Family Law

The lawyers at South Coast Law Group offer advice about legal rights and obligations upon the breakdown of family relationships.

Our Family Law team provides counsel with respect to: Divorce, Custody, Guardianship, Parenting time, Mobility, Child Support, Spousal Support, Property Division, Separation Agreements and Cohabitation Agreements.

Our lawyers have experience at the Provincial, Supreme and Appellate Court levels.

We hope some of the following information will help you better understand your situation. Call or email today to speak with a lawyer, or to set up an appointment to discuss your case.

FAQs related to Family Law:

Probably not. In BC, court costs (if any) are a matter left to the discretion of the court. In many cases, there are no court costs payable, except if one party has been unreasonable or recalcitrant, or has misbehaved. However, in some family cases, costs are awarded to the victor in a suit (even where there has been no misconduct) but “court costs” are not payable to the lawyer–they are paid to the party. Additionally, remember that court costs are not the same as “legal fees”, and are typically a fraction of what a party actually pays to counsel.
A “Certificate of Pending Litigation” is a lien or “charge” that’s lodged against title to real property. It is intended to serve as notice that there is litigation ongoing (or “pending”). It would prevent a transfer of title, or the registration of a new mortgage. A CPL is part of the normal “process” that often occurs at the outset of a lawsuit where property is involved. This lien can be removed by Order or agreement, but it’s a matter that should be discussed with counsel.
Perhaps, but usually not instantly. Get some advice first. All of the circumstances relating to possession of the home (the family history, the equity position, market conditions, children, alternatives, and other facts and matters) will be relevant. If you and your children want to remain in the home, that’s a matter that can often be agreed to or ordered by the court.
A court attendance is probably not needed. An uncontested divorce is a Court Proceeding, but you can probably obtain the divorce order without either of you ever making a personal appearance. Proper “paperwork” is the key. The Self Counsel Press Divorce booklet is excellent for this purpose (if you want to “do-it-yourself”). It’s about $35. The disbursements (out of pocket expenses you’ll incur) will probably be in the range of $250 to $450. If you hire us to do the divorce, we can usually complete the project in about 12 weeks, and the aggregate cost will be more than $1000 and usually less than $1500. If you do the work yourself, you’ll see why we charge for it.
My book, entitled “Separation Agreement” is available at Chapters, and most other book stores, and costs about $25.00. You can buy it online as well, by going to The book is ideal if your terms are agreeable, and if you have a relatively simple case. If, however, you have tricky pension plans, children’s issues, overseas assets, tax problems, or other difficult issues, you should meet with a lawyer. The cost of a properly negotiated Separation Agreement prepared by a lawyer is usually more than $1000 and less than $4000.

What about Family Debt?

With the coming into force of the Family Law Act (FLA) on March 18, 2013, British Columbia now has a definition of family debt that did not exist under the prior Family Relations Act (FRA).

Previously, the BC courts only had jurisdiction to offset family debts against family assets. Now, the legislation is specific and defines family debts and provides guidance as to how they should be dealt with.

Section 86 says:
Family debt includes all financial obligations incurred by a spouse

(a) during the period beginning when the relationship between the spouses begins and ending when the spouses separate, and
(b) after the date of separation, if incurred for the purpose of maintaining family property

If the equal division of family debt is significantly unfair, there is a provision under s. 95 of the FLA providing the Court limited jurisdiction to vary the division.

To learn how the changes will affect you and your family specifically, contact our office for a consultation.

Additional Things to Consider:

You can talk to the Lawyer Referral Service, or to duty counsel at any one of the several courthouses nearby. In addition, you may want to contact a lawyer for a free consultation so that you can explain your worries, and get some good general advice. Be cautious about any specific information you obtain from the internet.
Somewhat. A few years ago, the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines were created. They are commonly followed by courts in this Province. While the “guidelines” are not absolutely binding on courts at this time, they are persuasive, and most lawyers and Judges give them considerable weight when assessing support issues. They do not, however, determine matters, and do not “decide” entitlement. Moreover, to make good use of the “guidelines”, the intended payor’s income must be known. The calculation of that is not always straightforward, unless the target “payor” has a simple salary. A consultation on the assessment of income may be necessary . Most lawyers possess a computer program that calculates the range of support that’s applicable once income is known, and that’s often very helpful in the assessment.
It’s not wise to barter from a position of weakness. The rights that you have (and your obligations) are a function of law, not the dictates of an angry spouse. Get some advice. Your consultation with a lawyer is private and confidential (we call that “privileged”). If, after you learn about your rights and obligations, you decide to negotiate directly with your spouse, you can—-but it’s best to do so with “eyes wide open”.
This is not easily explained. Provincial Court has jurisdiction (power) over children’s issues, and support, and related topics. A Provincial court cannot grant a divorce, or divide assets. The process in Provincial court is thought by some to be less costly, and more user friendly. On the other hand, some folks say that you must have counsel in Supreme Court, and that the “system” there is more pricey, but faster. There may be some truth in this. What is certain is this: only Supreme Court can grant an order for divorce or make an order to divide family assets. And while both courts have strengths and weaknesses, the jurisdictional “overlap” is a topic that’s needy of consideration. Commencing the process in the wrong court can be a big mistake.
The word “retainer” has several meanings in law. Your question refers a “money deposit”, paid to a lawyer, for the purpose of hiring the lawyer. Some lawyers require a retainer (often $1000 $2500, $5000 or more) before they meet with a new client. Other lawyers are willing to offer a free “no-obligation” consultation without a retainer, to give the prospective client some basic information and advice, and so that the prospective client can know if he or she wants to retain that lawyer. Here, at South Coast Law Group, you don’t need a retainer to have a first meeting with counsel. Your first consultation is free. In some cases, we work on a contingency fee where you don’t pay fees unless there’s success, and then, and only then, it’s a percentage. Most family law cases cannot be handled on a contingency, but there are some exceptions.
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Guardianship of Children

Custody, Guardianship, and Access out, Guardianship, Parental Responsibility, and Parenting Time in.

The coming into force of the new Family Law Act (FLA) in BC on March 18, 2013, signals a significant change in the approach to dealing with parenting the children of separated parents.

Historically, parents have battled fiercely over the words custody and guardianship. Should it be sole? Should it be joint? What advantage does one title give one parent over the other?

The new law completely changes the focus to the child. The new Family Law Act removes the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration and makes it the ONLY consideration. Parents have responsibilities to their children and the right to parent them, rather than custody of them and access to them.

Under the FLA, parents don’t have joint guardianship, they simply are guardians. Guardians must exercise their parental responsibilities solely in accordance with the best interest of their children. Parental responsibilities are defined in s. 41 of the FLA:

  • (a) making day-to-day decisions affecting the child and having day-to-day care, control and supervision of the child;
  • (b) making decisions respecting where the child will reside;
  • (c) making decisions respecting with whom the child will live and associate;
  • (d) making decisions respecting the child’s education and participation in extracurricular activities, including the nature, extent and location;
  • (e) making decisions respecting the child’s cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual upbringing and heritage, including, if the child is an aboriginal child, the child’s aboriginal identity;
  • (f) subject to section 17 of the Infants Act, giving, refusing or withdrawing consent to medical, dental and other health-related treatments for the child;
  • (g) applying for a passport, licence, permit, benefit, privilege or other thing for the child;
  • (h) giving, refusing or withdrawing consent for the child, if consent is required;
  • (i) receiving and responding to any notice that a parent or guardian is entitled or required by law to receive;
  • (j) requesting and receiving from third parties health, education or other information respecting the child;
  • (k) subject to any applicable provincial legislation,
    1. starting, defending, compromising or settling any proceeding relating to the child, and
    2. identifying, advancing and protecting the child’s legal and financial interests;
  • (l) exercising any other responsibilities reasonably necessary to nurture the child’s development.

This list is not exhaustive but is meant to provide guidance to parents and decision-makers when apportioning responsibilities among parents. These responsibilities can be shared between both parents or apportioned between them only in accordance with the best interests of the child or children.

Under the FLA, only guardians are entitled to parenting time. Non-guardians are entitled to “contact” with children.

Guardians are free to make their own arrangements and agreements regarding allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time, so long as the arrangements are consistent with the best interests of the child. If they are unable to do so on their own, the FLA provides for many Family Dispute Resolution Professionals to assist parties. These include family justice counsellors, parenting coordinators, family law lawyers, mediators, arbitrators, and the courts, if other dispute resolutions options are unworkable under the circumstances.

To learn how the changes will affect you and your family specifically or for help in making arrangements for your children, contact our office for a consultation.