make decisions or tell you what to do. They encourage you to listen to each other and help you come up with ideas for sorting out your problems in ways that work for you both. If you have children, they'll help you make decisions that are in the children's best interests.
You can use the free services at the JAC, or you can:
- hire a private family law mediator,
- work with lawyers in a collaborative law process, or
- try to negotiate a child or spousal support agreement with a child support officer.
In Victoria, low and modest income families may use the Virtual Family Mediation Project – free online family mediation and advice services offered in a pilot project run by Access Pro Bono.
See also Mediate BC for information about mediation and to find out about their free monthly online clinics.
For more information, see Who can help you reach an agreement?
If you resolve your issues, you'll get help to file an agreement, or apply for a consent order, or write up a Memorandum of Understanding document and be referred to further legal advice.
If you don’t resolve your issues
If you don't resolve all your issues, you'll both begin the steps needed to go to a family management conference with a judge. You will first need to make an application for an order about a family law matter. The FJC will help you get the information you need to fill out the Application About a Family Law Matter (Form 3) and help you get ready for the conference (for example, by checking that you have both shared financial information). Even if the other person is unable or unwilling to take part in the early resolution process, you may make an application for an order about a family law matter, once you've done all the steps.