How to File for Child Custody in BC: 5 Steps, Plus Forms

Parents who are divorcing or breaking up can ask the court for a parenting order that decides or formalizes parenting arrangements and responsibilities. To do this, you must start a family law case.

If you hire a lawyer, they will start your case for you. Otherwise, follow the steps below to start a case on your own.

If you've reached an agreement with the other parent, getting a parenting order is optional. You could instead keep your agreement private or file it with the court — neither of these options requires a court case, and the latter makes an agreement enforceable much like a court order does.

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Step 1: Determine your court and case type

Both Provincial Court and Supreme Court can grant the following orders. Your child must have lived in BC for at least one year.

  • Guardianship order: Grants someone the right to parenting time and parental responsibilities
  • Parenting arrangements order: Divides parenting time and decision-making responsibilities between the child's guardians
  • Contact order: Gives visitation rights to someone who is not the child's guardian
  • Child support order: Requires the parent who spends less time with the child to pay the other parent monthly so they fairly contribute to their child's upbringing

Only Supreme Court can handle divorce and cases involving property division.

At least one spouse must have lived in BC for the past year to file for divorce. You can file any time after you separate, but the divorce won't be finalized until one year after the date you separated. (To have proof of when you separate, write your spouse stating you no longer want to live together as spouses, then sign and date the letter.)

Some married parents opt to go to Provincial Court to get parenting orders before starting a divorce case. This can be cheaper than handling everything in Supreme Court because Provincial Court has fewer fees.

The court you choose to handle parenting matters also depends on where you live; Provincial and Supreme courts are not always in the same building or city.

Step 2: Fill out your forms

Fill out the paperwork for your court.

If you have an emergency situation, you'll need to fill out an additional application for an urgent order.

In Provincial Court, the parent who starts the case is the applicant, and the other parent is the respondent. In Supreme Court, parents are the claimant and respondent respectively.

Provincial Court

If you live in Surrey or Victoria, fill out a Notice to Resolve. In any other area, fill out an Application About a Family Matter. If you have an agreement, attach it and a completed Application for a Family Law Matter Consent Order.

If you're asking for a guardianship order, you'll have to fill out a Guardianship Affidavit as well. You must go through the record checks listed on the first page.

If you're asking for child support, you'll need to fill out a Financial Statement.

Supreme Court

Use the Supreme Court's information on viewing online forms since this court's downloads give many people trouble.

If you and your spouse disagree on any term of your divorce, your case is contested. Complete a Notice of Family Claim to lay out your reasons for divorce and what you're asking for.

If you and your spouse agree on everything, your divorce is uncontested. Usually, in these cases, neither parent has to appear in court. Fill out the following forms:

For both contested and uncontested divorces, you'll need to fill out an online form to register your divorce proceedings and print it. The court uses this to confirm you don't have a pending divorce case elsewhere.

Some other forms that may apply to your case:

Step 3: Finalize your forms

Financial statements and other affidavits must be sworn by a notary, lawyer, commissioner for taking affidavits, or court clerk. Clerks and commissioners charge a fee to swear Supreme Court forms but swear Provincial Court forms for free. Notaries and lawyers charge fees for all forms.

After they're sworn, make three copies of all your forms. You'll give the originals to the court, keep one copy for your records and serve two copies to the respondent (Step 5).

Step 4: Hand in your paperwork

Next, take your forms to a courthouse or file them electronically. For the latter, you'll need to fill out an Electronic Filing Statement and submit it at the same time as your forms.

Provincial Court

If you prefer to file in person, go to the Provincial Court location nearest your child's primary residence.

There are no fees for filing a case in this court.

Supreme Court

If you prefer to file in person, go to the Supreme Court location closest to where you live.

Regardless of how you file, you'll have to pay fees. You'll pay $200 to apply for divorce, plus $10 for the divorce proceedings registration. You'll also pay $80 if you file a Notice of Application, and $31 for each affidavit sworn by the clerk.

Step 5: Serve the other parent

Service is how you formally notify the other parent of the case. It's not necessary if you filed a joint application for an uncontested divorce.

Generally, you'll have up to a year after filing your paperwork to serve two copies of it all, but there may be other deadlines. For example, a Notice of Application (and supporting materials) must be served at least eight business days before a hearing for interim orders.

Follow the steps to serve in Provincial Court if you filed your forms there.

Follow the steps to serve in Supreme Court if you filed your forms there.

What to do if you've been served court papers

After receiving court papers, review them carefully. You'll have 30 days to respond, so contact a lawyer or legal aid quickly to plan your approach.

If you agree with everything in the papers, you don't have to do anything. However, it's recommended you fill out a reply or response (links below) to state that you agree with what the other parent is asking for.

You should definitely file a reply or response if you disagree with anything the other parent is claiming or asking for.

You must file your reply or response with the same court listed on the court papers. You'll also need to serve it to the other parent. (See Step 5.)

Provincial Court

You can fill out a Reply to an Application to explain which parts of the other parent's application you agree or disagree with. There's also space for you to ask for court orders.

Supreme Court

If you received a Notice of Family Claim, fill out a Response to Family Claim.

If you received a Notice of Application, fill out an Application Response.

If you want to ask for court orders, fill out a Counterclaim.

You might fill out all of these forms, just one or two, or none of them at all, depending on your situation.

Preparing for what comes next

The next step in the court process depends on whether your case is in Provincial Court or Supreme Court. You might go to a conference, a parenting class or mediation.

No matter what's next for you, take advantage of technology to be fully prepared.

The Custody X Change online app offers custom parenting calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, an expense tracker and more.

You can use it to put together proposals for the other parent, negotiate, prepare an agreement or organize evidence.

Be prepared for every step of your case with Custody X Change.

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