How the Courts Work

There are 3 levels of court in British Columbia. Provincial courts are the first level. You can go to the BC Provincial Court (often called Family Court) and ask a judge to settle a dispute about some, but not all, family law matters. The Provincial Court can make decisions about:

  1. Things that involve your children, like where the children live, “parenting time,” or “contact with a child”
  2. Child support
  3. Spousal support
  4. Your protection (for example, if you need a protection order)

If your spouse or another family member has hurt or threatened you, you can apply for a protection order through the Provincial Court.  See the Family Violence section of this website. You can apply for a protection order even if you have not gone to the police before.  However if you think you are not safe or have been hurt, it is always a good idea to report your fear to the police.

The BC Supreme Court is the next level of court. It can make decisions on almost everything. It can make decisions on all four topic listed above. It can also:

  1. Give you a divorce
  2. Divide family property (like your home)
  3. Make a decision about your debts
  4. Make an order to protect an asset (like an order to prevent your spouse from selling the home to his brother)

You can appeal some BC Supreme Court decisions to the BC Court of Appeal. You can appeal some Provincial Court decisions to BC Supreme Court.

It is not easy to decide which court you should go to. A lawyer can answer that question for you. Family justice counsellors can also explain the choices to you, but they cannot give you legal advice. Only lawyers can give you legal advice. For more about choosing a courts, see Do you need to go to Provincial (Family) Court or Supreme Court? on the Family Law in BC website.

You might go to both courts, at different times. For example, you could go to Family Court to get a judge to make a decision about where the children live, parenting time, and spousal support. It is sometimes faster and less expensive to get decisions made in Provincial Court. You might be able to go to court without a lawyer if you think you can handle this alone.

You could go to the Supreme Court later to get a divorce. If you have family property to divide, you could also ask the Supreme Court judge to make a decision on how your property will be divided. If you already have a separation agreement and have agreed how to divide your property and decided other issues, like where the children will live, parenting time, and spousal support, you may not need to appear in court to get a divorce.  A judge usually just signs your divorce papers and you can pick them up at the court registry.

Justice Education Society Citizenship and Immigration Canada Welcome BC City of Vancouver