I am ready to start my family law proceedings – Do I go to Provincial Court or Supreme Court?

By Chyanne Sharma, Articled Student, Vancouver

So, you’ve done your best to resolve your family law matter outside of court as a self-represented litigant and things aren’t working out as planned. What’s the next step? Typically, it would be to initiate proceedings in court, but how do you know which level of court to file in – Provincial Court or the BC Supreme Court? When deciding on which court to start a proceeding, it is called making the choice of forum.

In British Columbia, both the Provincial Court and Supreme Court can hear family law matters. Matters that involve child support, parenting time, and relocation can be heard in either court however, there are some instances where you don’t get to choose which court you go to. For example, if you are married and are seeking a divorce, you must file your proceedings in Supreme Court because Provincial Court cannot make orders under the Divorce Act. But if you are dealing with a child protection matter, then it must be heard in Provincial Court.

There are also some circumstances where you could have proceedings happening simultaneously in both levels of court such as seeking an order for child support in Provincial Court while resolving a property matter in Supreme Court. It is important to note that you can’t ask both courts to deal with the same issue to see which one would result in a more favourable outcome.

If you have a matter that could be heard in either level of court, then it is important to consider the key differences between the two courts. In BC Supreme Court there are fewer locations, a lot more paperwork, stricter rules, a more formal environment, and additional fees to file your documents. Costs and expenses can also be awarded in Supreme Court. On the other hand, Provincial Court has more court locations, is the most accessible court for self-represented litigants, is less formal, and you don’t have to pay fees to file documents. While Provincial Court can award expenses, they are not able to award costs.

To help you determine which level of Court you would need to file in for your family law case, here are a few common examples of matters that would be heard in BC Supreme court or both Supreme Court and Provincial Court.

Only the BC Supreme Court can grant the following: 

  • Divorce or annulment
  • An order dividing property or debt
  • An order setting aside or enforcing an agreement dealing with property or debt
  • A parenting order where a child was conceived via assisted reproduction and there’s a disagreement about who the parents are
  • An order appointing a trustee of children’s property
  • An order to arrange an adoption
  • An order to enforce and recognize a foreign order
  • Financial restraining orders

Both Supreme and Provincial Court can grant the following:

  • Child and Spousal Support
  • Guardianship under the Family Law Act
  • Parenting arrangements
  • Contact with a child
  • Protection orders
  • Relocation
  • Setting aside or enforcing an agreement dealing with guardianship, parenting arrangements, or child or spousal support

If you would like more information on deciding where to file your family law case, speak to one of the legal coaches at Coach My Case today to help you determine which court would work best for your situation. If you have already initiated proceedings and would like tips on how to prepare for court, read our blog Family Law Courtroom Etiquette 101.