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Listen to CBC radio On the Island interview with Brown Henderson Melbye’s Trudi Brown Q.C. about the latest on how bc courts are operating.  It can be challenging in “normal” times, but now the justice system is rapidly adapting to a new normal and this can be even more challenging. So, here’s the latest on how BC Courts are operating to help you with your family law matters (separation, divorce, parenting and property division) during Covid-19 time.

Nothing in this document is legal advice. If you need assistance, please do not hesitate to contact a qualified professional

Courts haven’t closed their doors

All three levels of court have started using teleconference or videoconference software (e.g. Zoom or Microsoft Teams).

While many matters are delayed, many are proceeding remotely. At times, the judge hearing the matter will only make an interim order until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. In such a case, you may need to return to court at a later date to fully resolve your issue.

While the courts are still offering services, you can expect significant delays as the courts go through a difficult process of identifying and prioritizing urgent matters.

What options are available: latest on how BC courts are operating

BC has three court levels, each of which is responding to the pandemic differently. As always, you can settle your matter outside of court, with or without professional assistance. However, if you want the latest on how BC courts are operating read on.

BC Provincial Court

The BC Provincial Court is still hearing some matters by teleconference or videoconference. The court is giving priority to urgent matters. Many matters will be adjourned until the court further expands the level of service they are offering

As of April 28, 2020, the Court is resuming some non-urgent court operations.

Trials that have not been adjourned will continue as pre-trial conferences remotely to determine if the matter can be appropriately resolved.

Family case conferences and family management conferences that have not been adjourned already continue by teleconference or videoconference.

Urgent matters include:

  • requests for protection orders and to extend the length of time of a protection order
  • requests to cancel protection orders
  • urgent issues about a child’s well-being including essential medical decisions or relocation, non-removal, wrongful removal or retention of a child
  • requests for other urgent orders to protect the safety of a child or parent
  • requests for urgent orders about parenting time, contact with a child or communication between parents
  • applications to suspend, change or cancel an order for imprisonment or committal under the Family Maintenance Enforcement Act
  • urgent cases where irreparable harm will occur if the application is not heard
  • family law trials scheduled for continuation between March 25 and May 16, 2020 that a judge has determined are urgent

For further information the Provincial court has set up a page on their website dedicated to informing court users about the changes they have made in response to Covid-19.

BC Supreme Court

Similar to the Provincial Court, the BC Supreme Court is hearing a limited number of matters by teleconference or videoconference. The court is focused on urgent matters but also hears a limited number of non-urgent matters that were adjourned due to Covid-19.

The Supreme Court allows “desk order” applications for matters that are undisputed, or consented to by both parties. See more information in Covid-19 Notice #12.

Teleconference Conference Hearings are available for matters that are not urgent or essential, but were scheduled to take place during Covid times. TCH’s are limited to one issue in dispute. TCH’s can have multiple issue if parties consent to the outcomes. More details on the requirements are set out in Covid-19 Notice #13.

A party may bring an application by way of written submissions in lieu of a hearing if:

  1. there is only one issue in dispute; and
  2. the parties can address the issue in one affidavit each that is no more than 10 pages in length, inclusive of exhibits.

If there is more than one issue in dispute, a party can apply by way of written submissions if:

  1. the parties have reached consent on all but one issue, or the parties are proceeding on only one issue by written submissions and
  2. the parties can address the issue in one affidavit each that is no more than 10 pages in length, inclusive of exhibits.

Booking applications to proceed by written submissions is done using an online form. Other requirements with respect to service and documents and submission of a Written Submissions Brief are set out in Covid-19 Notice #14.

For more information, see the Supreme Court website which provides all the notices issued to date.

Court of Appeal

The court of Appeal does not normally hear matters in person, so they are less affected by Covid-19 than other courts. However, they are still facing the challenges of working from home and providing access to the courts and are thus still facing significant delays.

The registry is still accepting filings in all matters. However, service and filing deadlines on all existing appeals and chambers applications have been suspended

The court has started hearing appeals and chambers applications on the Zoom teleconferencing platform.

For more information on the Court of Appeal’s new process see this convenient flow chart they have put together.

For more information, see the Court of Appeal’s list of Covid-19 notices.

Out of court settlement is always an option

Whether courts are available or not. Settling a family matter outside of the courtroom remains a cost-effective and lower stress option for resolving family disputes.

Out of court settlement options can include:

  • Mediation with a qualified mediator
  • Settlement negotiation with or without the help of a lawyer
  • Collaborative family law with the assistance of a qualified collaborative family lawyer

Always remember to remain calm and be patient. Society is moving a little slower right now and everyone is dealing with the stress of the pandemic in their own way.

So in summary, the latest on how BC courts are operating is that courts are open but on a limited basis and the way they work is changing.