Family Law in Provincial Court or Supreme Court? Where should I go?

By Matthew Katsionis, Vancouver Family Lawyer

Most people who are getting separated or divorced are dealing with family law issues for the first time. It can be a confusing and daunting task to navigate the family law court registry. The family law registry is where you go to file your Notice of Family Claim and where you decide if you are going to go to Provincial Court or the B.C. Supreme Court.

Where you go is determined by the jurisdiction that the court has. The short answer is that the Supreme Court can hear everything related to family law. This includes divorce, family property division, child support, parenting, guardianship, spousal support and all other issues in family law. The Provincial Court can only hear matters related to child support, parenting, guardianship and spousal support.

The following is a short question and answer guide to give you quick answers to your questions around which court to use for your family law case, Provincial Court or the Supreme Court.

Family Law FAQ: Provincial Court or Supreme Court

Q: We are Married and Need a Divorce, where do I file?
A: Supreme Court

Generally, you will want to file in Supreme Court if you are married because the Provincial court cannot grant you a divorce.

Q: We have family property and debts to divide, where do I file?
A: Supreme Court

If you have any assets such as a home, condo, vacation property, bank accounts, RRSPs, cars, or any other family assets or debts that were accumulated during the relationship with your spouse, you will need to file in the Supreme Court as the Provincial Court lacks the jurisdiction to divide these assets and debts.

Q: We are Common-Law and have property and debts, where do I file?
A: Supreme Court.

If you are common-law, meaning you have been living together in a marriage-like relationship continuously for two years or more, and there are assets and/or liabilities from the relationship, you will need to file in Supreme Court. Family property division occurs in Supreme Court regardless of if you were married or common-law.

Q: I believe I am Entitled to Spousal Support, where should I file?
A: It depends.

If you are not legally married, and there are no property issues, then you should file a spousal support application in Provincial Court. If you are legally married and/or have family property to divide, then you will need to file in Supreme Court.

Q: We have Children, where I should I file?
A: It depends.

Again, this depends whether you are married or have property to divide. If you are legally married or you have property to divide, you should file in Supreme Court. If you are not married and property is not an issue, Provincial Court is where you should file.

Q: Can I file in both the Provincial Court and Supreme Court?
A: Yes, but we do not recommend it.

Even if you are married, you can file any claims for child support, parenting, guardianship and spousal support in the Provincial Court. You could also file separately for divorce and family property division in Supreme Court. Generally, you should not have two concurrent matters going on in separate courts. Pick a court and have everything heard there. Facts, information and documents will likely need to be duplicated in both courts. Also, you could require twice as many court applications or even two trials. It is much better to keep it all in one place so that you are not doing double the work and paying for double the legal costs.

Q: What location should I file in?
A: Generally the Court closest to you

Most people file in the court closest to them. You can check the Supreme Court and Provincial Court websites for a courthouse nearest you. However, if you are living in Northern BC or the Interior, the closest courthouse to you may be a few cities away. You and your spouse could agree to file your claim in Vancouver if it is more convenient or if you both choose a lawyer in Vancouver.

If you have any questions about which court you should file in, or any other issues related to separation and divorce, the Vancouver family lawyers at Crossroads Law are here to assist. We also provide family law services to clients across British Columbia and even Alberta. This includes legal coaching in the event you wish to represent yourself in court but need help in the background. To find out more contact us for your no obligation FREE consultation.