Families Change Parent Guide to Separation & Divorce

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What if we don’t agree on the amount of child support?

If you cannot come to an agreement on your own, the following services may be able to help you:

  • Family Justice Counsellors (free)
  • Child Support Officers (free)
  • Parenting After Separation Program (free)
  • Mediation (free and for a fee)
  • Collaborative family law services (for a fee)

If even after trying these services you still can’t reach an agreement, you will have to go to court.

Family Justice Counsellors

Family Justice Counsellors are government employees who work at Family Justice Centres across the province (and sometimes in local courthouses). Family Justice Counsellors help people work out parenting arrangements and other separation issues. They also provide mediation services. However, Family Justice Counsellors are not lawyers. They cannot help you get a divorce.

To contact a Family Justice Counsellor, call Enquiry BC and ask to be put through to one near you:

  • 604-660-2421 (from Vancouver)
  • 250-387-6121 (from Victoria)
  • 1-800-663-7867 (from outside Vancouver and Victoria)

Or call the nearest Family Justice Centre location directly.

Child Support Officers

Child Support Officers are available at Family Justice Centres in Kelowna, Nanaimo, Vancouver, and Surrey. Child Support Officers will help you understand the federal child support guidelines and calculate what you should receive or what you should pay under those guidelines. They will also refer you to other professionals, such as an outreach worker from the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program or a Family Justice Counsellor, or to other programs and services, such as Parenting After Separation, financial management, legal advice, and debt counselling.

To contact a Child Support Officer, call Enquiry BC and ask them to transfer you to one near you:

  • 604-660-2421 (from Vancouver)
  • 250-387-6121 (from Victoria)
  • 1-800-663-7867 (from outside Vancouver and Victoria)

Parenting After Separation Program

Parenting After Separation is a free, three-hour information session for BC parents who are dealing with the issues of separation, including child support. The session is intended to help parents make careful and informed decisions about their separation and any conflicts that may result from it and to ensure that these decisions take into account the best interests of their children. Find out more about Parenting After Separation.


In mediation, you and the other parent will work with someone who is specially trained to help you reach an agreement. A mediator will:

  • Provide a neutral place for you and the other parent to meet
  • Help define the issues you need to resolve
  • Keep the discussions on track
  • Help you maintain a working relationship with the other parent

A mediator will not make decisions for you, but can help you and the other parent communicate with each other about all of the issues involved in your separation. Both parents also have to agree to mediation for it to work.

Mediation gives you more control over what happens. It allows for more creative and flexible arrangements that suit your particular circumstances. If you go to court, the judge will decide for you, using the limited range of options available under a court order.

People who use mediation are usually more satisfied with the outcome than those who don’t. This means they are more likely to follow the terms of the agreement.

It is informal and private. While a lawyer can attend mediation with you, there is usually no one else there but you, the other parent, and the mediator. No one else has to know the details of your agreement.

A Family Justice Counsellor may be able to provide you with mediation services. Family Justice Counsellor services are free.

Private mediators are available in most communities in British Columbia. However private mediators will charge a fee.

Contact Mediate BC for a list of qualified mediators, or look in the yellow pages of your local telephone book under "Mediators."

If you have to go to court

It is a lot less stressful if parents can work out a child support agreement on their own, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes court is the only option left available to ensure that children get the financial support they need when their parents separate.

Parents can apply for a child support order in either Provincial or Supreme Court. It’s simpler and less expensive to get an order in Provincial Court — which is often called Family Court. Since family circumstances can change, requiring a change to your order, it is better to apply at the Provincial Court level. (However, you can only get a divorce and divide property in Supreme Court.)

Note: In a number of communities throughout BC, you have to do a Parenting After Separation (PAS) workshop.

The paying parent will be required by the court to provide proof of their present income, together with their recent income tax returns, and other financial documents that may be important. In most cases, such as when the parents are paying for special or extraordinary expenses, or when the parenting arrangement is shared, the receiving parent will also be required to provide financial documents.

The judge will make a child support order based on the Child Support Guidelines. The judge will make a decision about how much child support should be paid, who should pay it, and how often. Parents have to obey court orders.

A Family Justice Counsellor can give you information about going to court. It is also a good idea to get legal advice before going to court. Some services provide legal help for free or for a small fee.

What if a parent doesn’t pay child support?

The British Columbia Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP) is a service established by the provincial government to help parents receive their child support payments. “Maintenance” is another term used to describe support.

If you enroll in the program, staff at FMEP will monitor your child support order and enforce it if payments are late or unpaid. FMEP staff will contact the non-paying parent and arrange for payment to be made. There is no cost to enroll and there is no time limit when a parent can file their child support agreement or order.

Some parents enroll in the program because it is easier to have FMEP collect payments than it is to do it themselves. When necessary, however, FMEP has the power to take wages, make financial agreements that can’t be broken (“binding” agreements), and take other legal action to get payments on behalf of the children.

It is better to pay child support when your children need it. If parents don’t pay child support and get behind in their payments (are “in arrears”), their Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan benefits can also be taken (“garnished”) to pay the debt.