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Many of the words utilized in family law practice are foreign to someone who’s just starting the divorce process. Here are a few popular Family law terms and definitions for those who feel they might need a refresher. NOTE: As of March 1, 2021, certain terms in the Divorce Act have been removed or amended. For the full list of changed terms, click here

Common Terms in Family Law


A parent’s right to see and be visited by children and having the right to ask questions and receive information on their welfare, health and education is known as access. NOTE: As of March 1, 2021, the use of the term “access” in the Divorce Act have been removed. As a replacement, “parenting time” is now being used instead of “access.” For the full list of changed terms, click here


When judges adjourn cases, they stop proceedings and set new dates for the parties to appear back in court.


The respondent’s document that “answers” the applicant’s application and permits the responder to file his or her own claims with the court.


The individual who initiates a family law matter by serving and submitting an application in family court. This general application is often called a  Form 8 in Ontario.


In order to file an application with the court, a person must fill out the appropriate Form 8, file it with the court, and have it served to the other party in the situation. These are the first steps in a family law dispute application. Different sorts of applications exist, and you must use the appropriate Form 8 for your application.


If a judge commits a mistake of law or fact in a ruling, the decision can be appealed to a “higher” court. It’s important to note that your appeal will not be heard merely because you disagree with the judge’s ruling. There must be a legal or factual mistake.

Balance of Probabilities

In court, the judge judges whether one party’s allegation is more credible than the other’s claim based on the “balance of probability.”

Best Interests of the Child

The judge decides custody, access, and guardianship using the “Best Interests of the Child” criteria. To determine the minor’s best interests, the court must examine all of the child’s requirements and circumstances, including the parent’s capacity to provide for the child. Section 24 of the Children’s Law Reform Act contains the test.

Case Conference

A case conference is a meeting between the parties, their attorneys, and a judge to identify areas on which the parties can agree and those on which they cannot. The judge will also try to reach an agreement on the matter. At the case conference, the judge may issue an order.

Child Support

Child support is the amount of money paid by one parent to the other for the child’s or children’s financial maintenance. The money is usually given to the parent who has the children with them for the most time. The Child Support Guidelines govern the amount of money given to this parent.

Child Support Guidelines (Ontario)

Children’s child support is calculated using the Child Support Guidelines. Child support is calculated based on the payor’s income and the number of children in the family.

Children’s Law Reform Act

The Children’s Law Reform Act is provincial legislation that regulates paternity, custody, access, and guardianship.

Contact Order

As of March 1, 2021, the Divorce Act has introduced the new term “contact order,” which describes a situation wherein a third party who is not a spouse (i.e., a grandparent) wishes to see a child.


A parent with custody of a kid has the right and responsibility to make decisions for the children that are in their best interests. Custody may be divided into two categories: shared custody and exclusive custody. NOTE: As of March 1, 2021, the use of the term “custody” in the Divorce Act have been removed. As a replacement, “decision-making responsibility” is now being used instead of “custody.” For the full list of changed terms, click here

Decision-Making Responsibility

As of March 1, 2021, the use of the term “custody” in the Divorce Act have been removed and replaced with “decision-making responsibility.”


A parent with custody of a minor has the right and responsibility to make decisions for the children that are in their best interests. Custody may be divided into two categories: shared custody and exclusive custody.

Family Law Act

The Family Law Act is provincial legislation that governs family property, marital residence, support responsibilities such as spousal and child support, domestic contracts, and claims for damages by dependents.

Family Law Information Centres (FLICs)

A FLIC can be found in Ontario courthouses. The staff at the FLIC office can provide you with information on family law and community services. They’ll also be able to give mediation information and references. The FLIC service is entirely free.

Family Law Rules

The Family Law Rules are a collection of guidelines that regulate how family law is practiced in Ontario. The Family Law Rules are required to be followed in all proceedings in Ontario.

Family Violence

As of March 1, 2021, the definition of the term “family violence” has been changed to “any conduct, whether or not the conduct constitutes a criminal offense, by a family member towards another family member, that is violent or threatening or that constitutes a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour or that causes that other family member to fear for their safety or for that of another person — and in the case of a child, the direct or indirect exposure to such conduct — and includes:

(a) physical abuse, including forced confinement but excluding the use of reasonable force to protect themselves or another person.
(b) sexual abuse.
(c) threats to kill or cause bodily harm to any person.
(d) harassment, including stalking.
(e) the failure to provide the necessities of life.
(f) psychological abuse.
(g) financial abuse.
(h) threats to kill or harm an animal or damage property; and
(i) the killing or harming of an animal or the damaging of property; (violence familiale)

The reason why this change is so significant is that it explains that family violence does not have to be a criminal offence. Nor does it have to be established beyond a reasonable doubt for it to be considered family violence.

Filing a Form

A party must file a form with the family court after it has been completed. You must travel to the local family courthouse and hand the document over to the clerk to submit a form.


Forms are the documents that are used to begin or react to a family case. People might utilize particular forms given by the government at various phases of their family matters. To start a family law case, for example, you would use Form 8.

Joint Custody

Both parents have the authority and responsibility to make decisions about their children that are in their best interests. Even though both parents have shared custody, the child(ren) may live with one parent exclusively.

Common Family Law Matters

Divorce When a court or any other competent entity legally dissolves a marriage.
Adoption The legal process of becoming a non-biological parent.
Property Division Equitable distribution, or division of property, is a court split of property rights and liabilities between spouses upon divorce.

Joint Custody

Pro Tip

“If family matters are getting out of hand, it is best to consult a family law lawyer to ensure that you won’t do anything that could cause damages.”


Matrimonial Home

The matrimonial home is the place where the parties resided as a couple. The parties can either own or rent the dwelling. A house, an apartment, or a trailer can all be used.


As of March 1, 20201, the use of the term “mobility” in the Divorce Act has been removed. As a replacement, “relocation” is now being used instead of “mobility.”


A motion is a request that a judge hears in court. It’s generally convened to rule on a single issue or a group of problems requiring the court to hear evidence. In most matters, the parties must hold a case conference before a court can schedule a motion before a judge.

Offer to Settle

An offer to settle any or all of the claims in a case made by one party to the other.

Parenting Time

As of March 1, 2021, the use of the term “access” in the Divorce Act have been removed and replaced with “parenting time.”


When a person intentionally lies in the witness box in a trial or swears an affidavit is true when it isn’t, they are committing perjury. A person who commits perjury in Ontario is punished or sentenced to prison by a judge.


As of March 1, 20201, the use of the term “relocation” in the Divorce Act has been introduced as a replacement for “mobility.” It is described as a change in the residence of a child or person who has parenting time or decision-making responsibility that is likely to have an impact on the child’s relationship with a person who has or is requesting parenting time or decision-making responsibility.

Reserve a Decision

When a judge says “reserves a decision,” they mean that the judgment won’t be made public immediately but will be made public soon.


In most family law cases, there are two parties: the applicant and the respondent. The applicant starts the case, and the respondent “responds” by serving and submitting an Answer Form.

Serving a Form

In court proceedings, you must offer the other party a copy of your paperwork or documents. This is referred to as “serving the forms.” When it comes to serving forms, there are a few guidelines to follow. In some circumstances, you can send a copy of your documents to the other party’s lawyer or, if they don’t have one, you can send a copy to the other party directly. In some situations, you may need to use a “special service” to deliver the paperwork.

Sole Custody

Only one parent has the authority and responsibility to make decisions concerning the child(ren) and their best interests.

Settlement Conference

A settlement conference is a gathering of the parties, their lawyers, and a judge to try to resolve outstanding disputes. During a settlement conference, the judge will frequently make an order on an issue based on the parties’ consent agreements.

Spousal Support

Money is paid by one of the parties to their former spouse as spousal support. The higher-earning side pays it to the lower-earning or non-earning party.

Trial Management Conference

A gathering of the parties, their attorneys, and a judge to prepare them for trial. The judge will speak with the parties about the evidence presented at trial, their witnesses, and the length of the trial during the trial management meeting.

FAQs About Common Terms in Family Law

FAQ: Common Terms in Family Law

A common law marriage relationship arises when two people have been living together in a conjugal relationship for three years. If the couple has a child this length of time is cut to one year. Society recognizes this relationship as a marriage for legal and taxation purposes.

Each province and territory in Canada has a maintenance enforcement program for family orders and agreements. Additionally, the federal government may refuse to issue a Canadian passport if the applicant is delinquent in child support payments. They also have the authority to garnish wages for the back payments owed. In the USA, the Office of Child Support Enforcement, which is part of the Administration for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services, is now in charge of the federal child support enforcement program.

Ex parte motions provide an exemption to the principles of due process in emergencies by allowing you to petition the court without having to give notice or serve the other parties in your case. If the judge issues the ex parte order, it’s only for a limited time.

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