Start a family law case to change an order in Provincial Court

Provincial Court

Introduction

This step-by-step guide is 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.

When will a judge change a court order?

A family lawyer who knows the facts about your case can give the best advice about whether the judge might change your order. Here are some guidelines.

While different tests apply, depending on the type of order, generally a judge won't change an order unless you can prove that there's been a significant change in circumstances, and that changing the order is:

  • in the best interests of the children,
  • necessary because the amount of child support is significantly different from the child support guidelines, or
  • necessary because the amount of spousal support or entitlement to spousal support is significantly affected.
If child support is an issue, the child support guidelines can give you a pretty clear picture of how much child support the court would order. The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines can give you an idea of the range of reasonable spousal support.

Do you have to go to court?

Before you work through this guide, think about your situation. Is it possible that you and the other person can agree about how to change your existing order?

If you can agree, you won't have to go to court or ask a judge to make the decision about the order for you. Instead, you can put what you agree to into a consent order. See Making an agreement after you separate.

A judge won't change an order just because you ask. The law sets out guidelines about when a judge can change an order. For more information about when a judge will change an order, see When can you change a final order?

If you know you can't agree about changes to a family order, read on.

Where do I go and how long will it take to apply?

To change an order made in a Provincial Court, you have to apply in Provincial Court.

After you file your application at the court registry and have it served on the other person, you will typically wait about four weeks before your first appearance in front of a judge. This can vary with the location of the Provincial Court.

A trial or hearing date can take many months to arrange. If a trial is going to take more than one day because there are many witnesses, it's common for the trial date to be more than six months after the court appearance to fix the date.

At any stage of the proceedings — even during a trial — you can make an agreement and a judge will make a consent order covering what you have agreed.

If your case is in Kelowna Provincial Court, see our Child support page for important information.

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 help, take a copy of your court order with you.

It's a good idea to get some legal help before you begin a guide. If you can't afford a lawyer, there are other ways to get legal help, including:

What does the law say about parenting and support?

For more information about what the law says about child or spousal support, and parenting, see the pages below:

Prepare the court documents

You'll need:

You can download blank forms and instructions for filling them out from the links above. You can also get free printed forms from the Family Court registry in the town or city where you live.

If you use the online forms, you can fill them out online and print them, or print them and fill them out neatly by hand, using dark-coloured ink.

If you download the forms, you'll have to make several copies of everything. If you use forms from the registry, the copies you need are already included in some of the forms booklets.

You'll often be referred to as the applicant in these forms. The person who'll be responding to your application will often be called the respondent.
If you need help with these forms, see Where can you get help with filling out court forms?.

Complete the Application Respecting Existing Orders or Agreements (Form 2)

You must have a copy of your current order. It may also be helpful if you can get a copy of the transcripts from your initial order court case. 

If Reasons for Judgment were written for your case, it can be helpful to get a copy, especially in spousal support cases and for pre-guidelines child support orders. The Reasons for Judgment may help you prove that your circumstances have changed since the court order was made.

If you're applying to change support payments

If you're applying to change payments because your financial situation, or the payor's, has changed, you need to show the change in financial situation.

  • The original support order should state the payor's income at the time the order was made. It may state your income as well. If it does, you can use this to show the original financial situation.
  • If the order doesn't include this information, refer to the financial statements filed at the time your order was made.
  • You can usually get current information about the payor's income from the Financial Statement (Form 4) that they must provide after receiving your documents.
If you don't have these documents, get them from your lawyer or from the Family Court registry where the original order was made. The original order will show the location of the court registry. You may have to pay a fee for photocopying.

Ask the registry if they'll mail or fax copies of these documents to you, or if you must pick them up in person at the court registry.

If you go to the registry in person to get copies, bring identification with you. Also, bring any documents related to your case with you. They may help the clerk find your court file.
If you're applying for a change to a parenting order and aren't asking for any changes to support, you don't need to complete this form. Go to Step 3.

If you're applying to change a support order, you may have to file a Financial Statement with your application. See Complete a Provincial Court Financial Statement for step-by-step instructions.

Swear or affirm the Financial Statement (Form 4), if required

You'll need:

  • your completed Financial Statement (Form 4) and all attachments
  • photo identification
  • money to pay any fee
If you're not applying to change a support order or you aren't required to file a Financial Statement (Form 4), go directly to Step 3.

If you have to file a Financial Statement (Form 4), you must swear or affirm that the information in the Financial Statement (Form 4) and any supporting documents is true.

You have to do this in front of a:

  • lawyer,
  • notary public,
  • government agent, or
  • commissioner of oaths.

Bring photo ID with you, such as a:

  • BC identity card,
  • driver’s licence, or
  • passport.
Some staff at the Family Court registry are commissioners of oaths and may provide this service for free. It's a good idea to call ahead and shop around.

Make copies of the documents

You'll need:

  • your completed Application Respecting Existing Orders or Agreements (Form 2)
  • your completed Financial Statement (Form 4), if required
  • all the documents that relate to your completed forms
If you fill out the forms online, you can print all the copies you need. If you download the forms and fill them out by hand, you'll have to make photocopies. The Application Respecting Existing Orders or Agreements (Form 2) booklet from the Family Court registry contains all the copies you need. The Financial Statement (Form 4) booklet includes just one copy, so you'll have to photocopy the pages.

Keep all the original forms and attachments as one set. This will be the set that you give to the court (the Court file copy).

Make the following sets of photocopies:

  • A set for you (the Applicant's copy)
  • A set for the person who will be responding to your application (the Respondent's copy)
  • A set for the person who will serve the application (the Proof of service copy)

You may also need these other sets of copies:

  • A set for the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program, if the original support order was filed with this program
  • A set for the Ministry of Social Development & Poverty Reduction, if you're on income assistance
The forms from the registry will say you only need three photocopies of everything. This is because the registry forms don't include copies for the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program or the Ministry of Social Development & Poverty Reduction (since these aren't required in every case).

File the documents

You'll need:

  • all the sets of copies of your documents

Take all the copies of your documents to the Family Court registry and give them to the clerk.

Give the documents to the registry clerk. The clerk will keep one set of documents for the court file copy, and will stamp the other copies and return them to you. Provincial (Family) Court doesn't charge any fees for filing documents.

    If your application doesn't involve support, skip to Step 5.

    If you're applying to change the amount of support in an order that was originally filed with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program(FMEP), send the FMEP one copy of your completed documents and attachments.

    • Mail or fax the documents to the FMEP office where the original support order was filed.
    • You can also ask registry staff to send a copy of your documents to the FMEP when you file your papers at the registry.

    Give the documents to the other party

    You'll need:

    • the stamped Respondent's copy of your complete set of documents
    • a blank Reply (Form 3)
    • a blank Financial Statement (Form 4), if needed
    • a person 19 or older to give the documents to the other person
    • the Proof of Service copy of your complete set of documents
    • an Affidavit of Personal Service (Form 5)

    There are strict rules about how to serve court documents on the other person.

    For an application to change a family order, you must arrange for personal service of the documents by a third person. The documents must be given to the other person by a person who is 19 years or older. You can't serve the documents yourself. You can hire a process server to do this or you can ask a friend to serve the documents for you.

    Attach the blank Reply (Form 3) and Financial Statement (Form 4) to the Respondent's copy of the filed documents.

    Give the person who will serve the documents:

    • the filed Respondent's copy of your documents, including the two blank forms
    • the Proof of Service copy of your documents

    See Serve Provincial Court documents for information about how to serve a document and complete the Affidavit of Personal Service.

    If you can't arrange for personal service, you must get a court order for alternative service (sometimes called substituted service). See our step-by-step guide, arrange for alternative service. Or get help from a lawyer, such as family duty counsel, to do this.

    Wait for the Reply (Form 3)

    You'll need:

    • to give the other person 30 days to file their Reply

    After being served with the documents, the other person has 30 days to file a Reply (Form 3) and a Financial Statement (Form 4). The court registry will send these documents to you — the other person doesn't have to serve them on you.

    Check at the court registry after 30 days to find out if the Reply has arrived. The registry may not send the Reply to you for up to three weeks after it's filed.

    If the other person doesn't respond to your application, see If the other person doesn't respond to your application for an order.

    Choose your next guide

    You'll need:

    • your copy of your Application
    • the other person's completed Reply

    Read the Reply carefully to understand:

    • what parts of your application the other person agrees to and what parts they don't agree with, and
    • if they asked the court to make orders by filling out the Counterclaim portion of the Reply form.

    You may find that you both agree about some issues and only a few issues are still in dispute. Choose your next guide below.

    If you can both agree on some or all issues and you both want

    If you can't both agree and you want


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