Definitions

Aboriginal

Includes status Indians, non-status Indians, Métis, Inuit, and anyone who self-identifies as Aboriginal (thinks of themselves as Aboriginal).

access

Under the Divorce Act, the time children spend with the parent they don't usually live with. Other people (including grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives) can also apply for access to a child. Under the BC Family Law Act, this is called contact with a child.

address for service

The address that a party to a legal action puts on his or her court documents to personally receive court documents from the other party. Can also include a fax number and/or an email address.

adjournment

To postpone (delay) a hearing or trial.

advocate

An advocate is a community worker who's trained to help people. Legal advocacy is when an advocate helps you deal with the legal system.

affidavit

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

affirm

To solemnly and formally declare in front of a lawyer, notary public, or commissioner for taking affidavits that statements made in court or the contents of an affidavit are true to the best of your knowledge and belief. An alternative to a religious oath (“swearing”).

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age of majority

The age at which a person legally becomes an adult, which means they can do such things as enter into a binding contract. In BC, the age of majority is 19.

agreement

A written document that sets out how you and your spouse have agreed to deal with parenting, support, and/or property.

allocation of parental responsibilities

How guardians share or divide parenting decisions. ("Allocation" means distributing something according to a plan.) You might decide this between you and record it in an agreement or ask the court for a court order.

alternative service

When a court gives you permission to serve (deliver) documents on a party in some way other than giving him or her the documents personally; for example, by serving them on a family member. Also called substituted service.

annulment

When a judge makes a declaration that a marriage is invalid (for example, if one spouse was already married, or if the husband and wife found out they were brother and sister).

applicant

The person who applies for a family order by filing a Notice of Application (Supreme Court) or Application to Obtain an Order (Provincial Court). Also sometimes the person who files a Notice of Motion in a Provincial Court.

Application Record

A binder the applicant prepares and files, containing evidence presented to the judge/master so they can decide whether to make or change a court order. Includes a table of contents (called an index), and photocopies of the documents filed by all parties.

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arrears

Past support payments that have not been paid.

asset

Any item worth money that's owned by a person, especially if it could be converted to cash.

attorn

To accept the jurisdiction (authority) of a particular court, usually by filing responding court documents (for example, an Application Response [Form F31]) and/or appearing in court.

business day

A day on which the court registry is open for business.

care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development

Your child is placed in foster care.

case management order

A type of conduct order a court can make to manage a case. Order could be for an adjournment so parties can try to settle issues; to require one party not to make more applications without the court's permission; that an application goes back to the same judge; or to cancel or dismiss all or part of a claim.

Chambers

A Supreme Court courtroom where applications (not trials) are heard.

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child of the marriage

Under the Divorce Act, a child under the age of majority who hasn't withdrawn from a parent's charge or one who's over the age of majority (19 in BC) but unable to withdraw from a parent's charge because of illness, disability, or other cause.

child protection

If a child's safety is at risk, the Ministry of Children and Family Development (or a delegated Aboriginal agency) must look into it. If necessary, the ministry must take your child from your home.

child protection investigation

If a child protection worker (social worker) from the Ministry of Children and Family Development (or a delegated Aboriginal agency) contacts you or visits your home to ask questions about your family. The child protection worker may take your child from your home.

child's best interests

A legal test used in family law cases to decide what would best protect your child's physical, psychological, and emotional safety, security, and well-being. See section 37 of the Family Law Act for more information.

claimant

The person who starts a family law action in Supreme Court by filing a Notice of Family Claim (Form F3).

collusion

An agreement or conspiracy between spouses to lie or deceive the court in order to get a divorce. To get a divorce, you must swear that there has been no collusion.

commissioner for taking affidavits

A person with the legal authority to administer an oath or an affirmation (for example, when you "swear" an affidavit).

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common-law relationship

Term not used in BC law. Often used to refer to a marriage-like relationship that's lasted a certain length of time, usually one or two years. Used in some federal laws to refer to a marriage-like relationship of a year or longer.

conduct order

A type of court order that's intended to help the court manage the people involved in a court process and encourage dispute resolution.

consent order

An order a court makes based on what you and the other party have agreed to. You may be able to get a consent order without ever having to appear in court.

contact with a child

Under the BC Family Law Act, the time that a person who is not a guardian spends with a child. People other than the guardian (including grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives) can apply for contact with a child. The Divorce Act uses the term access.

costs

In Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal, a master or judge's order that the losing party in a lawsuit give an amount of money to the other party based on the time or money the other party spent to go to court. This may include court fees, disbursements, and legal fees.

custodial parent

The parent who has custody of the child.

custody

Under the Divorce Act, where and with whom a child lives, and the guardian's rights and responsibilities for the child. Under the BC Child, Family and Community Service Act, custody is similar.

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deponent

A person who swears, takes an oath, or affirms that the information in a form (for example, an Affidavit [Form F30]) is true. The deponent must sign his or her form in the presence of a commissioner for taking affidavits, lawyer, or notary public.

desk-order divorce

When a judge makes a divorce order without the parties appearing in court. Can be ordered for both sole and joint applications.

disclosure

The process of exchanging information (for example, financial statements) required to settle or decide legal issues with the other party. Failing to disclose required documents can have serious consequences.

dispute resolution

The process in which two people work through their family law issues with a trained professional, like a mediator. Meant to help you settle a legal dispute without going to court.

divorce

The end of a legal marriage. To get a divorce, you must go through a legal process and get a court order that says the marriage has ended.

document

Any physical (paper) or electronic record of information (of a permanent or semi-permanent character) recorded or stored by any means of any device, including photographs, films, sound recordings, disks, tapes, and computer files.

duty counsel

Lawyers paid by Legal Aid who can help people with low incomes with their family law, criminal law, or immigration law problems. Duty counsel can give free legal advice, but can’t take on your whole case or represent you at trial.

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enforcement

Steps taken to make a party follow a court order or filed agreement. The court enforces most family orders and certain filed agreements. The Family Maintenance Enforcement Program enforces support orders. The police enforce protection orders.

entered

At the conclusion of a case (which may or may not include going to court), the order containing all the details is "entered." An "entered" order is one that has been approved (signed) by a judge/master or registrar and filed (stamped) at the court registry office.

excluded property

The property that each spouse owned before the relationship started, as well as gifts and inheritances to one spouse (Section 85 of the Family Law Act gives a full list). Excluded property usually belongs to the spouse who acquired it, except for any increases in value that happened during the course of the relationship.

exhibit

A document presented in court or attached to an affidavit. An exhibit can be all sorts of things; for example, a photograph, an email, a bank statement, or a receipt.

Family Case Conference

A one-hour informal meeting with a judge and the other party to try and settle parenting (and sometimes support) issues so you can avoid a full hearing in Provincial Court. Either party may request a Family Case Conference (FCC) at any time.

family debt

Money owed to others accumulated during a relationship or to maintain family property after separation. The law assumes that both spouses are equally responsible for the debt unless an equal division would be "significantly unfair."

family dispute resolution professional

Under BC law, includes family justice counsellors; parenting coordinators; and lawyers, mediators, and arbitrators in family law cases.

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family law case

A legal proceeding in which people apply for orders under either the Divorce Act or the Family Law Act for any of the following: guardianship, parenting time, allocation of parenting responsibilities, contact with a child, custody, access, support, division of property, annulment of a marriage, divorce, declarations of parentage, or adoption.

family law protection order

A court order under the Family Law Act to protect someone from violence. Previously called a restraining order.

Family Maintenance Enforcement Program

You can choose to enroll in the BC Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP), which will monitor the child support and/or spousal support payments you should be receiving according to your order or agreement. Staff in the program will take action to get you the payments if you're not receiving them.

family property

The assets acquired by either spouse during the course of the relationship, plus any increase in the value of excluded property. The law assumes that you're both entitled to an equal share of family property unless an equal division would be significantly unfair.

file

When a party to a court action, or the court clerk, submits a document to the court registry and the registry clerk accepts, stamps, and puts it in a court file.

financially eligible

Meet our financial guidelines; you must not earn more than a certain amount.

First Nations

Includes status and non-status Indians. It can also refer to a band or community.

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guardianship

When a child's parents live together, both parents are the child's guardians (have guardianship). When the parents separate, both parents continue to be guardians unless they agree to change this or a court orders a change. A court can give guardianship of a child to a non-parent. Guardians are responsible for making all decisions about their child, including about daily care and supervision, education, health care, cultural or religious upbringing, and where the child will live.

imputed

When a person ordered to pay child or spousal support doesn't give the court all the required evidence of his or her income, the judge can use the available evidence to come up with an income amount to make decisions about support. This is called "imputed income."

income

Money that comes into your home, usually your wages or salary.

income assistance

Welfare.

incur

To take on. For example, if you incur an expense for the children, you're taking on that expense and you'll have to pay it.

interim order

A temporary court order made before a trial.

interjurisdictional

Situations where a court action involves people living in different provinces or jurisdictions.

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joint custody

Under the Divorce Act, when both parents share equally the rights and responsibilities with respect to their child or children. The child(ren) can live with both parents or mostly with one parent (the child's primary residence).

joint divorce

When you and your spouse file for divorce together. You and your spouse must agree on everything to get a joint divorce.

Judicial Case Conference

An informal and confidential meeting between the parties and a judge or master in a Supreme Court case. Required in most cases before any party can bring a contested court application. The purpose is to clearly identify the issues to be decided, explore settlement options, or prepare for the hearing. Either party may request a Judicial Case Conference (JCC) at any time.

jurisdiction

A court's power or authority over people, territories, or subject matter.

legal advice

Involves applying the law to a particular situation. It also involves providing a legal opinion and specific advice about the best course of action.

legal aid

A range of free services available to people with low incomes. Services include legal information, legal advice, and legal representation (a lawyer to take your case).

legal information

General information about the law that helps you identify a legal issue and the options that might be available to help you.

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legal representation

A lawyer to take your case.

marriage

When two people agree to live together in a partnership made legally binding by a religious or legal ceremony. Marriage can only be ended by divorce, annulment, or the death of one of the parties.

master

A judicial officer of the Supreme Court who can hear and decide certain applications, including interim applications for parenting or support orders. Masters can also hold Judicial Case Conferences (JCC).

material fact

A fact that's important or essential to proving your case.

mediation

An approach to solving problems in which a third party (a mediator) helps people with family law problems reach a resolution without going to court. Mediators are specially qualified to help people reach agreements. Some mediators are lawyers.

Métis

People of mixed First Nations and European ancestry who identify themselves as Métis, as distinct from First Nations, Inuit, or non-Aboriginal people. The Métis have a unique culture that draws on their diverse ancestral origins.

no contact order

A court order that prohibits a person from contacting someone else (usually his or her former partner/spouse).

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non-status Indian

Someone of First Nations descent who isn't registered as an Indian under the Indian Act.

notary public

A professional who has the authority to certify and prepare legal documents, witness signatures, and administer oaths and affirmations, among other services. In BC, all lawyers are notaries, but not all notaries are lawyers.

order

A type of court ruling a judge or master makes that sets out what you must do or not do.

parentage

Who a person's parents are. Generally, if a child is conceived naturally, a child's parents are his or her birth mother and biological father. This can be different if a child is adopted or born as a result of assisted reproduction.

parental responsibilities

The responsibilities guardians have for the children in their care, including decisions about daily care, education, religious upbringing, extracurricular activities, etc. After separation or divorce, guardians can share parental responsibilities in whatever way that's in the child's best interests, as decided by agreement or court order.

parenting

Refers to contact with a child, guardianship, parental responsibilities, and parenting time (terms used by the BC Family Law Act); and access and custody (terms used by the federal Divorce Act). Covers who has the right and responsibility to make decisions about the child and the time that guardians and non-guardians spend with the child.

parenting arrangements

The arrangements made for parenting responsibilities and parenting time in a court order or agreement between guardians. Parenting arrangements don't include contact with a child.

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parenting coordinator

A neutral third party who helps guardians resolve day-to-day conflicts about their parenting arrangements or parenting orders.

parenting order

Under the Family Law Act (in either Provincial Court or Supreme Court), a court order dealing with guardianship, parenting time, allocation of parenting responsibilities, or contact with a child. Under the Divorce Act in Supreme Court, a court order dealing with custody and access.

parenting plan

An agreement about how to be parents when you live apart.

parenting time

The time that a guardian spends with a child and is responsible for the care and supervision of the child.

partner

Your common-law girlfriend or boyfriend, or your spouse (the person you're married to).

party

A participant in a given court case, contract, or other legal matter; can be an individual, a corporation, or other entity.

payor

The person who pays child or spousal support/maintenance.

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peace bond

A court order with conditions for one person to follow that are meant to protect someone else.

plaintiff

Under the old Supreme Court Rules, the term used for the party who initiates the action or court proceedings. In the new Rules, this person is the claimant.

process server

A person who's in the business of serving or giving documents to the other party.

property

Anything you own, including real estate, bank accounts, cars and other vehicles, and RRSPs.

Reasons for Judgment

The document that contains the judge's decision and the reasons for his or her decision. Reasons for Judgment may be written or oral. If they're oral, the parties may order a transcript of them from the court.

recipient

The person who receives child or spousal support/maintenance.

reciprocal agreement

BC has reciprocal agreements with all other Canadian provinces, the United States, and several other countries. This means the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP) can ask another province, territory, state, or country to enforce a support order, and the other province, territory, state, or country can ask the FMEP to enforce an order for one of their clients.

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relocate

To move to another place.

requisition

The document filed in the court registry that tells the court what you want.

respondent

In many court proceedings, a term used for a party who responds to the application.

safe house

A short-term emergency shelter providing a safe place to live and other help for women who've been abused, with or without children. Usually you can stay in one for only up to seven days.

safety plan

A safety plan is a list of the actions you take to protect yourself and your children either during or after leaving an abusive relationship.

separation agreement

A document that sets how you and your spouse have agreed to deal with things like parenting, support, and property after you separate (Provincial family law just calls it an agreement). There's no official form to use for drawing up a separation agreement.

serve

The act of delivering or leaving documents with the other party.

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shuttle mediation

A type of mediation where the parties stay in separate rooms and speak only through the mediator who shares information back and forth.

sole custody

Term used only under the Divorce Act in Supreme Court. When the parents agree or the court orders that one parent has the legal responsibility for caring for and making all decisions about a child. Usually the child lives primarily with that parent.

special or extraordinary expenses

Special expenses are over and above the regular cost of living for a child, such as the cost of child care or post-secondary education. Extraordinary expenses are for education, programs, or extracurricular activities that meet the child's needs, such as for tutoring or private school, or for other activities at which the child excels.

spouse

Member of a same-sex or opposite-sex couple who are married or in a marriage-like relationship. An unmarried couple must have lived together for at least two years to divide property and debts; two years for spousal support if you have no children; any amount of time for spousal support if you have children; one year for some federal (Canadian) benefits.

stand-by guardian

Someone named by a child's guardian to take over parental responsibilities if the guardian becomes unable to look after the child.

status Indian

Someone who's registered as an Indian under the Indian Act.

style of cause

All the information at the top of the front page of each court form. Includes the court file number, the name of the court registry, the title "Supreme Court of British Columbia" or "Provincial Court of British Columbia," the name of each party, and the name of the form.

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summary trial

A trial based on written evidence, where no one has to give oral evidence in court. A summary trial is quicker and less complicated than a full trial.

support

Money paid by one spouse or parent to the other spouse or parent after separation (spousal support), or by one parent or guardian to another parent or guardian (child support).

survivor

The person whose spouse or common-law partner has died.

swear

To "take an oath" in front of a lawyer, notary public, or commissioner for taking affidavits that statements made in court or the contents of an affidavit are true to the best of your knowledge and belief and that your oath is "under an immediate sense of responsibility to God." A non-religious alternative is to affirm.

testamentary guardian

Someone named by a child's guardian to permanently take over parental responsibilities if the guardian dies.

transition house

A longer-term emergency shelter providing a safe place to live and other help for women who've been abused, with or without children.

trial

When both parties and their witnesses appear before a judge and give their evidence under oath and out loud. They are then cross-examined by the other party or by his or her lawyer. A trial results in a final decision by a judge.

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undefended divorce

Also called an uncontested divorce. No response is filed or the spouses apply for the divorce together by filing a Notice of Joint Family Claim. It's how to get a divorce when the parties agree about the divorce and related issues (for example, parenting, support, and property division).

undue hardship

Circumstances that show the amount of child support under the child support guidelines is too high or low. Must create "undue" (exceptional, excessive, or disproportionate) difficulty for the person making the claim.

vary

"To vary" means "to change." Sometimes lawyers, judges, and court staff use this term to refer to changing an order.