This article was written by Linda Rainaldi of the People?s Law School with funding assistance from the Law Foundation of BC.
What is family court? It is a branch of the Provincial Court of B.C. and its sole purpose is to resolve certain family law disputes, including spousal support, child support and child related issues (such as access, guardianship, and custody). It also deals with child protection issues. You cannot get a divorce or get an order dividing up your property or assets at Family Court ? those issues have to be dealt with in the Supreme Court.
There are several ways that disputes may be resolved without going to Family Court. One way is to get help from family justice counsellors, who are government employees (not lawyers) who work at Family Justice Centres throughout B.C. They can provide legal information and referrals, mediation and conciliation services, assistance with filling out forms for Family Court, and help plan the terms of a separation agreement. Information about these services can be found on the Legal Services Society website at www.familylaw.lss.bc.ca.
If you decide that you need to go to court to resolve a dispute, family lawyer John Anthony describes Family Court as ?user friendly? so that people can go there without a lawyer, if necessary. ?You can pick up the forms you need at the Family Court registry, complete them right there, file them in the court registry the same day, serve them on your partner, and be in court fairly promptly.? This kind of application to court is frequently made when parents have problems with access to their children.
?Although you may get a hearing in front of a judge quite quickly,? cautions Anthony, ?all that may happen is that another date is set for hearing the case, and that date may be a couple of months from now.? There are benefits, however, to bringing your case to Family Court. For example, it may encourage you and your partner to reach your own agreement. ?If that happens, you can get the agreement made into a court order and you?ll be able to enforce it if your partner doesn?t live up to the agreement,? says Anthony.
If you go to Family Court, you and your partner are required to take a course on parenting after separation. The purpose of this course is to remind parents that children are extremely sensitive to family disputes and that their parents? behavior can have a very negative impact on them.
Family Court also hears child protection cases (where there is some reason to believe that the safety of the children in the home are at risk). ?For example,? Anthony says, ?a social worker may believe that the child?s safety is at risk if he or she stays with the parents. When that happens, a Family Court judge will hear some evidence about the case within 7 days.
The judge makes a preliminary decision about whether there is some evidence to support the social worker?s decision to remove the child from the family home.? A case management conference will likely be scheduled for several weeks ahead and the judge?s decision will stay in place until then. (A case management conference is a meeting with the judge and the parents where the issues are clarified, timelines are set, and interim solutions are found, if possible.)
In child protection cases, the Legal Services Society may provide free legal services to people whose income is below a certain level. Although it is always preferable to go to court with a lawyer, the Family Court process is designed to help people who do not have legal assistance.
John Anthony is a partner with Owen & Company in Nanaimo, B.C.
The purpose of this article is educational in nature. It is not intended as legal advice. It offers general information only. If you have a legal problem, you should seek professional advice.