In March of 2013, British Columbia enacted new provincial legislation, the Family Law Act, to govern 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 and 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 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 Court or the Supreme Court of BC 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 a broader range of spousal or parenting relationships. Some cases might involve 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 adversity or conflict. The new law supports agreements made out of court.
The Family Law Act shifted the legal perspective: the best interests of children and their safety is the paramount concern. Family law professionals note risks or signs of family violence, to enable the court to deal with family violence more effectively.