Q: Any updates on family law resources available to Sunshine Coasters?
A: There are some important family law resource updates to talk about this column.
As of this month, our local family duty counsel are back in person at the Sechelt Provincial Courthouse. This is an important update to anyone looking for family law advice on the Coast. Family duty counsel, as a refresher, are family lawyers who are paid for by Legal Aid BC to provide free legal advice to those who are going through the family court system. For those self-representing in court this is a key resource. (This service had moved to phone-only during the beginning of the pandemic.) While priority to get advice from family duty counsel is for those in court that day, on a first come first served basis during court hours, roughly 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., anyone at all can show up to ask family law questions. It’s a great option if the timing of your question coincides with the scheduled duty counsel dates, which are typically (but not always) the first and third Thursdays of the month. Duty counsel dates for the rest of the year are: Oct. 20, Nov. 3 and 17 and Dec. 22. Lawyers Caroline Plant and Judith Wilson continue to be the two duty counsel until the end of this year. For 2023 dates, call the courthouse directly at 604-740-8929 or give us a call.
For people who a) need advice now, or b) prefer over-the-phone service, the Family LawLINE (where you connect with a free legal aid lawyer somewhere in B.C. for advice over the phone) continues to be accessible Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., except Wednesdays when it closes at 2:30 p.m. Phone the call centre and follow the prompts for the Family LawLINE option: 604-408-2172 or 1-866-577-2525.
Issues people might have when they are looking for family legal advice include: navigating a separation and feeling stuck on next steps; living with family violence and wondering what rights they have if they leave; figuring out child custody arrangements, spousal or child support amounts; understanding and filling out court documents, separation agreements or parenting plans, and so much more. Duty counsel or the Family LawLINE can help you by providing free legal advice and help with the situation you are trying to sort out. We get so many calls to our office from people of all ages, all incomes, and all circumstances who just don’t know where to start. It can be very helpful to get that first legal perspective to understand how to move forward, no matter your family law situation.
Legal information for Indigenous People
For anyone who identifies as Indigenous, there is an excellent new handbook called “Legal Information for Indigenous People.” Its goal is to help Indigenous people navigate legal issues.
In the introduction, the authors write: “This booklet offers a snapshot of the legal issues people face and lays out the first steps for people navigating these legal situations…It provides quick access to basic legal information that is not always readily available; offers a concise guide for people facing legal concerns; and eases the first hurdle for people – knowing what questions to ask; makes complex information easier to understand. Although the laws are often the same for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, there are a number of important areas where this is not the case.” Many family law topics and situations are covered in here, including those involving child protection.
The project was researched and put together by the Bella Coola Legal Advocacy Program. The foreword to the booklet was written by Amber Prince, member of the BC Human Rights Tribunal and member of the Sucker Creek (Cree) Nation (Treaty 8), and gives a good outline of what it’s all about. She writes: “This Booklet was created by frontline advocates who understand the everyday legal issues that Indigenous people face. As a result, this Booklet provides critical and practical legal guidance that Indigenous people need. I have no doubt that this Booklet will be an invaluable resource for Indigenous people across BC.”
We have some hard copies of this resource in our office if you’d like one, and we also have the PDF version we can email to anyone interested.
Legal Aid BC live chat
Another “new” thing in the Family Law realm: The “LiveHelp” chat function through the Legal Aid BC website. Law students from around B.C, volunteer on the other side of this chat feature. They are not there to give advice, like fully-fledged lawyers available through the Family LawLine or Family Duty Counsel, but similar to coming into the Resource Centre, you can get help figuring out which family law resources are out there that may help you, and where to go to get information you need. To find the chat, go to: family.legalaid.bc.ca. Then, on the bottom right of the page, there is a little blue strip that says “live chat.” Click on there to open up the chat. Chat hours: Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Family Justice Counselors
B.C.’s family justice services are one more resource to keep in mind. It’s through here you can request free mediation services from “Family Justice Counselors (FJCs).” (Don’t confuse these with family DUTY counsel, the lawyers written about above!) The FJCs provide services to people going through separation and divorce and, “are specially trained to help families resolve their issues about guardianship, parenting arrangements, contact with a child and support.” I just checked in with the call centre that books appointments, and for Sunshine Coasters, these mediation sessions continue to be over the phone, or through an online service called WebX. (Pre-pandemic they were also in person.) I’m told if you really want in-person, the closest would be through the North Vancouver Family Justice Centre. To book an appointment, call 604-740-8936.
For more resources about family law, or if you’d like Indigenous-specific resources about family law, please get in touch with us here at the Resource Centre. Making a phone or in-person appointment continues to be the best way to get us, but if we are free when you phone/drop-in, we are always happy to chat and see how we can help.
Angie Theilmann is an information and referral specialist at the Sunshine Coast Resource Centre, your community information hub. The Resource Centre is open Monday to Thursday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Appointments are recommended to be sure we are available to help you. Note: on some days, we can book clients after 2pm. Contact us: email@example.com or 604-885-4088.