Big Changes Coming Soon to Provincial Court Family Rules

I recently attended a Continuing Legal Education Society of BC presentation about the significant changes coming to the Provincial Court Family Rules and forms effective May 17, 2021.  Below is a brief summary of some of what I learned.

There are 13 parts to the rules.  The first part deals with the purpose and interpretation of the rules which generally is to encourage resolution by agreement, and to resolve matters in a just and timely way proportionate to the issues at hand.

New defined terms include Family Law Matter, Priority Parenting Matter, and Case Management Order.

Family Law Matters includes issues about parenting arrangements, child and spousal support, guardianship of a child, and contact with a child.  The Provincial Court does not deal with divorce or division of family property.

Priority Parenting Matters include issues concerning the health of a child, applications for passports, etc., permission to travel, etc., changing a child’s residence, orders to prevent removal of a child from BC, among other serious matters.  As the name suggests, these issues will likely be given priority treatment.

Case Management Orders are available to deal with issues of a procedural or administrative nature like transferring files, document disclosure, conduct orders, expert reports, etc.  The orders can be made at any time in a case and are designed to manage the case and move it forward to resolution.  Often, no court appearance will be necessary.

Applications for Case Management Orders replaces the previous notice of motion, and require seven days notice unless the court directs otherwise.  The applications can be brought at any time and the forms are specific to the issues.  There are specific forms for protection orders, priority parenting matters, case management, prohibiting relocation, and enforcement.

How a case proceeds depends on the registry, and the rules direct in which registry to start or continue a case.  The Kelowna Provincial Court is a designated Family Justice Registry which requires a litigant to participate in a needs assessment with a Family Justice Counsellor, and complete an online parenting education program before filing their court application.  Also offered is the opportunity to utilize a voluntary consensual dispute resolution process.

Forms have been totally revamped and are expected to be much easier to follow and complete.  An online guidebook will be available.  The forms are generally in the first-person format with questions requiring answers, and are specific to the issues at hand often including schedules.  They are designed to give litigants the opportunity to tell their story in a meaningful way and collects the necessary information to allow for informed decisions while avoiding duplicity of claims.

Family Management Conferences are also new, and replace first appearances.  The conference is informal and time limited.  It is designed to help litigants identify the issues, explore options, make consent orders if agreement, manage the case and direct the next steps, and make interim orders to address needs until final resolution.  The conference is recorded and evidence can be provided.  The conferences are expected to reduce the number of interim orders required before trial proceeds.  If a person does not appear at a conference, then the court can proceed to make orders in their absence.

There are a number of other important changes to the rules that are not mentioned above, and it will likely take some time for the ‘dust to settle’ before the new rules can be evaluated, but they are expected to make it easier to access justice.

If you require assistance with the new Provincial Court Family Rules then contact one of the family lawyers at Pushor Mitchell LLP.

Patrick has been practising Family Law since 1996.  First in Prince George, then in Ontario, and now in Kelowna with Pushor Mitchell LLP as associate counsel.  He can be contacted at [email protected], or 250.869.1164.

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