Understanding Ontario Family Law Lingo – Some Common Terms Defined

Angela Princewill

January 3, 2023

To help our clients have a better understanding, below are some common terms used in the Family law process and their definitions




This includes physical, mental or psychological, verbal or emotional,and sexual abuse. It is the mistreatment or infliction of cruelty on a person.

In Ontario, abuse (cruelty) is one of the three reasons to apply for a divorce. The other two are: adultery and living separate and apart for at least a year.


It is defined as the time a child spends in the care of a parent of the child, whether or not the child is physically with the parent during the time.

The term “access” is now referred to as “parenting time”, pursuant tothe amendments to the Divorce Act, Family Law Act, and the Children’s Law Reform Act, that came into effect in March 2021.


Also known as infidelity or unfaithfulness. Adultery is the process of engaging in extramarital affairs.

In Ontario, adultery is one of three reasons to apply for a divorce. The other two are: abuse (see definition above) and being separated for atleast a year.


This is a sworn legal document. The author of the affidavit, by signing, swears and promises that the content is accurate and truthful to the best of their knowledge. Affidavits must be signed in front of a lawyer, justice of the peace, notary public, or commissioner for taking affidavits.


Refers to one parent saying or doing things in front of a child that may lead them to be critical of the other parent.


This term is referred to as “spousal support”. It is money paid by one spouse to the other after separation. The Courts usually looks first at eligibility, and then quantum and duration.

Spousal support can be either paid monthly or in a lump sum amount. The Divorce Act states that the Court must consider the condition means, needs, and other circumstances of each spouse, including the length of time the spouses cohabited; the functions performed by each spouse during cohabitation; and any order, agreement, or arrangement relating to support of either spouse.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

These are other methods of resolving a matter out of Court (i.e.litigation). Some forms of ADR include Mediation and Arbitrationand Collaborative Family Law.


This is the declaration by the Court that a marriage is null and void.In other words, it means that the parties were not actually married.

In Ontario, there are very limited grounds when a marriage will be annulled. Some of the examples include a spouse already being married at the time the marriage took place. Another example is if the marriage was performed under duress.


An Answer is the Respondent’s response to the Applicant’sApplication (see definition below). It is usually due 30 days after the Application is served.

In an Answer, the Respondent gets an opportunity to rebut the points made by the Applicant as well as to introduce new issues they may have relating to the marriage and its breakdown.


This is the process by which a party may have an Order given by a Court reviewed by a higher Court based on an error of law or fact on a decision.

In some situations, leave needs to be granted for an appeal. This means that permission must be sought from the Court before the appeal is brought.


A party in a family law matter initiates the proceedings by serving and filing an Application in the Family Court.


The first document submitted to the Court in a family law matter. TheApplication details the issues relating to the breakdown of the marriage as well as Orders being sought by the Applicant (see the definition above).


Is assessing the worth of a party’s assets. This could range from a home to a car or even a business. To determine equalization, the assets of the parties are usually appraised.


This is a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (see definition above). The Arbitrator is a neutral third party, chosen by the parties to a matter, who hears both sides and then makes a determination of the outstanding issues in a matter.


Is an impartial third party that conducts an Arbitration (see definition above).


The Children’s Law Reform Act states that the Court may appoint an expert (a psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist, or mental health professional) to assess the needs of the child as well as the ability and willingness of the parties or any of them to satisfy the needs of the child.

The assessment is a report prepared by the expert.


A beneficiary is a person who has been designated to receive the benefits (monetary or otherwise) under a Will, Trust, Life Insurance Policy, or the like.

Best Interests of the Child

The best interest of the child is a test used by the Ontario Courts to determine decision-making responsibility and parenting time schedules for the children. This test is outlined in section 24 of the Children’s Law Reform Act.

In determining this, the Court usually considers a number of different factors including but not limited to the child’s age, relationship with each parent, the child’s views and preferences (the weight of which depends on their age and level of maturity).

Book of Authorities

This is a book that has a list of all the cases and legislation that a party intends to rely upon at Trial.

Breakdown of a relationship

This is also known as separation. It is when a couple decides that they no longer want to be together.

A relationship may also breakdown as a result of the death of one party.

Case Conference

It is a meeting, presided over by a Judge, with the parties, and their lawyers. A case conference is an important part of the family law litigation process because it promotes resolution of the various issues in a case.

Generally, only procedural Orders and/or Orders on consent may be made.

Also except urgency can be shown, no motions may be brought before a case conference.

Case Conference Brief

Is a document both parties must submit prior to the case conference date.

The document outlines facts and information regarding the case.

Child Abduction

Refers to the removal of a child from the care or control of the person with whom the child is legally residing at the time, without theconsent from said party.

A child can be abducted by their parents. For example, a child who resides with their mother, is removed by the Father, without the Mother’s consent.

Child support

Is the amount of money paid, typically by one parent to the other, to cover the costs of caring for a child.

It is usually based on the income of the payor and the number of children. It is paid to the parent who has the child[ren] living with them most of the time, by the parent who has secondary parenting time with the child[ren].

In a situation where parenting time is split equally, child support is calculated based on each parent’s income and then the difference is paid by the higher-earning parent, in what is called a “set-off” amount.

Child Support Guidelines(CSG)

The Child Support Guidelines sets out how much child support a Payor parent is required to pay to the Recipient parent for the benefit of the child[ren]. The amount of child support is based on the Payor’s income and the number of children for whom they are paying the support. It is sometimes referred to as “table amount” (see definition below).

Coercive controlling behaviour

This is a factor relating to family violence. It is a series of abusive actions to intimidate and control a family member or an intimate partner.


The Family Law Act defines this as “living together in a conjugal relationship whether within or outside marriage”.

Collaborative Family Law

Is a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (see definition above). This term refers to both parties working on resolving the legal issues collaboratively with their representatives who are trained Collaborative Family Law Lawyers.

Collaborative Family Law Lawyer

This is a lawyer that practices Collaborative Family law (see definition above).

Common-Law Spouse

Is a person, not legally married to their partner but has continuouslyresided with them for at least three (3) years, or is in a relationship of some permanence and are the natural or adoptive parents of a child.


This is a duty that lawyers owe to their clients to keep all their information and communication relating to their matters private.

Consent to Order

This is a written and binding document that formalizes the issues that the parties are in agreeance to.

Constructive trust

This is an equitable remedy granted by the Court for unjust enrichment. In a situation where property is owned by a person, who as a matter of fairness should not own it, the Court may grant another party a constructive trust over the said property meaning they become a beneficial owner.


Pursuant to the amendments to the Children’s Law Reform Act, this term refers to “access by a non-parent to a child”.  It is defined as the time a child spends in the care of a person other than the child’s parent, whether or not the child is physically with the person during that time.

Contact Order

Is an Order granted by the Court that allows a child to have contact with a person who is not a parent and who does not stand in the place of a parent.

Contingent Taxes

These are taxes that may have to be paid out when an asset is disposed off. Assets may include shares in a business, or the draw-down of RRSP assets and pay-out of a pension.

Corollary relief

The term refers to the issues arising out of the breakdown of a marriage other than the divorce itself. These issues may include, child decision-making responsibility, parenting time, child support, spousal support and the division of property.


Payments ordered by the Court, once a motion or trial is determined, to compensate the successful party for some or all of their legal fees.

Canada Pension Plan (CPP)

Generally, a person who works and has attained the age of majority contributes to their CPP if they earn over a certain amount. The CPPcredits accumulated during the marriage are divisible during a divorce.


Is one of the grounds for a divorce. It is the mistreatment or infliction of abuse on a person. This is also known as abuse (see definition above). This includes physical, mental or psychological, verbal or emotional, and sexual cruelty.


This term is now referred to as “decision-making” pursuant to the changes in the Divorce Act, Family Law Act, and the Children’s Law Reform Act, that came into effect in March 2021. This term is nolonger used in Ontario.

Day-to-day decisions

Decisions made by parents during their parenting time. It can include decisions around dinner, clothes, and so on.

Day-to-day decisions are not included in decision-making responsibility and are usually expected to be made by the parent who is caring for the child[ren] at the time.

Decision making responsibility

The right to make important decisions about a child’s well-being including decisions regarding:

Religion; and
Extra-curricular activities.

Defined Benefit Pension Plan

A pension plan that promises that upon retirement, an individual shall collect a pre-determined monthly income for life.  It is one of the most valuable asset in a divorce and must be included in the division of property.

Defined Contribution Pension Plan

A pension plan in which both the employer and the employee contribute to the employee’s pension over time. The contributions to the retirement plan are known.


Pursuant to the Family Law Act, it is a person to whom another person has an obligation to provide support. This includes children of a marriage/relationship, parents and/or may include a spouse.


Out of pocket expenses other than the lawyer’s fees. These expenses may include Court fees, process server fees, faxes, photocopies, and appraisals.


Specifically, financial disclosure is an important tenet in family lawand includes “full disclosure”. It involves showing the other side a complete list of one’s assets, debts, liabilities, and expenses through a Financial Statement. Disclosure serves to make sure that many issues are taken care of including but not limited to child and spousal support and equalization.

Division of Property

Is the process of dividing a married couple’s assets and debts after their separation.

Assets and/or debts that have been accrued by both spouses between the date of marriage and the date of separation are to be split equally.

Generally, the spouse with the higher number pays half of the difference of their Net Family Property to the spouse with the lower number. This is known as equalization.

Depending on the facts of the matter, sometimes the parties could also request an unequal division of the Net Family Property.

Common-law spouses, while not entitled to equalization, may be entitled to a division of family property.


This is the legal termination of a marriage.

Divorce – Joint

This occurs when both spouses file the Application for divorce jointly.

Divorce – Simple

This generally refers to an Application where a is asking for a divorceorder only.

Domestic Violence

Abusive behaviors and/or actions used by one person to control or injure their partner. This may be in the form of cruelty (see definition above) or abuse (see definition above).

Double dipping

This, as the name suggests, is getting a benefit twice from the same asset.

For instance, in regards to spousal support, when an asset is already equalized between the parties, but later on generates income, the spouse who owns that asset may become liable to pay spousal support based on that income.


When you take an action to force the other party to comply with the Court Order.


Refers to a right to something. For instance, in regards to Equalization, married spouses have a right to the division of property.


Any assets and/or debts that have been accrued by both spouses between the date of marriage and the date of separation is to be divided equally.

The spouse with the higher number pays out one-half of the difference of their Net Family Property to the spouse with the lower number. This is done in order to equalize the value of each spouse’s Net Family Property.


These are documents and/or witnesses used to prove a fact. Examples of documents may include bank statements, report cards, medical reports etc.

Exclusive Possession

Refers to a right given to one person to occupy a home, while the other party is not allowed on the property.

Generally, both spouses have an equal right to occupy the matrimonial home regardless of who is on the title until the divorce is finalized or an Order is made regarding the matrimonial home. However, one spouse may apply for exclusive possession if living in the same house breeds too much conflict or there is domestic violence.


Refers to signing and or commissioning a document.


A piece of evidence (see definition above) generally attached to a Court document to prove a fact. For example, in an affidavit, when a person refers to what was said on a certain date, they may add an email from that date as proof of what was said. This will be attached as an Exhibit to the affidavit.


A factum is a written argument provided to the Court before they listen to the oral arguments in relation to a Motion, Appeal and/or Trial.

It usually contains an introduction, statement of law, statement offacts, and analysis, or legal arguments as well as the Orders being requested from the Court.

Family Responsibility Office (FRO)

Is an agency of the government that oversees enforcing support payments (child and spousal) pursuant to a Court Order or a Separation Agreement.

Once FRO is involved in a matter, they can actively collect support payments directly from the Payor.

Family Violence

Refers to various forms of abuse (see definition above) or cruelty (see definition above) inflicted by a person with whom they have an intimate relationship. This may include children.

Final Order

An Order granted by the Court settling the matters contained withinit. For example, a Final Order may be granted with respect to spousalor child support. A final order may always be varied by filing aMotion to Change, Consent to Motion to Change, or by Appeal.

Financial Statement

This is a form summarizing a party’s financial situation.

It usually includes a breakdown of a party’s assets, liabilities and/or expenses It is an incredibly important document which may be used as a basis for negotiating the resolution of issues pertaining to division of property, child support and spousal support.

There are two kinds of financial statements in family law in Ontario:

1. Form 13 which is completed for support issues only; and
2. Form 13.1 which is completed when there is an equalization claim and or child or spousal support issues.


Refers to a parent limiting the other parent’s parenting time, interaction and or communication with the child.


Is a transfer of property from one person to another without the expectation of repayment.

Gifts are usually excluded during the division of property. This means that they are not added when calculating a party’s net worth.

Hague Convention

The Hague Convention is a document signed and ratified by multiple countries to protect children and their families. For example, if a child who ordinarily resides in Canada, is taken to Australia without the consent of biological parents. Pursuant to the Hague Convention, Australia has a duty to return this child to Canada.

Household contents

Are everyday items such as furniture, appliances, linen, electronics, cutlery. They are generally considered to be jointly owned by both spouses and are split equally after the divorce.

Independent Legal Advice

Refers to each party acquiring their own legal advice from different or separate lawyers.


Indexing is the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for prices of items since the previous year. The CPI will vary depending on is the jurisdiction. For example, the CPI of Toronto will vary from that of Oshawa.

The Court may make an Order for spousal support payments to be indexed, which means that they may provide that the amount paid be increased on a yearly basis by the indexing factor.

The Family Law Act expressly excludes child support from indexing.

Interim Order

Refers to a temporary Order given by Court before trial or a Final Order.

Joint ownership

This means two parties owning an asset together with rights of survivorship.

Loco parentis

Is a Latin phrase meaning “in place of a parent”. If a person is said to have stood in loco parentis, it means they took the responsibility of being a parent for that child[ren]. This term generally applies to stepparents.

Lump-sum support

Many times, support (child or spousal) is paid monthly. However, parties may elect to pay or receive a lump sum payment for either child or spousal support.  For example, only, a Recipient may choose to receive a lump sum payment of $50,000.00, for spousal support at once instead of receiving $400.00, per month.

Material Change in Circumstances

Refers to something that was not contemplated by the parties when they entered into an Agreement or obtained a Court Order.

It allows the Court to change a Final Order. What classifies as a material change could be defined by the parties or may be inferred through case law. An example of a material change is if a child begins living with the support Payor. This changes the child support obligations for the support Payor such that the Payor might become the support Recipient.

Matrimonial home

Pursuant to the Family Law Act it is a property in which both spouse(s) have an interest and it was ordinarily occupied as a family residence at the date of separation.  It receives a special treatment such that the value is never deducted from a spouse’s Net Family Property (NFP) as a date of marriage asset, even if a spouse owned the property at the date of marriage.

Also, both parties have a right to stay in the matrimonial home until a final order or agreement is made, regardless of who the titled owner of the property is.


Is a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (see definition above). Both parties meet with an impartial third party who assists them toreach an agreement.


Is a neutral third party who conducts a Mediation.

Minutes of Settlement (MOS)

This is a document signed by both parties setting out the agreement reached between the parties. Partial Minutes of Settlement refers to settlement of some of the issues in a matter.


A Court proceeding before a Judge where a party requests the Courtto make a determination on a specific issue before trial.

Motion to Change

Is an originating process where a moving party is seeking to vary a previous Court Order or an Agreement.

Net Family Property (NFP) Statement

Is a financial statement to calculate the parties’ Net Family Propertyand how much equalization is payable.

Notional Disposition costs

This is the amount paid when an asset is cashed out. For example, in selling a home, there may be real estate fees. Another example maybe a plot of land, other than primary residence, being sold and there are capital gains tax.

They are notional because they have no been incurred yet but the party who own’s the property is allowed a deduction for them.

Offer to Settle

Is a legal document that details a formal offer made by one party to the other.

An offer to settle could be partial such that it may only address some of the issues or it may be complete meaning all outstanding issues are outlined in detail.

Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL)

Is the government-funded office that represents children under the age of eighteen (18) years in some Court cases.

The OCL is not automatically involved in Court cases dealing with decision-making responsibility and parenting time. They must agree to accept a case. The OCL has clinicians and lawyers across the province. They prepare reports about a child’s needs, views and wishes.

Parenting Order

This is an Order that guides parenting and may deal with the following issues:

1. Decision-making responsibility (see definition above); and
2. Parenting time (see definition above)

Parenting Plan

Refers to a written agreement between the parties that outlines issues surrounding decision-making responsibility (see definition above) and/or parenting time (see definition above).

Parenting Time

The time that a child spends in the care of a parent. It may be on a strict schedule such as every other weekend, or on a flexible schedule. It may also be supervised or required to take place in the community.

Paternity Agreement

Is a written document used by parties who are not married but have children. They are generally used to address issues of child support which may be filed with the Court and/or register with FRO for enforcement.


These are legal documents filed with the Court. They outline facts relevant to the issues and outline Orders being sought from the Court.

Pre-judgement interest

Is interest awarded to a party for loss of use of money for the period. In family law, it is usually calculated from the date of separation until the date the Court makes an order.

There is a general legal principle that the recipient of a monetary award ordered by the Court is entitled to pre-judgment interest.


Refered to as a pre-nuptial agreement or a marriage contract.

It is a domestic contract that enables a couple, about to be married, to dictate how their assets and debts should be dealt with in the event of separation.

Marriage contracts can be entered into even after the parties have been married.


A party may be granted the right to ask the other party or a third person questions about anything relevant to the party’s matter.

Questioning is generally conducted outside court, in the presence of a reporter who prepares the transcript.


Reconciliation is the process by which a separated couple decides to resume their marriage and cohabitation. It literally means “re-establishing cordial relations.”

Many separation agreements provide a 90-day grace period where if the parties reconcile for less than 90 days, the counting of the date of separation remain uninterrupted and the terms of the agreement stay in effect.

On the other hand, if the parties reconcile for more than 90 days and later determine to end their relationship, the clock for date of separation restarts, and the terms of the separation agreement become null and void.


The Children’s Law Reform Act defines this term as the change in the residence of a child that will have a significant impact on the child’s relationship with other people who have decision-making responsibilities, parenting time or contact.


This is the party or parties that responds to the Application served by the Applicant.

Resulting trust

This is a remedy granted by the Court wherein a spouse (married or unmarried) whose name is not on the title is allowed to share in the value of the property. It is an equitable remedy, therefore, it is granted only if the Court decides that it is fair to do so.


Is money an individual pays to their lawyer for his or her services. It is held by the lawyer in a special bank account known as a trust account. The lawyer cannot touch the funds until he or she sends the individual an invoice. Once the client receives the invoice, the billed amount is deducted from the retainer. The client is expected to replenish the amount once it is run out.

Retainer Agreement

Is a contract an individual enters into with their lawyer. The Agreement identifies the parties, the services to be provided to the client, outlines the legal fees and circumstances in which the agreement may be terminated.

Retroactive Support

Is support payment generally child or spousal, that the payee was entitled to at the time, but the payor failed to pay. They are awarded retroactively to the date that Court proceedings were commenced. The Court will go further back, if there is reason to for example, the date of the parties’ separation.

Section 7 Expenses

Also known as Extra-ordinary expenses or Special expenses. They are expenses that are out of the ordinary for the child. Ordinary expenses include clothing, food, and shelter. Section 7 expenses include extracurricular activities like daycare, dance classes or university costs. These expenses must be reasonable given the parties’ financial situation and necessary because they are in the child’s[ren] best interests.

Security for support

In some situations, the Court may order that the payor take out a life insurance policy of a certain amount as security for their support obligations. In case the payor dies, their support obligations will still be met.


This is when a spouse and/or a partner (married or common-law) decides they no longer want to continue their relationship and to cohabit.

Separation Agreement

This is a domestic contract that parties enter into after they separate to resolve all the outstanding issues between them as a result of the breakdown of their relationship.

A separation agreement may also be a partial separation agreement dealing with only some issues or an interim separation agreement dealing with the issues on a temporary basis only.


Service means delivery of a legal document. There are various forms of service of legal documents. An application, for instance, must be served by “personal service,” meaning that it must be physically handed to the person.

Settlement Conference

This is a meeting where the parties meet with a judge to explore ways to settle the issues without going to trial or settle some issues before trial. This is an important step, because if a case is not resolved at this stage, it normally proceeds to trial.

The purpose of a settlement conference includes:

Discussing ways to solve the issues without going to trial; and
Obtaining Judge’s views of how the Court might decide the case.

Settlement Conference Brief

This is the document submitted by both parties before the Settlement Conference, summarizing facts and outlining their arguments.

Sole ownership

This term refers to one person owning title to a particular property.


The legal definition of a spouse is a person who has pledged to wed another person and be united in marriage. However, spouses in Ontario encapsulates both married and unmarried spouses. To fall under the definition of unmarried spouses, the parties must have been cohabiting for a period of at least three (3) years or are in a relationship of some permanence, if they are the parents of a child.

Substituted service

The Court may Order substituted service if the party serving the legal documents is unable to serve the opposing party personally for any reason. Seeking an Order for substituted service will allow the party to serve the documents via alternative methods such as via email, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. It must be a method that is reasonably expected to bring the document to the other party’s attention.

Supervised Parenting Time

Is arranged if there are safety concerns about a child’s visit with their parent or during the parenting time exchanges. It provides a neutral and/or safe setting for visits between the children and a parent.

Table amount

The Child Support Guidelines (see definition above) sets out how much child support a Payor parent is required to pay to the Recipient parent for the benefit of the child[ren]. The amount of child support is based on the Payor’s income and the number of children for whom they are paying the support.

Temporary Order

This is also known as an interim order (see definition above). This is an Order granted by the Court that lasts until:

Another temporary Order is made;
The period of time, or event, that the order deals with ends; and/or
A Final Order is made.

A temporary order may also be given pending the time that one of the parties completes an action.

Trial Management Conference

Is a meeting between a judge and the parties’ and their lawyers, if any, to prepare the parties for trial. The judge may discuss with the parties about their witnesses, and evidence at trial.

Trial Management Conference Brief

This is the document served and filed before the Trial Management Conference. It outlines the theory of the case, list the witnesses that each party may have and identify the time needed for trial.


Is a certified written record of a Court hearing.


Is a formal hearing in a Courtroom with a Judge to get a final resolution of the issues in the case. Each party has an opportunity to state their claims and offer defences and counterclaims.

The judge at trial is different from the judges at the conferences. In Ontario, family law trials are heard only by a judge.

Trial Record

Is a package of documents organized by a party or their lawyer that contains everything the Judge will need to see in order to grant a Final Order on the outstanding issues.  Pursuant to the Family Law Rules, the applicant must serve and file a trial record thirty (30) days before the start of the trial. The Respondent may serve and file and add to the trial record, no later than seven (7) days before the trial.

Undue hardship

This means financial hardship on the part of a payor. Generally, it implies that the payor is unable to meet up to their support obligations because they cannot afford it.

Unjust enrichment

Unjust enrichment occurs when a party benefits unfairly and to the detriment of another under circumstances that the Court deems unjust.

Variation of Order

Also referred to as Motion to Change (see definition above) where a moving party brings an application seeking variation of a Final Court Order or an Agreement, based on a material change in circumstances.


Is a legal document outlining a person’s instructions to dispose off their property after their passing.

Without Prejudice

Refers to without any loss or waiver of rights or privileges. This is a designation that may be included in written communication from one counsel to another when engaging in settlement conversations.

It is inserted to ensure that a person’s rights and privileges are protected regardless of the content of the communication.

Witness to Signature

A witness is an individual who is of the age of majority and is of sound mind and is not a party to the document being signed. Many legal documents require a witness to signature including Separation Agreements and Powers of Attorney.

If you need any help with family law matters, contact Aprince Will Family Lawyers in Toronto, Pickering, Scarborough, and Markham. You can call us at (905) 492-7662 or email us at [email protected] to schedule a consultation.