Learn Family Law Terms To Understand Your Dispute

couple facing each other sitting on couch

Written on behalf of Shariff & Associates

The process of separating or divorcing a spouse can be a difficult and stressful process. It’s made even more daunting by the language and terminology used in family law. If you’re thinking about starting a family law process, here are some key terms you’ll want to know:

Key Family Law Terms to Know About

Access. Simply put, access is a term used to refer to “visiting rights.” A parent who is granted access has the right to visit with their child, to be given information about their health, education and well-being. This term in Ontario has recently been updated to “parenting time.”

Advice counsel. Advice counsel is a legal term that refers to the process of offering legal advice. This is different from legal representation, which refers to actually representing a client in court (for example, by filing papers or arguing a case).

Alternative dispute resolution. Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) refers to a process through which a couple can resolve their issues without going to court. The most common form of alternative dispute resolution is mediation, in which a neutral third party helps the couple come to an agreement. There are other forms of alternative dispute resolution, including arbitration and collaborative family law.

Arbitration. Arbitration is a process in which a neutral third party listens to arguments from both sides of a dispute and makes a decision that both parties agree to. It’s similar to mediation, but the mediator is not allowed to make decisions or recommendations.

Best interests of the child. The best interests of the child is a principle that guides family law in Canada. The best interests of the child can be determined by considering a handful of factors, including:

  • The child’s physical, emotional and psychological needs;
  • The child’s relationship with each parent; and
  • Any special circumstances that affect how well each parent can meet the child’s needs.

Case conference. The term case conference refers to a meeting that takes place between parties and their lawyers before or during a trial. It is intended to be an opportunity for the parties to discuss the issues in their case and possible outcomes, as well as come up with a plan for how they wish to proceed.

Child support. Child support is money paid by one parent to another in order to help cover the costs associated with raising children, such as food and clothing. It’s usually paid on an ongoing basis until the child turns 18 years old or graduates high school, whichever happens first.

Collaborative family law. Collaborative family law allows couples who are going through a divorce or separation to work together toward settlement without going through litigation in court. Both parties must agree to participate in collaborative law as an alternative to using traditional methods (such as mediation or arbitration), which might end up costing more money.

Common-law relationship. A common-law relationship is a relationship between two people who live together as a couple but who are not legally married. In other words, they have no legal ties to each other. The requirements to be considered a common-law relationship differ depending on the law. In Ontario family law, a common-law relationship is found when two people have been living together continuously for at least three years. If a child is involved, cohabitation need only be for at least one year.

Contact order. A contact order is an order that gives a parent the right to see their child. It can be made by either a court or an agreement between the parents. A contact order can be made before or after a divorce.

Custody. This refers to the parent who has primary responsibility for raising a child. In most cases, this means that one parent will have physical custody and make all decisions regarding the child’s education and welfare, while the other parent will have visitation rights. This term in Ontario has recently been updated to “decision-making ability.”

Decision-making ability. Decision-making ability refers to the parent who is responsible for making all major decisions about a child’s life. This includes things like medical care, education, and religion. In most cases, this is determined by which parent has primary residency of the child.

Divorce. A legal process that ends a marriage. In most provinces, the court will require one spouse to pay alimony (also known as spousal support) in order to help support the other spouse during the divorce proceedings.

Ex parte motion. An ex parte motion is a request to the court to make a decision based on evidence that only one party has presented. The term comes from the Latin phrase “ex parte,” which means “from one side.” In Canada, there are many reasons why an ex parte motion might be made. For example, if there is a risk of harm if a child is left in the custody of one parent, then it may be appropriate for that parent to ask for temporary custody until the court has had time to review their case. Or if one spouse wishes to change their name before filing for divorce, they may need permission from the court before doing so.

Family violence. Family violence is any act of violence that harms a member of the family. This can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and economic abuse.

Matrimonial home. The term “matrimonial home” refers to the residence that is shared by a married couple. It is often defined as the primary residence of one or both spouses, but it can also be any other residence in which one spouse has an interest.

Mediation. Mediation is the process whereby a neutral third party acts as a mediator to help two sides reach an agreement on child custody, child support, spousal support, and other issues that arise during divorce.

Motion to change. A motion to change is a motion that the party bringing it wants to change the current terms of their divorce or separation agreement. It can be used in cases where one or both parties have made a mistake, or where something has changed since the divorce or separation agreement was signed.

Non-removal order. A non-removal order is an order that prevents a parent from taking their children out of the province or country.

Parenting order. A parenting order is a court order that sets out the responsibilities and rights of each parent in relation to their children.

Parenting plan. A parenting plan is an agreement reached between parents regarding how they will share the responsibilities and decisions regarding their children.

Parenting time. Parenting time refers to the amount of time that a child spends with each parent in a given year. It can be calculated based on the number of days or hours spent with each parent, but it is most often calculated by counting how many times per month the child spends time with each parent. Parenting time is usually determined by a court order or agreement between the parents. This was formerly called “access.”

Separation. The act of separating two people who are married or living together.

Separation agreement. A separation agreement is an agreement between two people who are separating that details how they will divide their property, child custody rights, child support payments etc.

Trial management conference. Trial management conference is a meeting in which the parties, their lawyers and any other professionals involved in a family law case discuss the progress of the case, as well as any issues that may affect its progress or outcome. The purpose of this is to ensure that all parties are on the same page with regards to what’s going on with the case, and to make sure everyone understands how things will proceed moving forward.

Contact Shariff & Associates in Markham Stouffville for Help Resolving Your Family Law Dispute

Shariff & Associates is the largest family law firm in Stouffville and assists clients in Markham and the Greater Toronto Area. We also serve communities that have been historically under-serviced, including Ajax, Brooklin, Aurora, Newmarket, Uxbridge, Whitby, Oshawa, Mount Albert, Ballantrae and Zephyr. To schedule a confidential consultation with a compassionate family lawyer, call us at 905-591-4545 or reach out to us online.