In March of 2013, British Columbia enacted a new provincial legislation, the Family Law Act, that governs family law. British Columbia is also subject to the federal law of Canada, the Divorce Act. There are two levels of court in which family matters may be heard, the Provincial (Family) Court of British Columbia, or the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
Determining which level of court and which legislation is applicable to your matter depends on the individual circumstances of your case. In British Columbia, a person may only obtain a divorce by applying to the Supreme Court of British Columbia and claiming that relief under the Divorce Act. This legislation also governs parenting issues such as custody, guardianship, and access to children. Furthermore, division of property, child and spousal support, can all be claimed under the Divorce Act.
The Family Law Act modernized the previous legislation of British Columbia, the Family Relations Act. Now, parties using the Family Law Act may make claims to the Provincial or Supreme Court on issues such as parenting time, contact with children, parental responsibilities, division of assets, child and spousal support. The Divorce Act applies to any married spouses or formerly married spouses. The Family Law Act applies to everyone in either a domestic or parenting relationship, but is subordinate legislation to the Divorce Act. Therefore, people may be making their claims pursuant to both the Divorce Act and the Family Law Act.
Another notable change brought about by the Family Law Act was encouraging parties with family disputes to utilize out-of-court options, such as mediation, negotiation, arbitration, parenting coordination, or the collaborative law approach before bringing their matters to court. The court system should be a secondary step if the out-of-court options were unsuccessful. By supporting these alternative dispute resolution techniques, the province is promoting cooperation between spouses rather than having an adversarial approach to family law. In fact, the new law actually gives equal emphasis to agreements made out of court as they do to court orders.
The Family Law Act shifted from the previous legislation by placing the best interests of children and their safety as the paramount concern, or the only consideration in a family law matter. There is a focus in the new Act that ensures that family law professionals screen the circumstances for any sign of family violence, which provides the court the ability to deal with family violence more effectively. Professionals are trained to implement a protocol for determining risk factors considered in parenting cases involving family violence.