Change a family order in Provincial Court if you can't both agree

Provincial Court

Introduction

You'll need:

You won't be able to use this guide if you're applying for support and you or the other person lives outside BC. Contact a lawyer for advice. For more information about getting support and the forms you need, see Interjurisdictional Support Orders.

Who this guide is for

This step-by-step guide is for people who:

  • want to change an order that was originally made in the Provincial Court of British Columbia (Family Court), and

  • can't agree with the other person about how to change an order about parenting or support.

These guides are also for people who can agree on some issues but not on others, such as parenting time or how much spousal or child support should be paid.

If your case is in Victoria, you will follow different procedures. See Family matters at the Victoria Courthouse.

Get legal help

It's a good idea to get some legal help before you begin a guide. You need to know if an application to vary an order is the right choice, or if you need to appeal. To appeal a court order, important time limits must be met. If you have an interim order, you may require a longer trial or a hearing to get a final order. When you go to get legal advice, take a copy of your court order with you.

If you can't afford a lawyer, there are other ways to get legal help, including the Lawyer Referral Service, free (pro bono) clinics, family duty counsel, or advice lawyers.

Get a first appearance date

You'll need:

  • documents that prove you have fulfilled the requirements of your registry, as outlined below, or
  • a court order excusing you from these requirements to get a court date.

When you started your family law case, you filed an Application Respecting Existing Orders or Agreements (Form 2). What you need to do to get notice of your first appearance date depends on where you filed your application.

See the table below to find out which rule your registry falls under. If your registry isn't on the list, you don't need to do anything to get a court date.

Rule 21 registries Rule 5 registries
  • Abbotsford
  • Campbell River
  • Chilliwack
  • Courtenay
  • Kamloops
  • Kelowna
  • Nanaimo
  • New Westminster
  • North Vancouver
  • Penticton
  • Port Coquitlam
  • Prince George
  • Richmond
  • Surrey
  • Vancouver (Robson Square)
  • Vernon
  • Victoria
  • Kelowna
  • Nanaimo
  • Surrey
  • Vancouver (Robson Square)

Registry requirements 

If you don't fulfill your registry's requirements, you'll need a court order excusing you from these requirements to get a court date.

Expand the headings below to find out your registry's requirements for getting a court date.

  1. You must take a Parenting After Separation class.
  2. You must file at the registry:
    • your original Parenting After Separation Certificate of Attendance, or
    • a completed Parenting After Separation Exemption Request (Form 31). Find your registry's form in the list of family court forms.
  3. The Family Court clerk will send out a first appearance date, even if the other person hasn't filed a Reply (Form 3).
If you don't take the Parenting After Separation class, you need a court order excusing you from this requirement to get a court date. If you don't file the certificate or have a court order, you won't get a court date.
  1. You must attend a Parenting After Separation class and meet with a family justice counsellor before you can have a court hearing.
  2. You must file at the registry:
    • Referral Request (Form 6) (after your meeting with the family justice counsellor), and
    • your original Parenting After Separation Certificate of Attendance, or
    • a completed Parenting After Separation Exemption Request (Form 31). Find your registry's form in the list of family court forms.
  3. The Family Court clerk will send out a first appearance date, even if the other person hasn't filed a Reply (Form 3).
If you don't meet with a family justice counsellor and attend a Parenting After Separation course, you need a court order excusing you from these requirements to get a court date. If you don't file the certificate and confirmation or have a court order, you won't get a court date.

The court clerk will automatically mail you a Notice of Hearing that contains the first appearance date after the other person files their Reply (Form 3). You don't need to do anything further.

Attend the first appearance

At a first appearance, the judge will have a long list of cases to hear. There won't be much time to spend on any one case. This means you won’t have a chance to tell the judge much about your case. You won’t usually have a chance to get the orders you asked for in your application.

The judge uses the first appearance to sort out each case. The judge wants to make sure that you've provided each other with all the right information and that you understand which issues you agree about and which you don’t.

At a first appearance, the judge will tell you what to do next. For more information about first appearance dates, see Rule 6 of the Family Court Rules.

In some cases, the judge may be willing to make an interim order (for example, for support), especially if you and the other person agree. This order is temporary — it's in effect only until the Family Case Conference (FCC) or hearing date.

The judge will usually order an FCC before setting a hearing date. For more information about FCCs, see Family Case Conferences in Provincial Court.

If the other person doesn't show up at the first appearance, the judge can make orders. But the judge might be reluctant to make an order when the other person isn't in court. The judge might issue a summons to require the other person to appear or require that notice of the next hearing be sent to them.

Prepare for and attend the FCC, if required

If the judge orders a Family Case Conference (FCC), both of you must attend, with or without your lawyers. If one of you doesn't attend, the case conference judge can make orders in that person's absence.

See Checklist for a Family Case Conference for information about preparing for the FCC.

Although attending an FCC isn't like going to trial, you're still in court and the person conducting the case conference is a judge. Remember to:
  • Dress appropriately.
  • Be as calm as possible and act politely in your former spouse's presence.
  • Address the judge as "Your Honour."

What will happen at the FCC

  • The conference usually takes place in a conference room, and the judge sits at a round table with you.

  • A judge can ask direct questions of either of you and will try to find out information that might help resolve conflicts or reduce the amount of trial time needed to have conflicts resolved by a judge's decision. The judge can act as a mediator, so this is a great opportunity to have a judge help you settle your issues without going to a trial.
  • Everything that happens at an FCC is confidential. If evidence is necessary to decide on an issue, there'll have to be a hearing set. An FCC isn't the place for making decisions about substantial issues if you don't both agree.

The judge can make orders at the FCC. These orders might:

  • send you to a family dispute resolution professional, like a mediator, family justice counsellor, or parenting coordinator, with or without your agreement, and at your expense, or
  • refer your child to counselling, with or without your agreement, and at your expense.

For a full list of the things a judge can order at an FCC, see Family Case Conferences in Provincial Court.

Sometimes, no meaningful discussions happen at the FCC because one person is unable or unwilling to discuss the issues or to compromise. If it becomes clear that nothing will be settled at an FCC, the judge may try instead to determine what matters need to be cleared up before the case can proceed to trial and to help both of you get organized for the trial.

Attend a trial preparation conference, if required

The trial preparation conference (also sometimes called a pre-trial conference) is a meeting with a judge to make sure that both of you will be ready for the trial and to make sure the time you've estimated for the trial is enough. It's usually held about six weeks before the trial date.

What happens at a trial preparation conference

The procedure at a trial preparation conference is like your first appearance date. Your matter will usually be on a list with many other matters in court. You'll probably only be in front of the judge for 5 to 15 minutes.

The judge might make orders about things to help prepare for the trial. For example, they might order you to exchange certain information, like:

  • your witness lists,
  • a summary of what each witness will say, and
  • any other documents either of you plans to use at the trial.

If it looks like you won't be ready for the trial, the judge will adjourn the trial date.

For a full list of what the judge might do at a trial preparation conference, see Rule 8 of the Family Court Rules.

Get the order

If you have a child support case in Kelowna Provincial Court, see important information on Child support.

At the end of the trial, the judge either gives a decision right away or reserves their decision to a later date. If the decision isn't made that day, the clerk will give you a date to come back to court and hear the judge give the decision, or the registry will contact you later to give you a date to come and hear the decision.

The judge might write a decision that's mailed to both of you. Written decisions can be 20 or more pages long. Usually the judge will say at the end what orders are being made and the court order will be based on these statements.

The registry clerk will prepare the order if neither party has a lawyer. This is required by the Provincial (Family) Court Rules.

The order is effective as soon as the judge makes it, unless they specify a different date.

Notify the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program, if you want

When you receive a signed copy of the order from the court, make several photocopies of it.

To update a support order already registered with FMEP

If the order involves support, and the original support order was registered with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP), and support has now been changed, send a copy of the new order to the FMEP.

To enroll the new support order with FMEP

You can register your new support order with the FMEP even If the original support order wasn't registered. You must include a certified copy of your order with your enrollment package to speed up the enforcement process. Ask at the Family Court registry for a certified copy. Call ahead to find out if you have to pay for certification.


You've now gone through all the steps required to change a family order in Provincial Court. Thank you for using our step-by-step guide.