Includes status and non-status, First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and anyone who identifies (thinks of themselves) as Aboriginal (also Indigenous).


Any behaviour that is violent or threatening to another family member. This includes physical, sexual, psychological, or financial abuse; harassment and stalking; confinement; or harm (or threats of harm) to animals or property. It's also family violence when a child sees or hears their parent being injured or fearful.

Access agreement

Describes when and where you can visit your child if a social worker removed your child from your home.

Address for service

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


To postpone (delay) a hearing or trial.


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


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.


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.


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”).

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.


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

Allocation means distributing something according to a plan. You might decide how to share or divide parenting decisions and record your decision 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 them the documents personally; for example, by serving them on a family member. Also called substituted service.


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).


The person who applies for a family order by filing a Notice of Application in Supreme 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.


Past support payments that haven't been paid.


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


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.

BC Family Maintenance Agency

The BC Family Maintenance Agency (BCFMA) can track and monitor the child support and/or spousal support payments set out in a court order or agreement. BCFMA may take steps to recover payments if the payor falls behind. Either parent can choose to enroll in the program. BCFMA was formerly known as the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP).

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.


Failure to follow a court-ordered condition.

Business day

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

Care of the ministry

Your child is placed in foster care.

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.

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.


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

Change order

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


In BC, anyone under 19.

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 or spousal support

Child support is money paid by one parent or guardian to another parent or guardian to help take care of their children. Spousal support is money paid by one spouse or parent to the other spouse or parent after separation.

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 might take your child from your home.

Child support

Child support is money paid by one parent or guardian to another parent or guardian after separation to help take care of their children.


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



Collaborative planning and decision making

Ministry of Children and Family Development program you can participate in to help make decisions about your child's safety (also known as alternative dispute resolution or consensual dispute resolution).


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 there's been no collusion.


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

Common law

Note a legal term, but in BC family law often used to refer to unmarried couples who live together in a marriage-like relationship for at least 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.

An order a court makes based on what you and the other party have agreed to. In child protection cases, an order a court makes stating a parent agrees with the Ministry of Children and Family Development plan for protecting a child.


In the Family Law Act, the time that a person who isn't a guardian spends with the child. In the Divorce Act, the time that someone who isn't one of the divorcing spouses spends with the child. Grandparents, other relatives, and other people important in the child's life can apply for a contact order.

Contested divorce

If you and your spouse want to get divorced but can’t agree about parenting, support, how to divide property and debt, and other family law issues, you might have to apply for a contested divorce, also known as a defended divorce. With a contested divorce, you ask a judge to decide about the family law issues you don’t agree on.


found guilty


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.

Court order

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


A person or organization that someone owes money to.




Government lawyer who presents the case against you.


In child protection cases, describes where the child lives and with whom, and the guardian's rights and responsibilities for the child. This term is no longer used in the BC Family Law Act or the federal Divorce Act.

Decision-making responsibilities

The responsibility for making important decisions and getting information about a child's life. This includes a child's health; education; culture, language, religion, and spirituality; and significant extracurricular activities.

Delegated Aboriginal agency

An agency that has an agreement with the Ministry of Children and Family Development to provide certain child protection services for Aboriginal communities.

Dependent children

Children who are under 19; or over 19 but can't take care of themselves because of illness, disability, or another reason.


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 the 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.


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 families work through their family law issues with a trained professional outside of court. It can include mediation, negotiation, collaborative law, arbitration, or parenting coordination.


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.


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 BC 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.


Whether you can get services


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


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's 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 a 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.


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

Family debt

The debts that one or both spouses took on during a relationship or to maintain family property after separation. The law assumes that both spouses are equally responsible for the debt unless that would be significantly unfair.

Family dispute resolution process

Resolving family law problems out of court, such as through negotiation (with or without lawyers), mediation, collaborative law, or arbitration.

Family dispute resolution professional

A person who helps resolve family law problems outside of court, such as a lawyer, mediator, or arbitrator.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act

The law that deals with homes on reserve and interests in them for married or common-law opposite-sex or same-sex partners who experienced a relationship breakdown, or the Indigenous spouse who had title to the property has died. It applies when at least one person is a Status Indian or First Nation member, and where no other laws are in place from the First Nation.

Family law case

A legal proceeding in which people apply for court orders to deal with their family law issues.

Family law protection order

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

Family member

The law says a family member can be someone you are or were married to; someone you live or lived with in a marriage-like relationship (you might call it a common-law relationship); your own children; your child's other parent or legal guardian; a relative of yours who lives with you; or a relative of your spouse (or your child's other parent or legal guardian) who lives with 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.


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 Nation

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




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. Someone who isn’t a parent can apply to the court to become another guardian of a child. Guardians are responsible for making all decisions about their child.

Immediate concern

An issue that can’t wait to be decided later because there is a risk to the health, safety, or economic well-being of a child or a parent.


When a person ordered to pay child or spousal support doesn't give the court all the required evidence of their 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."


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

Income assistance



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.


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


A temporary court order made before a trial.


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


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.

Joint divorce

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


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

A person who is legally qualified to represent you in court or give you legal advice, such as a lawyer.

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).

A lawyer to take your case.

Legally reviewed on

Shows the date a lawyer last reviewed this page to ensure it reflects the current law and legal processes. "Updated on" shows when we made minor changes to this page.

Longer-term emergency shelter

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


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

Marriage-like relationship

A relationship between a committed same-sex or opposite-sex couple characterized by various factors, including their lifestyle, interactions, and financial arrangements.


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 evidence

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


An approach to solving problems in which a third party 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.


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.


Work out through discussion.

No contact order

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

Non-status Indian

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


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.


argue against


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

Parental responsibilities

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


Parenting time, and parental responsibilities or decision-making responsibility. Includes who has the right and responsibility to spend time with, make decisions for, and get information about the child.

Parenting arrangements

Arrangements for the care of a child made in a court order or agreement after a separation or divorce. Includes where the child lives and who is responsible for making decisions that affect them.

Parenting coordinator

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

Parenting order

A court order for parenting time, and parental responsibilities or decision-making responsibility.

Parenting plan

Under the Divorce Act, a written document, or part of a document, that describes how parents will share parenting time and responsibilities when they live apart. Parenting arrangements are to be made in the best interests of the children.

Parenting time

The time that a person (usually a parent) spends with the child and is responsible for making day-to-day decisions about their care and supervision.


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


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


The person who pays child or spousal support/maintenance.

Peace bond

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


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.

Pre-relationship property

Property owned by one spouse before the relationship started.

Priority parenting matter

Time-sensitive issues about a child such as their emergency medical treatment, upcoming travel or activity, or a change or planned change of where they live.

Pro bono


Process server

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


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 their decision. Reasons for Judgment may be written or oral. If they're oral, the parties may order a transcript of them from the court.


The person who receives child or spousal support/maintenance.

Reciprocal agreement

When an order or written agreement made in one place can be enforced in the other. BC has reciprocal agreements with all other Canadian provinces, the United States, and several other countries.


A move that is likely to significantly affect a child's relationship with a guardian, or someone who has parenting time and decision-making responsibility, or contact.


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


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


Pay money to someone, usually the victim, when ordered by the court.

Safe house

A short-term emergency shelter that provides support and a safe place for women and their children to live after they leave an abusive relationship. Usually women and their children can stay for up to seven days. The safe house can also help find longer-term safe housing.

Safety plan

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


A document that sets out 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.


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

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.

Significant barriers

Significant barriers are situations that make it very difficult to provide proof of income or assets, including mental health or accessibility issues.

Special expenses

Special expenses are over and above the regular cost of living for a child, such as the cost of child care, medical and dental insurance premiums to cover the child, most children’s sporting, art, and music lessons, and expenses for post-secondary education.

Spousal support

Spousal support is money paid by one spouse or parent to the other spouse or parent after separation.


A member of a same-sex or opposite-sex couple who are or were married. A spouse is also someone who is or was in a marriage-like relationship — for a certain period of time (typically two years) in the BC Family Law Act, and for a year or longer in some federal laws.


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.

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.


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


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.




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 their lawyer. A trial results in a final decision by a judge.


A person who has legal control over money or property that is held in trust for another person.


When 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 on how to deal with parenting, support, property and debt, and other family law issues. May be called either undefended or uncontested divorce.

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.