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Provincial v. Supreme Court

Where Should I File My Family Court Application?

Once you have decided court is the right choice for you, you must then decide which court, supreme or provincial, is appropriate. Both provincial and supreme court are trial courts, meaning a Judge is present and hears arguments from you and your ex-spouse and makes a binding decisions. However, the courts differ in the issues they will preside over so it is important to pick wisely or you may experience a delay in obtaining a final resolution.

Provincial Court

If you are not planning to retain legal representation, provincial court is more user-friendly than supreme court. The steps are relatively straight-forward, the forms are simple and can be obtained at the court registry, and there are no filing fees. There are even free mediation services and parenting reports that can be ordered by the provincial court. Another bonus is that there are free duty counsel lawyers available once per week on family court days at the Nanaimo, Port Alberni, and Duncan courthouses to assist you in presenting your application to the court. Obtaining legal advice, even for a provincial court action, is always recommended. There are still Provincial Court Family Rules that must be followed and proper procedures to be aware of.

Provincial court has the jurisdiction to hear all family law related issues (child support, guardianship, parenting issues, and spousal support), except divorce and property division. The law you will be dealing with in a provincial court family action is the Family Law Act. It is important to seek legal advice about your rights and obligations under the Family Law Act as it can be confusing.

If you have decided provincial court is right for you, you must then decide which court registry file in. You can inquire at your local courthouse to find out whether there is an existing court file in another city. If so, they’ll likely require you to file at the court registry where the action was first started. Something else to consider is that the provincial court usually requires a court file/court action to be at the registry closest to where the child(ren) ordinarily reside. So, if your kids live in Prince George and you live in Nanaimo, you may need to travel to file your documents and attend court.

If you are seeking a divorce or wish to divide family assets or family debts with your ex-spouse, you must apply to the supreme court for those issues. You can consider applying to the supreme court for all issues, or applying to provincial court for some and supreme court for the others. However, if you are thinking about doing this, it’s a good idea to seek legal advice first.

Supreme Court

Supreme court is not as simple to navigate as provincial court. The process itself is more formal, there are more onerous rules set out in the Supreme Court Family Rules, and there are filing fees at the registry. You cannot obtain the court forms from the court registry and must get them online. For these reasons it is more common and highly recommended to seek the assistance of a legal professional when considering filing in
supreme court.

Supreme court has jurisdiction to hear all family related issues that the provincial court hears, with the additional jurisdiction to deal with divorce and property division. The laws you could be dealing with in a supreme court family action are the Family Law Act or the Divorce Act. It is important to seek legal advice about your rights and obligations under these laws as it can be confusing.

If you and your spouse live in different cities, the first person to file in supreme court secures that court registry for the ongoing litigation and the location of trial. That means, if she lives in Prince George and you live in Nanaimo, filing first would require her to travel to Nanaimo to file her documents and for all court appearances (not the other way around).

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