Legal system

Information about dealing with the family law legal system and courts.

Frequently asked questions

Can I get legal aid for my family law problem?

Legal aid in BC, provided by the Legal Services Society (LSS), can take one of three possible forms: legal representation, legal advice, or legal information.

If you're financially eligible, you may be able to get legal representation and most legal advice for free. The eligibility guidelines for legal advice and for legal representation are separate. Legal information (plus some kinds of legal advice) is free to all British Columbians. If you're reading this page, you've already received a form of legal aid.

To find out more about legal representation for family law problems and what's covered, see the Serious family problems or Child protection matters pages on the LSS website. If you don't qualify for legal representation, you may still be eligible for legal advice services.

To find out for sure whether your particular case qualifies for legal representation, go to your local legal aid office (or call the provincial LSS Call Centre) to apply.

I can’t get legal aid, I can't afford a lawyer, but I need some legal help with my case. What can I do?

Some lawyers now offer unbundled legal services, which means you can pay them to help you with part of your family law problem, and you handle the rest of your case yourself. Legal Services Society may pay for your unbundled legal services if you qualify.

What are “unbundled” lawyer services and how does this work?

“Unbundled” services means the lawyer provides you with just some legal services, and doesn’t represent you through your whole case.

You and your lawyer make a plan to address your legal problem. Together, you break down your entire case into tasks and you choose what you'll pay for and what you’ll handle on your own. This costs less than hiring a lawyer for your whole case. The lawyer works on, and charges you for, only those tasks that you agree to in advance.

This flexible approach can be adapted to meet your needs, your budget, and your comfort level with managing your own case.

To learn more, see the People’s Law School website Unbundled legal services (external link). To find a lawyer offering unbundled services, see the directory of lawyers (external link).

When I go to court, does the judge already have information about my family law case?

Judges hear many cases every day, and they don’t have time to carefully read and memorize all the forms and documents they’re given. The judge will have a copy of any completed forms or trial books (in Provincial Court) that you filed in the court registry, but probably won’t know exactly where to find specific information about your case.

You need to present your case to the judge in an organized, easy-to-follow way. It will be much easier for the judge and the other party to follow your presentation if you make a list of your points or use the index of your trial book as your list when you’re presenting your case. This means that for each point you’re trying to make, you must also say where the supporting information for that point is in your documents so the other party and the judge can follow along.

If you’re attending court for a first appearance in Provincial Court, the judge will have a long list of cases to get through. The judge probably won’t know anything about your case. You can ask family duty counsel for help.

What is court harassment?

Court-related abuse and harassment happens when one party in a family law action uses the legal system for repeated or ongoing legal actions to harass and abuse the other party. See our fact sheet What if your ex is harassing you through the courts? for a detailed description of this type of harassment.

If you're financially eligible, you may qualify for legal representation from Legal Aid because of these or similar instances of court-related harassment.

For more information about legal representation, see Serious family problems and How to apply for legal aid on the Legal Services Society website.

Do the new Supreme Court Family Rules apply to my case if any of my documents were filed before the new rules came into effect?

Yes. All cases started before the new rules took effect on July 1, 2010, are considered (or "deemed") to be family law cases under the new rules.

How do the changed rules affect my case if I filed it before July 2010?

First of all, from July 1 on, you must follow the court rules as set out in the new Supreme Court Family Rules.

Secondly, if you filed documents before July 1, 2010, that contained different names or terms, they're considered (or "deemed") to be the new documents and the new terms apply to your case. For example, if you filed a Writ of Summons and Statement of Claim before July 1, 2010, you're now considered to be the claimant instead of the "plaintiff," and the Writ of Summons and Statement of Claim are considered to be the "Notice of Family Claim." If you filed an Appearance or an Appearance and Statement of Defence, you're now the "respondent" instead of the "defendant" and your documents will be referred to as a "Response" under the new rules.

See also our Old Rules/New Rules Chart showing the names of documents filed/terms used under the old rules and what they are called under the new rules.

Do I need to file other documents to replace the ones I filed before July 1, 2010?

In most cases, neither party will have to file new documents. However, if one party does want the other party to use the new form instead of the document he or she filed before July 1, 2010, he or she can serve a Demand (Form F99) on the other party, and the other party must file the new document within 21 days of being served with the Demand.

You can't make this demand if final orders have been made for all the claims in your case.

One situation where it might be helpful to ask the other party to file the new form is if the other party filed a Writ of Summons or a Writ of Summons and Statement of Claim before July 1, 2010, but you haven't yet filed an Appearance or Statement of Defence. The new Response (Form F4) asks you to respond to the facts and claims set out in the Notice of Family Claim and this form will be difficult to fill out if the other party hasn't filed a Notice of Family Claim.

What are costs?

I'm representing myself and I can't find a clear and concise definition of some words. For example, costs. What costs? The costs of appearing in court? The costs paid to the lawyer? If it's a total of all legal costs, how is it broken down?

In the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal, costs refers to a court order that says that the losing party in a lawsuit must pay the legal expenses of the successful party.

See our fact sheet about costs for more detailed information about how costs are calculated.

Still got a question?

If your legal information question isn't answered here, please send us an email. Provide some background information for your question, including where you live in BC and the level of court involved (Provincial or Supreme), if applicable. Your question (without your name or identifying details) and its answer may be added to our FAQ pages.

If we can't answer your question, we may have to refer you elsewhere.

We can't guarantee that your question will be answered quickly. If you need a quick response, contact one of the resources listed in Who can help?