Family Law and the Courts

Last Reviewed: October 2022 Reviewed by: JES Download

The Law

The two main laws affecting separating couples in British Columbia are:

If you were never married, you do not need to worry about the Divorce Act as it only applies to married or previously married couples. Any family law issues for unmarried couples will be dealt with under the Family Law Act.

If you are or were married, you can use either the Divorce Act or the Family Law Act to deal with issues related to parenting arrangements, child support, and spousal support. However, only the Family Law Act can be applied to disputes about family property (division of assets and debts) and only the Divorce Act can be applied to get a divorce.

It is common for married parties to use both the Family Law Act and the Divorce Act. For example, they may deal with property, child support and parenting arrangements under the Family Law Act and only use the Divorce Act to legally end their marriage.

Legal Issues

Divorce Act

Family Law Act




Parenting arrangements



Child support



Spousal support



Property division



Protection orders



While the laws are similar in many respects, there are differences. If you need help deciding which law to apply under it is best to get legal advice.

Learn More

The Law for Family Matters, JP Boyd on Family Law

The Courts

There are three levels of court in British Columbia: Provincial Court, Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. In BC, all three levels of court hear family law cases. Each level of court has its own processes and rules. The Court of Appeal only hears cases that have first been decided in the other courts.

The BC Provincial Court family division is sometimes called Family Court. It hears cases and makes decisions under the Family Law Act about parenting arrangements, child and spousal support, and protection orders. It cannot make orders about property division or under the Divorce Act. Property and divorce must be dealt with in the BC Supreme Court.

The BC Provincial Court has rules and procedures that are generally easier to understand and follow than the BC Supreme Court. It is also less expensive. However, some people find that the formality of Supreme Court helps in complicated cases. Furthermore, the Supreme Court’s power to impose costs may discourage difficult parties from making unnecessary applications. See the table below that lists some of the differences between the two courts.

Provincial Court

Supreme Court

Fewer rules and easier to understand

More rules and more complex

Less formal and more flexible

More formal and less flexible

Less paperwork

More paperwork

More people representing themselves

More lawyers representing clients

More locations

Less locations

No filing fees

Filing fees: $200 to start, plus...

Cannot award costs, just expenses 

Can award costs and expenses

Many BC couples in conflict deal with parenting arrangements and support issues in Provincial Court and then move their case to BC Supreme Court to deal with property issues and get a divorce.

Learn More

To learn more about laws related to separation and divorce, as well as choosing which court to hear your case, visit and Understanding the Legal System for Family Law Matters, JP Boyd on Family Law.

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