Jurisdiction in British Columbia family law: know which court can make the order you need

In British Columbia, there are two main courts that handle actions: Supreme Court, and Provincial Court. Provincial Court is more limited in what it can do (its ‘jurisdiction’ is smaller), so knowing the difference between the two can be the difference between getting what you want, and not.

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The Provincial Court’s jurisdiction is smaller: it can do fewer things

Courts give people that come before them what they want, generally, through orders. That is, they “order” someone to do something, or not do something.

British Columbia Provincial and Supreme Court are not able to make the same orders. For example, Supreme Court can split up property after a person separates from their spouse, and Provincial Court cannot.

The difference between what courts can and cannot do is commonly called “jurisdiction.” The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over property division, the Provincial Court does not. Without getting into the nitty-gritty, you can think of Supreme Court as a more powerful court than Provincial Court. It is also interesting to note that if you disagree with a Provincial Court decision, you would often appeal that decision to the Supreme Court.

Things that the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over in BC Family Law, but the Provincial Court does not, include:

  • the Provincial Court cannot order property division
  • the Provincial Court cannot order divorce
  • the Provincial Court cannot help with adoptions
  • the Provincial Court cannot order name changes

If someone wants something the Provincial Court cannot give, they have the option of:

  • starting two actions (one in Provincial Court and one in Supreme Court), which is generally discouraged because it means they have to manage two sets of deadlines, documents, etc., or
  • starting an action in Supreme Court and asking for everything there

The Law Society of British Columbia has published a chart of the difference between what the Provincial and Supreme Court can give you. That chart can be viewed here (current as of 2017-Nov-4), and comes from the Family Law Practice Materials for the Professional Legal Training Course.


There are other considerations in choosing whether to go through Provincial or Supreme Court: check out our article on the top procedural differences here.