COVID-19 Legal Questions

The information on this page is not intended to be legal advice. Individuals are strongly encouraged to consider obtaining legal advice about their specific situation.

Last updated: July 2, 2020


Parenting Arrangements, Child & Spousal Support

 

I have an agreement or court order that says the other parent has parenting time or contact with my child. I am concerned my child may become exposed to COVID-19 during their time with the other parent. Do I need to follow the agreement?

You must comply with an agreement or court order that gives parenting time or contact with a child to another person.

  • The terms of an agreement or order are not automatically changed or paused because of the COVID-19 situation
  • Continue to follow existing parenting arrangements, cooperating to make changes needed to follow all COVID-19 guidance issued by B.C.’s public health officer
  • Each family will have its own unique issues and complications

Do not use COVID-19 as an excuse to change the current parenting schedule unless there is a good reason to believe your child’s safety is at risk.

  • Parents may have to temporarily adjust parenting time schedules, including giving up time with a child if the child or parent:
    • Must self-isolate
    • Is sick
    • Has been exposed to someone who is sick
  • Parenting arrangement adjustments could include using Skype or other communications tool to allow parenting time to occur
  • Adjustments may also include an agreement for additional future time with a child to make up for missed parenting time or contact
  • If an agreement requires exchanges to occur in a public place that is closed or with the assistance of a person that can no longer help because of COVID-19, transportation methods or exchange locations may need to be adjusted

Be reasonable and flexible in finding alternative temporary parenting arrangements. This is a stressful time, so it is important to keep conflict away from children and act in their best interest.

 

The financial circumstances of my family have changed due to COVID-19. What happens to child and spousal support?

Agreements and court orders about child and spousal support continue to apply.

  • The terms of an agreement or order are not automatically changed or paused because of the COVID-19 situation
  • If someone stops or reduces support payments, the amount owing will accrue as arrears until the agreement or the court order is changed

If the agreement or court order is enrolled with the province’s Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP), contact the Enforcement Officer assigned to your file to discuss whether alternative payment options can be arranged.

  • If you are not able to pay your full amount of support, make whatever payment you can and contact FMEP to discuss your options

If you have an existing child or spousal support agreement or Provincial Court order and need to change it due to COVID-19, there is a new process for you. See the next section

Starting on July 02, 2020 and for a limited time as we deal with the challenges of COVID-19, there is a new process to change a child or spousal support agreement or order of the Provincial Court. This process is only for situations where support needs to change because income has changed since January 2020 as a result of COVID-19. Other issues, such as parenting arrangements or changes to child or spousal support for reasons that are not related to COVID-19 will not use this process.

The COVID-19 process to change support includes an early resolution service that offers a needs assessment and out-of-court dispute resolution (if applicable). After the COVID-19 early resolution process, if a matter needs to be heard by the court, the service offers pre-court preparation help and a direct path to court.

If you reach an agreement out of court, this service can help you document it, including preparing a written agreement or consent order package for the court, if applicable.

  1. You have an existing child and/or spousal support agreement or Provincial Court order, and
  2. Your financial income changed since January 2020 because of COVID-19, and
  3. You need to change your child and/or spousal support agreement or Provincial Court order.

If you need a protection order or have an urgent matter concerning a child’s safety or well-being or where irreparable harm will occur if it is not heard quickly, do not use the support variation process.  For protection orders, see the section below called “Obtaining a Protection Order”. For urgent family applications, see the Provincial Court's Urgent Without Notice Orders page

If your reason for wanting to change your support agreement or order is not related to COVID-19 or if you want to change something else, such as parenting arrangements. For common questions and answers about the family cases and the Provincial Court during COVID-19, please see:

Contact the Family Justice Services Division (FJSD) to schedule your individual needs assessment at:

Details for the process can be found in the Provincial Court’s Practice Direction.  It is number FAM 08 and called: Early resolution process and expedited court process to change or suspend child or spousal support due to COVID-19.  The Practice Direction is on the Provincial Court’s website on the Family Practice Directions page or the COVID-19 page.

 

Making Alternative Arrangements

A written agreement can be filed with the court for enforcement, if needed. The court is currently accepting applications for consent orders. 

Contact Family Justice Services Division at 1-844-747-3963 for help filing in Provincial Court or see Legal Aid BC’s Family Law in BC website for information about filing consent orders. 

When communicating about parenting arrangements or support payments, you should follow any agreements or court orders that limit or describe how communication between the parents should take place. 

  • Conduct orders and protection orders continue to be in effect
  • If you need a protection order on an urgent basis you can apply to either:
    • The Provincial Court
    • The Supreme Court

If you need help reaching an agreement to change the terms, a lawyer or a private family mediator can help. A Family Justice Counsellor (FJC) or Child Support Officer (CSO) can also help.

These services are available throughout the province and are free of charge.

Neither parent can decide on their own to change the terms of an agreement or court order regarding parenting time or support.

Currently, B.C. courts are only able to address limited matters, and consent order applications. If you believe COVID-19 creates an urgent issue about your parenting arrangement, you may make an application to court.

  • Be clear about expectations regarding what is and is not an urgent matter during this crisis
  • Before making an application, consider getting legal advice about whether their matter will be considered urgent
  • Judges will expect parents to act in the best interests of the child and try to problem-solve before starting court proceedings

Please check regularly for newly posted updates about what documents can be filed and what matters are being heard. Updates and announcements about operations are being posted on these websites: 

 

Obtaining a Protection Order

The Supreme Court and the Provincial Court are continuing to hear applications for urgent matters.

  • This includes urgent applications for protection orders under the Family Law Act
  • In each case it is up to the judge to decide, based on the evidence before them, whether an application is urgent and will be heard

For support with urgent protection order applications, visit the Legal Aid BC website or phone the Legal Aid BC call centre at 604-408-2172 or 1-866-577-2525.

 

Other urgent matters


The Provincial Court is hearing a limited range of matters at this time. 

  • These include requests for urgent relief relating to the safety of a child or parent and requests to obtain or set aside protection orders
  • To apply by email, phone, mail or fax, read the notice from the Provincial Court of British Columbia and submit your application following the directions given in the order
  • If you need help, it is strongly encouraged to obtain legal advice
  • If the judge reviewing the application decides it is urgent, a telephone hearing will be scheduled

The Supreme Court is hearing limited range of matters at this time. 

  • Essential and urgent matters in family proceedings include orders relating to the safety of a child or parent due to a risk of violence or immediate harm (e.g., a protection order, conduct orders, or exclusive possession of the home). 
  • To apply by email, phone, mail or fax, read the notice from the Supreme Court of British Columbia and submit your application
  • If the judge reviewing the application decides it is urgent, a phone or video hearing will be scheduled

 

Legal Resources

Courts

If you believe you have an urgent matter or require a Protection Order, review court notices and apply for a court order.

For information about other documents the courts are accepting for filing, as well as matters that are being heard by the courts, review the court notices above.

Legal Advice

Legal Aid BC can help your family get legal advice about your particular situation and apply for a protection order. Please note that legal aid services are only offered by phone at this time.

Visit Legal Aid BC’s Coronavirus and the law: your questions answered page and click on Courts for current court processes and forms.

New information about applying for protection orders during COVID-19 is coming soon. When the information is available, we will post the link. Until new material is posted, these guides provide useful information. Please note that they don’t reflect current court processes.

Access Pro Bono operates a Lawyer Referral Service that connects families with a lawyer who provides a free 30-minute legal consultation and can help with legal needs.

Victim Services

For information about victim services available in B.C. communities and to find the victim service program nearest you, visit the VictimLinkBC website or call toll free at 1-800-563-0808.

For information about violence and abuse, including information about risk factors and safety planning, visit the Ending Violence Association of BC website.