Family Law Glossary

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A

Access

Under the Divorce Act, this refers is the time a child spends with a parent who does not have custody of the child. You will only use the terms custody and access if you apply for orders about your family issues under the Divorce Act in Supreme Court. You will not use the terms if you apply for an order under the Family Law Act in Supreme Court or in Provincial Court.

Affidavit

A document that contains facts that you swear under oath or affirm to be true. A lawyer, notary public, or commissioner of oaths must witness your signature and sign your affidavit.

Agreement

A written document that sets out how spouses have agreed to deal with things like parenting, support, and property. You can make an agreement before you move in together, while you’re living together, or after you separate. Some agreements, like ones about child support, guardianship, and parenting arrangements can only be made at or after separation.

Applicant

The person who is seeking a court order.

Arrears

Child support or spousal support that has not been paid (the payor - the person paying support - has fallen behind in making his or her support payments).

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B

Best interests of the child/children

The “best interests of the child” is a legal test used to decide what would best protect your child’s physical, psychological, and emotional safety, security, and well-being. It looks at factors including:

  • The child’s emotional health and well-being
  • The child’s views, unless it would be inappropriate to consider them
  • The child’s relationships with parents, guardians, and other important people, and
  • The impact of any family violence

When you make parenting arrangements after a separation, the law says you must only consider the child’s best interests. And if you go to court, the judge can only consider the child’s best interests in making parenting orders.

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C

Child support

Parents have a legal responsibility to financially support their children, whether they live together as a family or not. After separation or divorce, child support is the amount a parent pays to another parent to help support the children. It used to be called maintenance. Although parents have the primary responsibility to pay child support, other guardians and step-parents also have a duty to support the child and may be responsible to pay child support.

Child Support Guidelines

The federal child support guidelines are the rules for calculating the amount of child support one parent must pay to the other parent to help support their child or children under the Divorce Act and the Family Law Act.

Child Support Officer

Child support officers provide information and specialized assistance in child support matters, and help parents and guardians to obtain or change child support agreements and orders.

Child support order or agreement

Specifies how much a parent will need to pay in child support. It may be a separate agreement or order, or may form part of a larger agreement or order.

Collaborative family law

A process where you and your lawyer, and your former spouse and his or her lawyer, agree in writing to resolve family law disputes outside the court process.

Conduct order

An order a judge can make to help prevent disputes or resolve underlying problems in a family law matter.

Common-law relationship

Not a legal term, but often used to describe unmarried couples who live together in a marriage-like relationship for some time. You may be an opposite-sex couple or a same-sex couple.

Consent order

You can use a consent order to get or change an order about parenting arrangements or support if you and your former spouse agree on what the order should say. You may be able to file a consent order with the court registry and have it signed by a judge without ever having to appear in court.

Contact/contact with the child

Under the Family Law Act, contact is the time that a person who is not a guardian spends with the child. This person could be a parent who doesn’t have guardianship, or another relative, like a grandparent.

Court order/order

Document that records the decision of a judge in court. The order tells the people named in it what they are to do about issues such as guardianship or child support. There are legal consequences for disobeying a court order.

Custody

In the Divorce Act, custody is used to describe who will live with the children and be responsible for providing daily care. You will only use the terms custody and access if you apply for an order about your family issues under the Divorce Act in Supreme Court. You will not use the terms if you apply for the order under the Family Law Act in Supreme Court or in Provincial Court.

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D

Dispute resolution

See Family dispute resolution.

Divorce

The legal end of a marriage. You get a divorce in Supreme Court under the federal Divorce Act.

Divorce Act

Federal law that gives the Supreme Court the authority to grant divorces and, as part of the divorce, to deal with child and spousal support, child custody and access.

Divorce order

Court order granting a divorce.

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E

Excluded property

Assets each spouse had before the relationship started, plus gifts and inheritances that one spouse received during the relationship. Excluded property also includes certain kinds of court awards, and certain kinds of insurance payments. Except for any increase in value that has happened during the relationship, excluded property is not generally divided between spouses upon separation.

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F

Family court

The division of Provincial Court that grants court orders under the Family Law Act for guardianship, parenting arrangements, contact, child support, spousal support and protection.

Family debts

Family debts include all debts a spouse takes on during the relationship, such as mortgages, loans from family members, bank lines of credit or overdrafts, credit cards, income tax, and repair costs. Family debts also include debts taken on after separation if the money is spent to take care of family property. Under the Family Law Act, all family debts are divided equally when you separate, unless you and the other spouse have an agreement that says something else. To change this, you would need to show that an equal division would be significantly unfair.

Family dispute resolution

A process spouses can use to help them resolve a family law dispute out of court. It includes mediation, collaborative law and parenting coordination.

Family dispute resolution professionals

These include family justice counsellors, mediators, lawyers, parenting coordinators and arbitrators who can help you resolve a family law dispute.

Family justice counsellors

Government employees who work out of Family Justice Centres across the province and Justice Access Centres in Vancouver, Victoria and Nanaimo. Family justice counsellors are accredited family mediators, specially trained to help families with parenting arrangements and support issues.

Family Maintenance Enforcement Act

B.C. law that covers procedures for enforcing spousal and child support orders, and outlines the powers and responsibilities of the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program to monitor, collect and enforce child and spousal support payments.

Family Law Act

Governs family law in B.C. The law came into force in March 2013. It emphasizes that decisions at separation involving children’s care must be based only on the best interests of the children. It also focuses on parental responsibilities and encourages separating couples to decide their family law issues through agreement rather than going to court.

Family property

Everything either you or your spouse own together or separately on the date you separate, such as your car, house, television, appliances, and furniture. It also includes bank accounts, pension benefits, insurance policies, stocks, bonds and other investments.

Under the Family Law Act, property is generally divided equally after separation, unless it is excluded property.

Family Violence

Family violence includes physical, sexual, and psychological or emotional abuse of a family member. Psychological or emotional abuse includes intimidation, harassment, coercion, threats, financial abuse, stalking, and intentional damage to property. In the case of a child, it includes witnessing or being exposed to family violence. Family violence does not include self-defence.

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G

Guardian/Guardianship

A guardian is responsible for their child’s care and upbringing. Under the Family Law Act, the general rule is that a parent is a guardian of their child, except where they have never lived with their child. Only a guardian may have parental responsibilities and parenting time. A parent can be added or removed as a guardian by agreement or court order. A non-parent can become a guardian of a child through a court order.

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I

Interim order or non-final order

A short-term court order granted before a trial or a final court order. The order - which may be used to temporarily settle such issues as parenting arrangements or support - will remain in effect until the court makes a final decision or until you and your former spouse reach an agreement.

Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act

B.C. law that sets out the process for making or changing support orders if one person lives in B.C. and the other person does not. You can have your support order enforced in Canada or in the US and other countries with which B.C. shares an agreement.

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M

Maintenance

See Child Support and Spousal Support

Master

A master hears cases in Supreme Court. A master has the same powers as a judge to make non-final orders for parenting arrangements, guardianship and support, but cannot make final orders or divorce orders.

Mediation

In mediation, you and your former spouse work with a mediator who is specially trained to help you reach an agreement.

Mediator

A specially trained person who acts as a neutral third party to help people involved in a dispute come to a mutually acceptable agreement.

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N

Non-final order

See Interim order.

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O

Order

See Court order.

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P

Parental responsibilities

These are the responsibilities guardians have when raising a child, including:

  • Daily decisions made when you are caring for the child
  • Important decisions like those related to education, religion, and medical treatment
  • Receiving information about the child from others (including about health and education), and
  • Protecting the child’s legal and financial interests

Parental responsibilities can be shared or allocated between the guardians by agreement or court order so that parenting arrangements can be tailored to a family’s circumstances.

Parenting arrangements

The arrangements the guardians make about how they will parent their child together. Parenting arrangements include the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time. It does not include contact.

Parenting assessment

A report prepared by a family justice counsellor, social worker or other person authorized by a judge to help determine what living situation will best meet the needs of your children.

Parenting coordinator

A specially-trained person who can help parents implement a child-related agreement or order. A parenting coordinator may become involved through agreement or by court order.

Parenting orders

Orders made about how you and the other parent will continue to parent your children after you separate. The orders describe how you and the other parent will allocate parenting responsibilities and parenting time.

Parenting time

The time a child spends with a guardian. During parenting time, a guardian makes day-to-day decisions about and is responsible for the care and supervision of the child. Parenting time must be arranged in a way that is in the child’s best interests. Parents can decide how to divide parenting time and set it out in an agreement or a judge can make a court order.

Payor

The person paying child and/or spousal support.

Pension

A regular payment to a retired person by a former employer or government agency.

Property division

Under the Family Law Act, family property is generally divided equally after separation, unless it is “excluded property.” See the definitions for family property and excluded property.

Protection order

An order made under the Family Law Act by a judge to protect one family member from another where there is a risk of family violence. The protection order limits or prohibits contact or communications between family members where there are safety concerns. If the person disobeys the order, the police may enforce the order under the Criminal Code. A peace bond is another type of protection order available in criminal court to limit or prohibit contact or communications between people where there is a safety risk.

Provincial Court

The Provincial Court is divided into several divisions, each dealing with a different aspect of the law - such as small claims or traffic. The family division of the Provincial Court (often called Family Court) grants court orders for guardianship, parenting arrangements, contact, child support and spousal support.

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R

Recipient

The person receiving child and/or spousal support.

Respondent

The person responding to an application for a court order made by someone else, such as a former spouse or the other parent.

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S

Separation

When two people, who have been living together in a marriage or marriage-like relationship, decide not to live together any more. (There is no such thing as a “legal” separation; if you end your relationship, you are separated.)

Spousal support

Financial support paid to a former spouse under an agreement or court order. Used to be called maintenance; sometimes referred to as alimony in locations outside B.C.

Spouse

The person of the opposite sex or same sex who you have been married to or living with in a marriage-like relationship. In other words, your spouse is your wife, husband or partner. Under the Family Law Act, an unmarried couple who has lived together for two years will be treated the same as a married couple for all aspects of the family law, including property division. An unmarried couple who lived together and have a child together will be treated the same as a married couple for the purposes of spousal support regardless of how long they have lived together.

Subpoena

A document the court gives to a person which demands that the person come to court to be a witness in a trial.

Support

Financial support for a former spouse and/or children that must be paid under an agreement or court order. It used to be called maintenance.

Support agreement or order

Specifies the amount one person must pay to another in child and/or spousal support. It may be a separate order or agreement, or may form part of a larger order or agreement. It used to be called a maintenance agreement or order.

Supreme Court

Only the Supreme Court may grant divorces or deal with property division. Both the Supreme Court and Provincial Court may make orders for guardianship, parenting arrangements, contact with a child, child and spousal support, and protection orders under the Family Law Act.

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