Do you need to go to Provincial (Family) Court or Supreme Court?

Before you consider this question, think about whether you need to go to court at all. Many couples can solve their family law issues without going to court. See the fact sheets Making an agreement after you separate and Who can help you reach an agreement? for more information.

If you do need to go to court to apply for a court order, you'll first have to figure out which court you need to apply to. In BC, the Supreme Court and the Provincial Court handle some of the same types of cases. But procedures, time frames, the kinds of orders you can get, and costs are different. See the charts and text below for more information.

Sometimes you don't have a choice

There are times when you don't have a choice about which court you go to. If you want to change an order that's already in place, you generally have to go back to the same court you started in. Get legal advice if you want to go to a different court.

If you want to apply for a divorce, you must go to the Supreme Court.

Other situations when you don't have a choice are included in the table below.

Which court do I go to?

Supreme Court to ... Supreme or Provincial Court to ...
  • apply for a divorce or annulment
  • get an order for custody under the Divorce Act
  • get an order for access under the Divorce Act
  • divide property or debts
  • get an order to protect your property or allow you to stay in the family home
  • set aside or enforce an agreement dealing with property orĀ debt
  • ask for a parentage order (when you ask the court to declare the someone is the parent of a child)
  • ask the court to appoint a trustee of children's property
  • arrange an adoption
  • get an order for child or spousal support
  • get an order for guardianship under the Family Law Act
  • get an order about parenting arrangements (allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time) under the Family Law Act
  • get an order for contact with a child under the Family Law Act
  • get a family law protection order (including an order that the other spouse not come into the home)
  • set aside or enforce an agreement dealing with guardianship, parenting arrangements, contact with a child, or spousal or child support
  • ask for a parentage order, but only when you're asking for another order that requires the judge to decide who the parents of a child are (for example, an order for child support when the other person says he isn't the father)
  • ask for a parentage order when you're asking for another order that requires the judge to decide who the parents of a child are

What are the courts like?

Provincial Court has ... Supreme Court has ...

an informal atmosphere

a formal atmosphere
more locations fewer court locations
less paperwork (than the Supreme Court) lots of paperwork
fewer and more flexible rules many and more strict rules
lawyers representing people, but also many people representing themselves more lawyers representing people
rules that let you give spoken evidence about your case rules that say you must give written evidence about your case (for example, an affidavit) to get an interim order
no filing fees filing fees to start your case ($200) and then to apply for an interim order ($80)
no ability to award costs (but can award expenses) the ability to award costs and expenses

The benefits of using both courts

In some situations, you may find it best to use both courts. You could get most of your orders in Provincial Court, and then just apply for your divorce order in Supreme Court. (You could also choose to make an agreement about parenting, support, and property and then just apply to the Supreme Court for a divorce.) This approach might save you money and time, especially if you and your spouse agree on what should be done.

On the other hand, it could make things more complicated to have to deal with two different courts. It can also be a problem if you ask more than one court to deal with issues about parenting and support.

If you need more help deciding where to file your case

For more information, see Who can help?

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