Alternatives to Court

The Family Law Act makes it easier for people to separate without going to court.

Reasons to stay out of court

When families break up, there are legal matters to sort out. One way to do this is to go to court and ask a judge. The other way is to make an agreement without going to court. There are a lot of good reasons to stay out of court:

  • It is usually simpler and less expensive.
  • It is usually less stressful.
  • It is usually better for the children because the family is calmer.
  • People make decisions together rather than having to follow a judge’s decision.

It is important to get legal advice before signing an agreement. If there have been threats, abuse or violence in the relationship, making an agreement may not be a safe option. It may be necessary to go to court.

Ways to stay out of court

Here are some free or less expensive ways you and your spouse could resolve family law matters:

Negotiation: Negotiation is when two people who have ended their relationship talk about what to put into an agreement. You and your spouse can do this together or with the help of lawyers.

Mediation: Mediators help people work together to reach an agreement. They do not tell people what they should do. A mediator provides a neutral space to meet, helps define the issues that need to be solved, and keeps discussions on track. Many lawyers are mediators. For more about mediation, see the Guide to Mediation in BC. You can find out how to hire a mediator on MediateBC.

Many people reach agreements through mediation, but it is not for everyone. It may not be appropriate if you have experienced violence or emotional abuse, or are afraid for your safety or the safety of your children. If this is your case, you should talk to a lawyer or mediator who may suggest other options.

Family justice counsellor services: Family justice counsellors provide information about family law and the court process. Family justice counsellors are government employees who work at Family Justice Centres, which are located across the province, and at Justice Access Centres in select locations throughout the province. The services offered at these centres include:

  • Referrals to emergency and community services
  • Mediationand short-term counselling
  • Help planning a separation agreement
  • Help filling out Family Court forms

They provide free services for families and couples with modest incomes. They do not give legal advice. For more, see Family Justice Counsellors.

Collaborative Law: In this method, people at the end of a relationship each hire their own collaborative law lawyer. You, your spouse, and your lawyers must sign a written agreement that says you will all work together to settle your issues without going to court. If you end up going to court, you and your spouse will have to find different lawyers to represent each of you in court. For more, see Mediation and Collaborative Law.

Arbitration: Arbitrators are trained professionals who are hired by you and your spouse to hear evidence and make decisions about disputes. The arbitrator’s decisions must be followed.

Parenting Coordination: Parenting coordinators can help if you are having trouble implementing the parenting arrangements contained in your agreement or court order. Parents can agree to hire a parenting coordinator, or sometimes a judge will refer parents to one. In either case, the costs are paid for by the parents. For more, see BC Parenting Coordination.

Preparing a separation agreement

A lawyer or a mediator can prepare a “separation agreement” if you and your spouse can agree on certain things. For example, you may agree how your financial matters will be settled, who the children will live with, how much money the children need for child support, and so on. You can file your separation agreement in court, which makes it easier to enforce the things you have agreed on.

If you cannot agree on big issues, like who the children should live with, you will have to go to court and ask a judge to make the decision for you.

For more, see Making an agreement after you separate on the Family Law in BC website.

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