After putting much on hold in March 2020, the Provincial Court of British Columbia has re-opened but with new ways of doing things. All new family matters are once again being accepted by the court. Family hearings and conferences are proceeding on their scheduled dates. Previously adjourned hearings, conferences, and trials have been re-scheduled.
Most proceedings are being conducted virtually, meaning you'll "attend" your hearing by a phone call from the court, a conference call through Telus, or an audioconference or videoconference through Microsoft Teams.
A number of courtrooms throughout the province have re-opened for proceedings that can't be handled by phone or video call. See the Provincial Court Notice NP22. Trials that were already scheduled for dates after July 3 may also be held in-person.
Anyone who enters a courthouse or who attends court in person will be required to follow the court’s guidelines for health and safety during the pandemic, including physical distancing and hand sanitizing. Wearing a face mask is strongly encouraged.
The Provincial Court registries are now open for in-person filing of documents, although the court still prefers alternate methods of filing. Send your documents by email or mail to your local court registry, by fax to a fax filing registry, or by using Court Services Online where available. Note that you may just type your signature (or use an electronic signature) on any court application form or on a Notice of Motion form.
Deadlines and time periods
The time periods (limitation periods) in which family actions must usually be started have been suspended during the provincial state of emergency. Judges also have the power to extend other time periods. If you think you may have missed a deadline (to respond to an application, for example), contact the court registry immediately and find out:
- if you have a court date, and if you can still file, or
- if you can make an application to extend the time period.
Affidavits during COVID-19
During the period of reduced court operations due to COVID-19, you don't need to swear or affirm affidavits that you're filing. The exception are Affidavits of Personal Service which need to be sworn/affirmed before filing if the person who served the documents won't be attending the hearing.
You must still take care to ensure your affidavit is accurate and true. During the hearing, the judge will likely require you to swear or affirm that the contents of your affidavit are true.
Change a court date
You can now change a first appearance date or a trial date without having to go to court if you and the other person(s) agree on this. Contact the court registry and ask for an available date that is good for both you and the other person(s). Then, complete a Consent to Court Date form. After everyone has signed it, file it at your local court registry. Note that to change a trial date, you must file the form at least 45 days before the original trial date.
Family case/management conferences
Family case conferences and family management conferences are happening by telephone or video call on their scheduled dates. Contact the court registry for dial-in (or link) instructions before the scheduled date.
Family trials and trial continuations
All non-urgent trials, scheduled to be held from March 15 to May 16, 2020, are being rescheduled. A Judicial Case Manager may contact you before the new date to set a pre-trial conference (not a trial) in order to decide whether your matter can be resolved ahead of time.
Most family trials and trial continuations scheduled from May 19 to July 3, 2020, may go ahead on their original dates but as a pre-trial conference (not a trial) in order to see whether the matter can be resolved ahead of time. The court will contact you with the phone or video call details for the pre-trial conference, or with any different instructions.
All family trials scheduled after July 3, 2020, will remain on the trial list on the date scheduled. Counsel and self-represented litigants should attend court in person on the date scheduled at 9:00 a.m. to tell the court if they’re ready to go ahead that day. The court will decide which trials will proceed. Witnesses and anyone who has a lawyer are to wait outside the courthouse (within a 30-minute distance) and be prepared to be called to attend court.
All new family matters are once again being processed by the court, although most hearings are being held by phone, conference call, or audioconference or videoconference through Microsoft Teams.
Family hearings on the family remand list are happening by telephone or video call on the date scheduled. Contact the court registry for dial-in (or link) instructions before the scheduled date.
If you think there would be a real risk of danger if you let the other person know about your court application, see the Provincial Court information about urgent "without notice" orders.
Changing child or spousal support because of COVID-19
If your income has been affected by COVID-19, and you want to change (or make) a child support order or agreement, you can get a free professional mediator to help you. See Remote Child Support Mediation on the MyLawBC website.
You may also want to take advantage of a new early resolution/expedited court process, if you need to suspend or change a Provincial Court child or spousal support filed agreement or order because of a change in income related to COVID-19. The first step in the new process is for you to have a needs assessment interview by phone or videoconference. If you can both agree to change your existing agreement or order, you can get help with preparing an amended written agreement or applying to the court to change your existing order by consent. If you can’t agree, you and the other person may be referred to mediation (if it's appropriate in your situation). You must also fill out some forms for the court (and serve them) so they can arrange a hearing by telephone or videoconference, more quickly than usual.
To apply for this process, contact Family Justice Services to schedule a needs assessment interview at 1-844-747-3963 or 250-356-7012 (Victoria). You can also send an email to CSVariation@gov.bc.ca or JSBVictoriaJACEarlyResolution@gov.bc.ca (Victoria). Note that there are some differences in the process in Victoria. See the Provincial Court website for more details about the new process, and the BC government website Q and A page about support.
If you want changes to child or spousal support for reasons not related to COVID-19, you can't use this process. Instead, make an application through your local Provincial Court registry.
Courts serving remote locations (Circuit courts)
Provincial Court judges, court staff, and lawyers travel regularly to hold court in remote communities around the province. In-person hearings in some circuit court locations are now proceeding again. In other locations, matters are being heard on the day they're scheduled by audioconference. See the court's announcement for more information and for contact information for each location.