Family law glossary

Last updated on March 6, 2024

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The Divorce Act previously used the word “access” to describe the time a child spends with a parent who does not have custody of the child. On March 1, 2021 the word access was replaced with new words to describe the time spent with a child. The new words are the same as the words used in B.C.’s Family Law Act. Instead of “access” parents have “parenting time” with the children. Where the Divorce Act allows non-parents to apply to spend time with a child, that time is called “contact”.


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.


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.


The person who is seeking a court order.


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).



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.



Case management orders

In Provincial Court case management orders are administrative or procedural orders which can be made at a family management conference or at any other time in the family court process.

You use an Application for Case Management Order (Form 10) or an Application for Case Management Order Without Notice or Attendance (Form 11) to ask a judge to make orders about these matters.

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.

Companion animal

A companion animal is defined as an animal that is kept primarily for companionship. It is usually a family pet.

A companion animal is not:

  • A guide dog or service dog,
  • An animal kept as part of a business, or
  • An animal kept for agricultural purposes.

According to the law, a companion animal is property, but it is treated differently than other property like furniture when it comes to decisions about possession and ownership.

Consensual Dispute Resolution

Consensual dispute resolution (CDR) is a process where a third party helps people reach agreement. It includes mediation, facilitated negotiation with a child support officer or the collaborative law process. Separated couples can use CDR to reach their own agreement instead of having a judge decide for them.

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.


The Divorce Act previously used the word custody to describe who will live with the children and provide daily care.  On March 1, 2021 this word was replaced by words that are similar or the same as those used in B.C.’s Family Law Act. Instead of "custody", parents have "decision-making responsibility" and "parenting time".



Dispute resolution

See Family dispute resolution.


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.



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.



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 and Justice Access Centres across the province. Family justice counsellors are accredited family mediators. They are trained to help families with parenting arrangements and support issues.

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 law matter

In Provincial Court, family law matters are defined as:

  • Parenting arrangements (parenting time and parental responsibilities),
  • Child support,
  • Contact with a child,
  • Guardianship of a child,
  • Spousal support, and
  • Property division in respect of a companion animal.

You use an Application About a Family Law Matter (Form 3) to ask a judge to make orders about these matters.

In court locations designated as Early Resolution Registries you must complete the Early Resolution Requirements before filing an Application About a Family Law Matter.

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 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, with or without an intent to harm a family member, 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.




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.



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.




See Child Support and Spousal Support


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.


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


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



Needs Assessment

A needs assessment is a meeting with a family justice counsellor to help identify legal and non-legal needs related to a family law issue.  This includes assessing for any risk of family violence and for the appropriateness of consensual dispute resolution. Individual needs assessment with each party is required prior to consensual dispute resolution.

In Provincial Court locations designated as Early Resolution Registries or Family Justice Registries, at least one party is required to participate in an individual needs assessment before the court process for an order about a family law matter can move forward.

Non-final order

See Interim order.




See Court order.



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)
  • 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.


The person paying child and/or spousal support.


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

Priority parenting matters

In Provincial Court priority parenting matters are orders about:

  • Consent to health-treatments for a child where a delay will result in risk to the child’s health,
  • Applications for a passport, a licence, permit, or other thing for a child where delay will result in risk of harm to the child’s safety, security or well-being,
  • Consent to travel or participate in an activity where consent of each guardian is required and is alleged to have been wrongfully denied,
  • Changes in the location of a child’s residence (if there is no written agreement or court order in place about the parenting arrangements and the move can be reasonably expected to have a significant impact on the child’s relationship with another guardian),
  • To prevent removal of a child, pursuant to section 64 of the Family Law Act,
  • A child who has been wrongfully removed to BC, pursuant to section 77(2) of the Family Law Act,
  • Interjurisdictional matters, pursuant to section 74(2) of the Family Law Act,
  • Hague Convention matters (child abduction situations).
  • Parenting arrangements or guardianship of a child that would prevent the removal or allow for the return of a child under the Child, Family and Community Service Act.

You use the form called Application About Priority Parenting Matter (Form 15) to ask a judge to make these orders.

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.




The person receiving child and/or spousal support.


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




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.


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.


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


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.