Important: Timelines and Deadlines
Each court has rules with important timelines and deadlines.  It is very important to be aware of these and not to miss a deadline.  If you have been served with court documents or are considering whether or not to start a court action or an appeal, do not delay obtaining legal advice.

Overview of the Courts
British Columbia has three levels of court: the Provincial Court, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal.  The Provincial Court and the Supreme Court have the authority to decide many family law issues, but some family issues may only be dealt with in the Supreme Court.  Examples of these issues include divorce, property and debt, and adoption.  Each of the courts has specific procedures and rules.

The first step in litigation is to start a court action.  In the Supreme Court, the next step will generally be a Judicial Case Conference, in which a judge or court master, the parties, and their lawyers meet to explore how some or all issues may be resolved without further litigation or a trial, and the conference will often assist in setting a case management plan so that the litigation may be conducted in an orderly manner. In the Provincial Court, the parties are required to complete a Parenting after Separation Course and meet with a Family Justice Counselor.  Afterwards, the parties attend a First Appearance court date, at which the judge may make order regarding the next steps to be taken.  In most cases, the parties will have to attend a Family Case Conference after the First Appearance court date.

In both the Provincial Court and the Supreme Court, a trial will take place if the parties do not reach a settlement of the issues in the legal proceeding.   Each party will present his or her evidence, and legal arguments to the court, and the judge will ultimately make a decision.  All trials require extensive preparation.  The length and complexity of the trial depends on the issues at hand and their complexity.

Interim and Emergency Applications
Some cases require urgent court orders to protect persons or property.  Examples include:

  • Protection Orders in cases of family violence.
  • Orders for exclusive occupancy of the family home.
  • Orders restraining the other party from disposing of property.
  • Other orders required to address an emergency.

Urgent orders may be obtained in advance of further steps in the litigation.

In addition, many cases require some interim orders.  Interim orders provide for temporary arrangements while the parties either negotiate an agreement or until the trial is completed.  For example, the parties may need interim orders about the care schedule in respect of the children, child and spousal support, housing and living arrangements, and many other issues such that there is order in place on a temporary basis until  the final settlement or trial decision.

Generally, a party may appeal an order of the Provincial Court to the Supreme Court, and an order of the Supreme Court to the Court of Appeal.  It is important to carefully consider whether there is merit to an appeal, as there are various tests and standards to be met in the appeal court.