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Families Change Guide to Separation & Divorce

2.4 - Family Justice Counsellor Video

2.4 - Family Justice Counsellor Video

This video provides information about the services that family justice counsellors can provide when parents are separating or divorcing.

Family justice counsellors assist families with issues related to guardianship, parental responsibilities, parenting time, contact, child support or spousal support.

There are no fees for using the services that family justice counsellors provide.

The video will provide a general overview to the role of family justice counsellors. An appointment with a counsellor will allow you to gather more specific information on how this service can help you and your family.

Separation and divorce can be stressful and challenging. Family justice counsellors offer a range of services to assist families during these times.

Plus, these services can be used by different family members, such as parents, stepparents, and other extended family members or caregivers.

Family justice counsellors are located throughout British Columbia. You can contact a family justice counsellor at a Family Justice Centre or a Justice Access Centre. There are 26 offices throughout the province.

Let’s talk to some family justice counsellors to learn what they do.

Who Are Family Justice Counsellors?

We are impartial third parties. We don’t take the side of either parent; we don’t make decisions for the family.

We help parents focus on what is best for their children. We help our clients make decisions about parenting arrangements that best meet their children’s needs.

We provide legal information on parenting arrangement options and relevant family law.

However, if legal advice is required in your situation, we will inform you of resources that provide this service.

Family justice counsellors are nationally certified family mediators. We are trained to help parents resolve disagreements without going to court.

We do not deal with issues about family assets, debt, and property or pension matters, but we can refer parents to resources that may help in these areas.

With the exception of child abuse or criminal activity, information exchanged with a family justice counsellor is confidential.

Let’s learn more about the specific ways that family justice counsellors help families.

Family Justice Counsellors Help Families

We provide emotional support and short-term counselling.

We provide information on family law, legislation and court process. We also provide information on the child support guidelines.

We provide referrals to community services including professionals such as a child support officer or a family maintenance outreach worker.

We offer a range of dispute resolution alternatives and information services. Our services can be accessed by separating parents not involved in the court process or by parties currently going through Provincial or Supreme Court proceedings.

We help parents work out informal or formal agreements for their children regardless of the length of time that has passed since separation. Written agreements may be filed in the Provincial or Supreme Courts. If disagreements occur later, it helps both parents have a clear understanding of their commitments. Plus, written agreements can be enforced, like a court order.

We help parents make agreements regarding their children, and we help parents understand the process to change the agreements. Over time, circumstances for the parents and the children may change. It’s important that parents have an agreement that meets the current needs of their children. We can help parents to obtain or change orders in Provincial Court. We cannot directly assist with obtaining or changing orders in Supreme Court, but we can outline areas of agreement in a Memorandum of Understanding. Parents can then formalize this document by making a Supreme Court application or using the services of a lawyer.

We assess all clients for incidents of family violence. We provide appropriate services or referrals when safety issues are identified.

There is also a team of specialized family justice counsellors who prepare reports for the court. These reports relate to guardianship, parenting arrangements and contact. To prepare one of these reports, a family justice counsellor may interview the parents, the children and other significant people. These reports can only be ordered by a Judge.

There are two types of reports that may be ordered for families involved in the court process: a “Section 211 Views of the Child Report” and a “Section 211 Full Report”.

A “Section 211 Views of the Child Report” provides the opportunity for a child's view to be presented to the court and to their family.

A “Section 211 Full Report” provides an impartial assessment to the court, including recommendations, regarding future parenting arrangements, based on the best interests of the child.

The information collected in completing these reports is not confidential. The Judge may use the information in these reports to make a decision.

Now let’s take a look at what happens when you meet with a family justice counsellor.

Meeting a Family Justice Counsellor

To start, a counsellor will meet with each parent separately.

Your specific questions will be answered and referrals will be provided. The counsellor may discuss possible options for resolving your family dispute. A family justice counsellor will only contact the other parent if you want them to.

If you and your former spouse or partner are able to reach an agreement regarding parenting arrangements, we can help develop a written agreement, a consent order, or a Memorandum of Understanding.

Family justice counsellors provide helpful information and referrals based on the information you provide.

When parents agree on parenting arrangements, they can put the agreement in writing as a written agreement, a consent order, or a Memorandum of Understanding.

These different types of legal documents are discussed in the Judge’s Video, and a family justice counsellor can explain the differences between these documents. Family justice counsellors do not replace the services of a lawyer, so before finalizing any agreements or legal documents, the counsellor will recommend you get legal advice.

Let’s turn our attention now to the dispute resolution options that a family justice counsellor can provide.

Dispute Resolution Options

British Columbia’s Family Law Act strongly encourages most parents to try mediation or other forms of dispute resolution before considering court options.

Mediation and shuttle mediation are dispute resolution options that family justice counsellors can offer when helping separating parents to resolve family issues.

Unlike a judge, family justice counsellors do not decide the outcome of the dispute. We facilitate discussions between parents so they can decide what is best for their family.

If your child is old enough, the family justice counsellor will offer you an opportunity to participate in the Children in Mediation service. In this service, the family justice counsellor will speak with your children individually to discuss their needs and interests, and then bring that information back to the dispute resolution process. Hearing their children’s views expressed in their own words often helps parents to make decisions that are in their children’s best interests.

Mediation involves structured, confidential sessions where parents meet with a family justice counsellor to discuss and resolve their issues.

Shuttle Mediation is also a confidential process. It differs from mediation because it does not involve face-to-face meetings. Instead, a family justice counsellor will “shuttle” back-and-forth to have separate meetings with each parent. Information is exchanged and the counsellor helps parents to resolve their issues.

In mediation and shuttle mediation, family justice counsellors try to help parents resolve family issues without going to court. It’s in everyone’s interest to reach an agreement rather than have the court make a decision about you and your family.

Dispute resolution processes help parents to discuss future parenting arrangements openly and honestly. Often, parents can discover cooperative and consensual ways to resolve their disagreements.

Talking openly about family problems is hard work, especially when emotions are running high. However, the mediator will moderate the session and help to keep it focused on the topics that need to be resolved.

This approach may improve communication between parents so that they may be able to resolve future disagreements themselves.

Mediation and shuttle mediation can be very rewarding as they allow you, the parents, to make decisions about your family situation.

There are other benefits of mediation:

  • Decisions can be made sooner than a court decision
  • Your child’s exposure to conflict is minimized
  • It usually costs less than going to court.

Mediation is not appropriate in every case. During individual meetings, the family justice counsellor will assess the best service options according to each family’s circumstance. For example, if one person does not want to participate, or if there are safety issues, then mediation may not be the right option.

In some courts you may be required to see a family justice counsellor before being given a court date, but you can use family justice counsellor services at any time: at the start of separation, before going to court or even if court proceedings have started.

If you are definitely going to court, a family justice counsellor can assist by providing you with information on:

  • Legal and court processes
  • Relevant legislation
  • Referrals to resources, community service providers or legal services

In the Judge’s Video, they discuss specific legal terms like guardianship, parental responsibilities, parenting time and contact. In this video, we’ll take a closer look at child support.

Financial Support for the Children

Child support is the legal right of a child to receive financial support from his or her parents. Stepparents may also be responsible to pay child support.

This financial obligation continues until the child turns 19 years old. Child support may continue at or after the age of 19 if a child is still dependent on a parent due to illness, disability or attendance at a post-secondary school.

The Child Support Guidelines provide the framework for calculating the amount one parent must pay to the other parent to help support their child or children.

The guidelines include tables that show monthly child support amounts. To calculate child support amounts, the first things to consider are:

  • The parenting arrangements
  • The paying parent’s level of income
  • The number of children eligible for child support

In many cases, there are special expenses that are not covered by the basic child support payments. These special expenses could include:

  • Childcare
  • Health-related expenses
  • A portion of medical insurance premiums
  • Extraordinary expenses for education
  • Post-secondary education
  • Extraordinary expenses for extracurricular activities

In general, each parent shares in the expense in proportion to his or her income, but the parents may agree to another way to share these costs.

In some cases, child support may be different from the amounts shown in the tables; for example, when:

  • Children are over 19 years of age, or
  • The paying parent has the child in their care at least 40% of the time, or
  • The paying parent is a stepparent

In some cases, amounts stated in the child support tables, combined with other circumstances, can cause undue hardship to either parent or to a child. In these cases, either parent may ask the court to raise or lower the child support amount.

It is important to understand how the courts determine hardship before making an application.

If you have questions about the child support guidelines, including the hardship rule, contact a family justice counsellor or visit the Department of Justice Website: www.canada.justice.gc.ca

Before meeting with a family justice counsellor, it is a good idea to prepare for the meeting. Let’s take a look at some suggestions.

Preparing to Meet a Family Justice Counsellor

If you haven’t already done so, you can call the nearest Family Justice Centre or Justice Access Centre to book an appointment.

Before meeting you may wish to make a list of all the issues and questions you need to discuss. You should also consider the list of parenting responsibilities both you and the other parent have with regards to the children.

You may want to review the “Parenting Plan” contained in the “Parenting After Separation” handbook. The plan may help you focus on your particular situation.

It may be helpful to bring certain documents and information to your initial meeting. When you phone the Family Justice Centre or Justice Access Centre to make an appointment, you will be provided with information of what would be useful to bring to the meeting.

To get more information regarding the topics introduced in the Judge's Video or this video, visit the Family Justice website or do an internet search for family justice counsellors. The website also provides more information about other family justice services available throughout the province. You can also refer to your Parenting After Separation handbook.

To contact a family justice counsellor at Family Justice Centres or Justice Access Centres, call Enquiry BC (1-800-663-7867) between 7:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday to Friday.

We’re here to help. We look forward to assisting you.