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Definitions in Family Law Matters

The following are words used in family matters in the courts in Alberta. The definitions given will give you a general idea of the meaning of the term, but will not give the precise legal definition. For more terms, see the FJS Glossary.

  • Abridge Time
    • When the court allows you to shorten the required time. For example, if you are required to give 10 days notice of your application, but you want an earlier court date, you would ask in your court forms to abridge the time for service.

  • Access
    • The right to spend time with a child, or otherwise interact with a child (by telephone, e mail etc.) See also Parenting.

  • Act
    • See Statute

  • Address for Service
    • The address that you must provide on your court forms to which documents may be served on you.

  • Adjourn
    • To put off a court case to a later date.

  • Adjourn Sine Die
    • A legal term meaning to set over a court date, but not to a specific day. If your application has been adjourned sine die, you can ask to have it rescheduled by filing a letter. You must then serve the other party with the letter so that they know of the new court date.

  • Adult Interdependent Relationship
  • Adultery
    • When a person who is married has sexual intercourse with a person other than their spouse.

  • Affidavit of Records
    • A Queen's Bench court form that tells the court and the other party which documents you intend to show to the judge, should the matter go to trial.

  • Affirm
    • A declaration or promise that something is true. You would affirm if you object to swearing on the Bible, Koran or other religious book. See also Oath.

  • Age of Majority
    • The age at which a child is considered an adult. In Alberta, the age is 18. In some other provinces, the age is 19.

  • Agent
    • Someone who acts on behalf of another person with respect to a legal matter.

  • Amend
    • To change or correct. If a Court Order contains an error, an Amended Order can be filed with the correction.

  • Amicus Curiae
    • An legal term that means "Friend of the Court" and refers to a lawyer who does not act for either of the parties, but is there to help bring information to the judge. In the past, a lawyer appointed by the court to represent children caught in a custody dispute was called an Amicus Curiae.

  • Annulment
    • A declaration by a judge that a marriage was invalid. See the Frequently Asked Questions – What is the difference between a divorce and an annulment?

  • Appeal
    • Asking a higher court to review the decision of a lower court. You must have grounds to appeal – that is the judge must have made an error in law or a serious error with respect to the facts. There is a short time period (usually 30 days) to file an appeal.

  • Appellant
    • The party who has filed an appeal.

  • Application
    • Asking the court to make an order. You can make several applications in the course of a court action. In the Court of Queen's Bench, you make an application by using one of a Claim, an Application form or an Originating Application form. In Provincial Court, you make an application by filing a Claim form.

  • Appointment for Questioning
    • A court form that you would serve on the other party if you want them to come for Questioning.

  • Apprehend
    • To take something. Usually used in The Provincial Court to refer to children being taken from their parents by Children's Services.

  • Approval as Being the Order Granted
    • The other party signing an Order that was not signed by the judge at the time the application was made in court. The other party must sign the Order to show that they agree that the Order is the same as the Order given by the judge in court. Approval is not needed when the Order is prepared by court staff.

  • Arbitration
    • Where parties meet with a professional who, by agreement, discusses their issues with them and reaches a decision, which is binding upon them. Arbitration is different from court in that the Arbitrator is not a judge and the process is more informal. However the Arbitration Award may be filed with the court and enforced like a court order.

  • Assets
    • The things that you own, such as property (land), vehicles, investments, money in the bank, furniture, tools, etc.

  • Balance of Probabilities
    • The test used in a civil court to decide if you have proven your case. The judge must be satisfied on a balance of probabilities that what you have said is true - in other words, the judge must believe that what you have said is more likely to be true than to be not true. This is different from criminal courts, in which the judge must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • Barrister and Solicitor
    • A lawyer.

  • Bigamy
    • Being married to two people at the same time. Bigamy is a criminal offence as well as grounds for annulment of the second marriage.

  • Bill of Costs
    • A Queen's Bench court form which is used after the judge makes an order granting a party costs. The form details the steps taken and the amount claimed for each step. The allowable amounts are set out in the Rules of Court.

  • Breach
    • If you do not obey a court order, you are said to have breached the order, or to be in breach of the order. If the other party takes steps to enforce the order, the court can punish you for your breach.

  • Brief Conflict Intervention (BCI)
    • A psychologist is appointed by The Provincial Court to meet with the parents and try to help them come to some resolution of immediate parenting issues.

  • Case Management
    • In most cases, your application will be heard by the judge assigned to the courtroom on the day you have chosen to go to court. You will likely see a different judge every time you go to court. When parties are having a particularly difficult time resolving their issues, one judge will be assigned as the case management judge. That judge will hear any application that is filed and will assist the parties to use other resources to help solve their legal issues.

  • Cause of Action
    • A wrongful act which is recognized in law as giving you the right to start an action against another person.

  • Certified copy
    • A copy of a court document which has been stamped and signed by the clerk to say that it is a true copy of the original on the court file. The court will not accept a photocopy of an order from another court unless it is a certified copy. You can get a certified copy of a court document from the court in the location where the document is filed.

  • Chambers
    • A type of court in the Court of Queen's Bench where the judge makes a decision based upon sworn written evidence. Chambers applications usually take 10 to 20 minutes in total. If they are more complicated they should be scheduled for a special chambers date. At some court houses there is a separate chambers for family matters.

  • Claim
    • A court form under the Family Law Act that has two functions. It is used to start the court action. It is also used to make any applications in the court action. The form sets out the information about the parties, what you are asking for and the court date and time.

  • Clerk
    • A person who works for the court and performs some of the following duties: filing court documents, commissioning documents, scheduling court hearings, assisting the judge in court, reviewing court documents for the judge.

  • Collusion, Condonation and Connivance
    • The three reasons for which a court may refuse to grant a divorce.

      - Collusion is making up the grounds for divorce, for example, if you said you were separated for a year, but you were not.

      - Condonation is forgiving your spouse for committing adultery or cruelty, if you are using those grounds.

      - Connivance is tricking your spouse into committing adultery or cruelty, if you are using those grounds.

  • Commissioner for Oaths
    • Someone authorized by the province to swear or "commission" affidavits or statements. Lawyers and court clerks are commissioners for oaths. Often banks and Registry offices have commissioners.

  • Conduct money
    • The amount of money that is to be paid to someone who is served with a Notice to Attend or an Appointment for Questioning. The amounts to be paid are set out in the Rules of Court.

  • Constructive Trust
  • Contempt of Court
    • Someone who has refused to follow a court order or has shown disrespect to the court can be found to be in contempt by the judge. If you have been found in contempt, you may be punished by the judge, or the judge may make an order that you cannot take further steps in the court action until you have "purged your contempt", that is, make right what you have done wrong.

  • Corollary Relief
    • Orders that may be granted at the time of divorce. Some examples of this are Orders related to custody, access and child support.

  • Costs
    • Money that must be paid to another party or to the court. You may be ordered to pay costs if you are not successful with your application or if you fail to attend a scheduled court date.

  • Counterclaim
    • When a Defendant is served with a Statement of Claim and wants to claim some legal relief from the Plaintiff. It is usually filed with a Statement of Defence.

  • Court of Appeal
    • The Alberta Court of Appeal hears appeals from the Court of Queen's Bench.

  • Court of Queen's Bench
    • Along with Provincial Court, this court is a trial court for criminal, family and civil matters. It also deals with bankruptcy, estates and dependant adults. Appeals from the Provincial Court are heard in the Court of Queen's Bench.

  • Court Order
    • A document that is typed up to show the order given by the judge in court. The Court Order will not repeat, word for word, what the judge has said, but will set out the important terms. See also Transcript.

  • Cross Examination
    • Questioning the other party or their witness with respect to their evidence to the court.

  • Custody Assessment
    • See Parenting Assessment

  • Deponent
    • A person making a sworn statement.

  • Desk Divorce
    • In most cases, the court will have a hearing before it grants a judgment. However, in the case of divorces, once the issues of custody, access and support are settled, an application can be made for a divorce without an oral hearing. The evidence that the judge needs is written into the "Affidavit of Applicant" and the judge reviews it and signs the Divorce Judgment at their desk.

  • Disclosure
    • Giving copies of documents requested by the other party or ordered by the court. E.g. when child support is in issue, you will often be asked to provide copies of your tax returns and other documents showing your income to the other party.

  • Discovery
    • See Questioning.

  • Dismissal
    • A judge's refusal to grant an application.

  • Divorce Judgment
    • The document, signed by a judge in the Court of Queen's Bench, that grants you a divorce.

  • Divorce Judgment and Corollary Relief Order
    • The document, signed by a judge in the Court of Queen's Bench, that grants you a divorce and also grants orders for such things as custody, access, child support or spousal support.

  • Dower
    • A right that exists while you are married, with respect to your home, if it is owned by your spouse. Your dower right means that your spouse cannot sell or mortgage the house without your consent and, if your spouse dies and leaves the house to someone else, you are allowed to live there until you die. Dower rights end at the time you are divorced.

  • Draft
    • A document that has not yet been finalized.

  • Duty Counsel
    • Lawyers or articling students who will give you brief legal advice and/or help you with your court application. Duty counsel do not represent you and may help both parties.

  • Evidence
    • The statements (oral or written) that are given under oath or the documents or other items that are shown to prove your case or disprove another person's case.

  • Examination for Discovery
    • See Questioning

  • Exclusive Possession Order
    • An order of the Court of Queen's Bench that says that one party may keep possession of the home, vehicle or household goods and the other party must keep away. An Exclusive Possession Order is intended to be temporary, while the parties work out how the property will be divided. If you are applying for Exclusive Possession under the Family Law Act, you must combine the application with an application for support. You can also apply for Exclusive Possession as part of an action to divide your property.

  • Exhibit
    • Any paper or document that is referred to, or mentioned, in an Affidavit. It should then be marked as an "Exhibit" and attached as a part of the Affidavit. Also, in a trial or oral hearing, a paper or other item that is shown to the judge. It is marked as an exhibit by the clerk.

  • Expert
    • A person who is called as a witness in court to provide their opinion on a matter. That person must be accepted by the judge as an expert in the area in which they will give their opinion.

  • Frivolous and Vexatious Litigant
    • Someone who has been found by a judge to have filed numerous applications, and the applications are either asking for things that the person has no right to ask for or are done simply to annoy the other party. Usually, the judge will grant an order that the person is not allowed to file any more applications with that court.

  • Gross
    • The total amount before any deductions. For example, gross income would be the total dollars that a person receives before any income taxes are deducted. The gross cost of daycare is the cost of daycare before any subsidies or income tax deductions are taken into account.

  • Guardian
  • Hearsay
    • Telling the court something which someone else has told you. When you give evidence to the court, you must only tell the court facts which are within your own knowledge.

  • Home Study
    • See Parenting Assessment

  • Impute income
    • In child support cases, to set a person's income based not on what they say it is, but rather based on what the judge believes they are capable of earning. This is done if the person has not provided proper financial disclosure, if they are working under the table or if they have refused to work or to work full time when they are capable of doing so.

  • In Loco Parentis
    • A legal term for someone who is not a biological parent of a child but who acts like a parent to the child. The court may treat that person the same as a biological parent for custody and access rights. The court may also decide that the person has a financial responsibility to support the child.

  • Infant
    • In law, any child under the age of majority (18 in Alberta).

  • Interim Order
    • An order made to cover the time until a final decision can be made. A temporary order. E.g. an interim parenting order.

  • Interlocutory Order
    • An order dealing with procedure or court process. E.g. an order directing a party to provide financial disclosure.

  • Joint Tenancy
    • When two or more people own property together, so that if one of them dies, the entire property will belong to the remaining person or people. See also Tenancy in Common.

  • Judge
    • The person who makes the decisions in the court. In the Court of Queen's Bench, they are also referred to as a Justice.

  • Judgment
    • A decision by the court that usually ends a court action.

  • Judicial Centre
    • Locations of Courts of Queen's Bench. In Alberta, these are Grande Prairie, Peace River, Fort McMurray, St. Paul, Edmonton, Wetaskiwin, Red Deer, Calgary, Drumheller, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.

  • Jurisdiction
    • The power of the court, or the area that the court's powers cover. E.g. a court in Alberta has the power to make an order for custody of a child who is ordinarily resident in Alberta.

  • Justice
    • A judge in the Court of Queen's Bench.

  • Justice of the Peace
    • A court official with limited decision making powers. A Justice of the Peace can grant Emergency Protection Orders. A Justice of the Peace does not conduct marriage ceremonies in Alberta.

  • Lawyer
    • A person who has been trained in the law, and has been granted a membership in the Law Society for the province. A lawyer can give you advice about the law, can represent you in court and can prepare legal documents for you. Also see Paralegal.

  • Litigant
    • A party to a court action.

  • Litigation Representative
    • A person who is appointed by the Court of Queen's Bench to represent a child or a person under mental incapacity. A litigation representative is sometimes a lawyer, but is usually a family member or friend.

  • Marriage
    • The legal recognition of the relationship between two people, intended to be exclusive and for life.

  • Master
    • A judge in the Court of Queen's Bench who deals only with matters where there is no dispute on the facts. When someone is in serious default with respect to child or spousal support, Maintenance Enforcement can have them brought before a Master to "show cause" why they should not be put in jail.

  • Matrimonial Home
    • The home which is or was occupied by two people who are or were married to each other. The primary residence of the married couple.

  • Matrimonial Property
  • Motion
    • An application.

  • Net
    • The amount after deductions. For example, net income refers to a person's income after income taxes are deducted. The net cost of daycare is the cost of daycare after any subsidies or income tax deductions are taken into account.

  • Notary Public
    • A person, often a lawyer, who is authorized to swear documents, such as Affidavits to be used outside of Alberta, confirm copies of documents as true copies, and witness certain documents, for example Guarantees or letters authorizing travel.

  • Notice to Attend
    • A court form that you would serve on someone who you want to come to court as your witness.

  • Oath
    • You swear on the Bible, the Koran or other religious book to tell the truth, or that the contents of your document are all true. See also Affirm.

  • Offer to Settle
    • A written document that sets out the terms upon which one party is willing to settle their action. It is not filed with the court, but is served upon the other party. If the matter goes to trial, the fact that an Offer to Settle was made may affect the amount the judge awards in costs.

  • Onus of Proof
    • The burden of proving the case. If you are the person bringing the action or the application, it is up to you to prove your case to the judge. It is not up to the other party to disprove your case.

  • Opinion
    • A legal term meaning a lawyer's advice on your legal problem. If you want to know whether you will be successful in court, you will ask a lawyer for an opinion. If you want advice as to which of two options are best for you, you can ask a lawyer for an opinion. A lawyer's opinion is not free – you must pay for the time that they spend helping you.

  • Order
    • A document that is typed up to show the order given by the judge in court. The Order will not repeat, word for word, what the judge has said, but will set out the important terms. See also Transcript.

  • Originating Application
    • A form that starts both a court action and a court application in the Court of Queen's Bench. The use of an Originating Application is only allowed for certain types of cases, as set out in the Rules of Court.

  • Paralegal
    • A person who is not a lawyer, but whose business includes helping to complete fill-in-the-blank court forms and other straightforward legal documents. A paralegal cannot give legal advice or represent you in the Court of Queen's Bench. In some cases, paralegals can assist you in The Provincial Court.

  • Parentage
    • A finding by the court that you are the parent of a child.

  • Parenting Assessment
    • An investigation by a professional into the parenting abilities of both parents, the interaction between the parents and the children and any other matters. The professional will write a report for the court with their findings and recommendations. The costs involved are usually shared by the parents. This may also be called a Custody Assessment, a Practice Note 8 Assessment or a Home Study.

  • Parenting Order
    • An Order that sets out how decisions will be made about the child and how the time with the child will be shared between two or more guardians of the child. This is a newer term, which is often used instead of the terms Custody and Access.

  • Partition and Sale
    • A Queen's Bench court order that changes a Joint Tenancy to a Tenancy in Common and directs the sale either of the Applicant's share or of the whole property.

  • Paternity
    • A finding by the court that you are the father of a child. Also refers to the tests given to determine if you are the father of the child.

  • Peace officer
    • A general term that includes all types of police officers, including Sheriffs.

  • Peremptory
    • Usually used with respect to a court date, and means that there will be no more adjournments for one of the parties.

  • Perjury
    • Intentionally lying while giving evidence in court or in a sworn document. Perjury is a criminal offence.

  • Personal Service
    • Handing the court forms to the person who is to be served.

  • Pleadings
    • A term which refers to the main documents filed in an action in the Court of Queen's Bench, for example the Statement of Claim and the Statement of Defence.

  • Practice Note 8 Assessment
    • See Parenting Assessment

  • Practice Note 7 Intervention
    • A professional is appointed by the Court of Queen's Bench to meet with the parents and try to help them come to some resolution of immediate parenting issues. The costs involved are usually shared by the parents.

  • Preamble
    • The introductory part of a Statute or Court Order. It is not binding, but rather gives background information that helps you understand the Statute or Order.

  • Precedent
    • A previous court decision which is used as a reason for later court decisions. A court must follow precedents from a higher court (for example, the Court of Queen's Bench must follow precedents from the Alberta Court of Appeal or from the Supreme Court of Canada). Also refers to a sample of a court document. For example, to prepare a Statement of Claim, it can be helpful to look at one that someone else has filed, as a precedent.

  • Privilege
    • Information that you give to a lawyer is confidential and cannot be told or given to anyone else, including a judge in court, without your consent.

  • Pro Bono
    • A legal term that is used to describe services provided by a lawyer to a client for free.

  • Provincial Court
    • The Provincial Court is the lower trial court in Alberta (the other trial court is the Court of Queen's Bench). There are several parts to the court – Traffic, Family and Youth, Civil and Criminal. With respect to family matters, The Provincial Court can hear matters dealing with parenting, guardianship and support as well as applications brought by Children's Services.

  • Questioning
    • A process in a Queen's Bench action whereby one party, or their lawyer, asks questions of the other party. The person being questioned is under oath, and their answers are recorded and may, in some cases, be used in court. Questioning may be done orally or questions and answers may be written. There are two times that Questioning may occur. First, in any action, the parties are entitled to schedule a Questioning to explore the evidence which may be presented by the other. This was formerly called an Examination for Discovery. Second, any person who files an Affidavit or Statement with the court may be formally Questioned with respect to the contents of that document. This was formerly called a Cross Examination on Affidavit.

  • Recorded Mail
    • Any method of delivery in which the person who is receiving the mail must sign for it. This includes registered mail through Canada Post or delivery by courier, with signature required.

  • Registry Counter
    • The counter at the court house that you would go to to file documents or to schedule court applications.

  • Relief
    • The Orders that you are asking the court to grant.

  • Request for Financial Information
    • A Provincial Court form that is filed along with an application for support (or to vary support) that asks a person to give the other party financial information. A similar form is used in Queen's Bench, called a Notice to Disclose / Application.

  • Response
    • A court form that is filed by the Respondent in a Family Law Act case saying whether they agree or disagree with the items asked for in the Claim.

  • Retainer
    • Usually refers to the agreement made between the lawyer and their client, in which the lawyer agrees to provide certain services for the client and the client agrees to pay specified fees. Also refers to the amount requested by a lawyer as a down payment on their fees.

  • Revoke
    • To cancel something, for example, your drivers license.

  • Rules of Court
  • Separation
    • In marriage, the state of living separate and apart. To be separated, one or both of the parties must intend to leave the marriage. Also, the parties must either be living in separate residences, or, if in the same residence, must be living completely separate lives – i.e. not sharing meals, chores, vacations, bedrooms, etc.

  • Serve / Service
    • Delivering a court document to the other party in an action or application. The documents must be served in a way that is described in the Rules of Court or allowed by the court in an Order for Substitutional Service.

  • Service Ex Juris
    • A legal term which means serving documents on someone who lives outside the jurisdiction. In The Provincial Court, you need an Order for Service ex juris if you need to serve someone outside of Alberta. In the Court of Queen's Bench, you need an Order for Service ex juris if you need to serve someone outside of Canada.

  • Sheriff
    • A member of the court security team.

  • Spouse
    • A person who is legally married to another person.

  • Statement
    • A court form that is filled in to provide facts to the court. The person who fills in the Statement swears or affirms that the facts are true before a commissioner for oaths. The facts in the Statement will be used as evidence in court. A Statement is usually filed along with a Claim or Response.

  • Statement of Claim
    • A court form that begins most court actions. There may be different kinds, for example, a Statement of Claim for Divorce.

  • Statute
    • A law passed by the government. For example, the Divorce Act is a law passed by the federal government and the Family Law Act is a law passed by the provincial government.

  • Statutory Declaration
    • A document that is signed before a Commissioner for Oaths or Notary Public after the person signing it agrees that they understand that it has the same effect as if made under oath.

  • Style of Cause
    • The part of any court document that identifies the type of court, and the place where the action will be heard (judicial centre), the full names of the parties, and the name of the document. The style of cause is found at the top of the first page of every court form.

  • Subrogated
    • Someone who is on social assistance assigns their right to receive child or spousal support to the government. Their support is said to be subrogated to the government. This means that any support payable during the time goes to the government, not to the person.

  • Substitutional Service Order
    • If it is impossible or impractical to serve the respondent personally with court documents, you may ask the court for an Order that will allow you to serve the respondent in a different way. The court may then grant a Substitutional Service Order. This sets out how you can serve the respondent with the court documents. Examples of substitutional service are posting the document on the person's door, delivery by regular mail, delivery to someone else who knows or lives with the person, or advertising in a newspaper.

  • Supervised Access or Parenting Time
    • When a parent spends time with a child in the presence of another adult who makes sure the child is safe.

  • Tenancy in Common
    • When two or more people own property together, so that if one of them dies, their share of the property is transferred to the persons named in their Will, rather than the other person or people named on the title. See also Joint Tenancy.

  • Transcript
    • Everything that is said in court is recorded. A transcript is a typed version of the recording. Transcripts are available, for a fee, from the Transcript Management office. Transcripts are also available after Questioning.

  • Undue Hardship
    • In child support cases, to argue that you cannot afford the guideline amount, because of special circumstances in your life that are causing you severe financial problems. To succeed in the undue hardship argument, you must also show that your household standard of living is lower than the other party's.

  • Variation Order
    • A Court Order that changes the terms of an existing Court Order.

  • Waive
    • To give up a right. In divorce situations, the parties will often waive their right to ask for spousal support.

  • Without Prejudice
    • A document or information that cannot be used in court. Letters between parties or their lawyers that discuss settlement are usually Without Prejudice. Also, parties may have a meeting that is Without Prejudice.

  • Witness
    • Someone who is asked by a party to attend court and give evidence.