In Kelowna, Nanaimo, and Vancouver, the Provincial (Family) Court is a family justice registry. In these registries, if you’ve filed (or replied to) a court application about
- guardianship of a child,
- parenting time,
- parenting responsibilities,
- child support and/or spousal support, or
- contact with a child.
before you can get a court date for your family management conference, you’ll go through the following steps:
- have a family needs assessment with a family justice counsellor, and
- take a parenting course.
These steps are meant to help you resolve your family legal issues by agreement if possible, before going to court. If you do have to go to court, your first step will be a family management conference.
Family needs assessment
After you file your court application, you’ll be called to arrange a needs assessment (done by phone) with a certified family mediator called a family justice counsellor (FJC).
To start your needs assessment, you fill in a questionnaire. Then you’ll talk privately with the 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 may take,
- assess the risk of family violence and give you referrals to family violence resources if needed,
- refer you to the option of consensual dispute resolution (such as mediation) if it would be a good idea for you and the other person.
Parenting education program
After you have your needs assessment, you have to complete a 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.
You show that you have completed the parenting education program by filing the certificate you get when you've completed the course. Or, you can ask to be excused by giving a Notice of exemption from parenting education program (Form 20) to the Family Justice Services Division of the Ministry of Attorney General. You must then file the approved Notice of Exemption before you can attend a family management conference. Ask your FJC to help you with this if you need to.
See Parenting After Separation course for more information.
Get a family management conference date
You must do both the needs assessment and the parenting course (if needed) before the registry will let your case go to a family management conference. After you’ve filed your documents about the parenting education program, you let the registry know you have completed both steps by filling out a Referral request (Form 21). Ask your FJC to help you with this if you need to. The court will then give you information about scheduling a family management conference. See Family management conferences in Provincial Court.
Consider consensual dispute resolution
After completing the needs assessment and parenting course, the registry can schedule a family management conference for you. However, your FJC may also suggest consensual dispute resolution. The goal of dispute resolution (such as mediation) 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. They can also refer you to a child support officer to negotiate a child or spousal support 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. You won’t need to attend a family management conference.
You can use the free FJC services, or you can try other free services:
MyLawBC's Family Resolution Centre provides free online mediators to help you and your ex-spouse write parenting and child support arrangements.
The BC Collaborative Roster Society offers a free program for people going through separation or divorce who want to hire collaborative family lawyers but can't afford to.
In Vancouver and Nanaimo, low and modest income families may use the Virtual Family Mediation Project – free online family mediation and advice services offered in a pilot project administered by Access Pro Bono.
You can also pay for private options, which are still usually a lot cheaper than going to court. You can hire:
- a private family law mediator
- family lawyers (you would each need your own)
- private collaborative family law lawyers (and others) using a special team approach
For more information about all of these options, see Who can help you reach an agreement?