Representing Yourself at Your Family Law Trial: Definitions of Words Commonly Used in Family Law Cases
Adjournment: When a judge “adjourns” a case, the judge is setting another future date for the parties to come before the judge again.
Answer: The respondent’s document which “answers” the applicant’s application and allows the respondent to ask the court for their own claims. A respondent answering a case will need to complete, serve and file a Form 10: Answer.
Applicant: The person who starts a family law case by serving and filing a Form 8: Application (General) in the family court.
Application: A person starts a family law case by filling out Form 8: Application (General), filing the application with the court and serving it on the other party. There are different types of Applications and you must ensure that you have the correct Form 8 for your application.
Appeal: If a judge makes an error of law or fact on a decision, another “higher” court will hear an appeal of the decision. Note that an appeal will not be heard simply because you do not like the judge’s decision. There must be an error of law or fact.
Balance of Probabilities: In court, the judge decides on a “balance of probabilities” that one party’s claim is more believable than the other party’s claim.
Best Interests of the Child: The judges use a test called the “Best Interests of the Child” test to decide decision-making responsibility, parenting time and guardianship. The test can be found in section 24 of the Children’s Law Reform Act. The judge must consider all of the child’s needs and circumstances to decide the child’s best interests, including the parent’s ability to provide for the child.
Case Conference: A case conference is a meeting between a judge, the parties and the party’s lawyers to try to identify the issues that the parties can agree upon and the issues where there is disagreement. The judge will also try to settle the case. The judge may make an order at the case conference.
Child Support: Child support is the amount of money that one parent pays to the other parent for the financial support of the child(ren). The money is paid to the parent who has the children living with the parent most of the time. The amount of money paid to this parent is determined by the Child Support Guidelines.
Child Support Guidelines (Ontario): The Child Support Guidelines are used to calculate child support for children. The amount of child support is determined by a 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 deals with the establishment of parentage, decision-making responsibility, parenting time, contact, and guardianship.
Contact With Child: The Court may allow a person, other than a child’s parent, to spend time with a child. For example, a grandparent, aunt or cousin may ask the Court to make an order allowing contact to a child.
Decision-Making Responsibility: A parent who has been given decision-making responsibility of a child has the rights and responsibilities to make decisions in the best interests of the children. Decisions may be about a child’s health, education, and other significant life events. In certain family law cases, the Court may make an order for shared decision-making responsibility between the parties.
Joint/Shared Decision-Making Responsibility: The parents both have the rights and responsibilities to make decisions about the child(ren), which are in the best interests of the child. Even though both parents may have joint/shared decision-making responsibility, the child(ren) may still live primarily with one parent.
Evidence: Evidence in a family law case involves documents and witnesses. Examples of some documents that may be included as evidence include bank account records, report cards, real estate records, and medical reports.
Family Law Act: The Family Law Act is provincial legislation that deals with family property, the matrimonial home, support obligations (including spousal and child support), domestic contracts, and dependant’s claims for damages.
Family Law Information Centres (FLICs): You will find a FLIC in family courthouses in Ontario. The people in the FLIC office will help you with information about family law and resources available in the community. They will also be able to provide information and referrals about mediation. The FLIC service is free.
Family Law Rules: The Family Law Rules are a set of rules that govern the practice of family law in Ontario. All cases in Ontario are expected to follow the Family Law Rules.
Filing a form: Once a party has filled out a form, it must be filed with the family court. To file a form, you must go to the family courthouse and give the form to the clerk in the court. Rule 5 of the Family Law Rules tells you where you can start your family law case. Most of the time, you will need to start your case in the municipality where you are living, or, where the children live, if you are making any parenting related claims.
Forms: Forms are the documents that you use to start a family case or respond to a family case. The government has provided specific forms for people to use at different stages in their family case. For example, you would use Form 8 to start your family law case.
Matrimonial Home: The matrimonial home is the home that the parties lived in together as their home. It can be a house, an apartment, or a trailer. It can be owned or rented by the parties.
Motion: A motion is a court proceeding before a judge. It is usually held to decide an issue or a number of issues that requires that the court hears evidence. In most cases, before a court will schedule a motion before a judge, the parties will have to have a case conference.
Motions to Change: A motion to change is a court proceeding when you want to change the terms of a final order or support in an agreement that has been filed with the court. Rule 15 of the Family Law Rules deals with motions to change. You must use form 15 to file a motion to change. If a respondent to the motion to change does not agree to the change or wants to ask the court to make an additional or different change to the final order or agreement, the respondent must use Form 15B.
Offer to Settle: An offer by one party to the other party to settle some or all of the claims in a case.
Parenting time: Parenting time is the right of a parent to visit and be visited by a child or children and the right to ask questions and be given information about the child(ren)’s health, education and welfare. The term “access” was replaced with “parenting time” in March 2021.
Perjury: Perjury occurs when a person deliberately lies when they are in the witness box in a courtroom or when they swear that an affidavit is true when it is not true. Under the law in Ontario, a person who commits perjury can be fined or sent to jail by a judge.
Reserve a Decision: When a judge “reserves a decision”, he or she is stating that the decision will not be released immediately but will be released soon.
Respondent: There are usually two parties in a family law case – the applicant and the respondent. The applicant starts the case and the respondent “responds” to the case by serving and filing a Form 10: Answer.
Serving a form: You must give a copy of your forms or documents to the other party. This is called serving the forms. There are specific rules about serving forms. In some cases, you may mail a copy of your forms to the other party’s lawyer or, if they do not have a lawyer, you may mail a copy of your forms directly to the other party. In some cases, you may be required to serve the forms by “special service”. See rule 6 of the Family Law Rules for more information about serving documents.
Settlement Conference: A settlement conference is a meeting between a judge, the parties, and the party’s lawyers to try to settle outstanding issues. Many times, the judge will make an order about an issue at a settlement conference based on consent agreements between the two parties.
Sole Decision-Making Responsibility: Only one parent has the right and responsibilities to make decisions about the child(ren) in the best interests of the child.
Spousal Support: Spousal support is money paid by one party to their former spouse. It is paid by the party with the higher income to the party who has less or no income.
Trial Management Conference: A trial management conference is a meeting between a judge, the parties, and the party’s lawyers to prepare the parties for trial. At the trial management conference, the judge will talk to the parties about their witnesses, the evidence at trial and the time needed for trial.