Family Law Glossary of Terms


A legal declaration that a marriage was void from its outset, often due to one or both spouses’ inability to legally enter the marriage (for example, due to mental incapacity, coercion or fraud, or bigamy).

Common-Law (Spouse/Partner)

In British Columbia, a partner who has continuously lived with their partner in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years. For the purposes of entitlement to spousal support under the Family Law Act, a partner is considered common-law if they have a child with their partner (regardless of the amount of time they have lived together).

Desk-Order Divorce

An uncontested divorce with no unresolved issues between the spouses. In British Columbia, this type of divorce does not require the spouses to appear in court for the divorce order to be granted.

Decision-Making Responsibility (Custody)

A parent’s ability (set out under the federal Divorce Act) to make decisions about a child’s well-being and upbringing, including their education, medical care, culture, and religion. Decision-making responsibility under the Divorce Act (formerly known as “custody”) only applies to parents who were legally married. Under British Columbia’s Family Law Act, this right is called “parental responsibility”.

Parental Alienation

When a parent deliberately damages their child’s relationship with the other parent. This often occurs when the alienating parent makes disparaging comments about the other parent to the child or encourages the child to align with them against the other parent.

Parental Responsibility (Custody)

The legal right (set out under British Columbia’s Family Law Act) to make decisions about a child’s day-to-day upbringing and care. Similar to decision-making responsibility under the Divorce Act, parental responsibility includes many elements of a child’s development, including their language, spirituality, religion, education, and health. Parental responsibility under the Family Law Act applies to both legally married and common-law parents.

Parenting Time (Access)

The amount of time a child spends with each parent after the parents separate, as determined by an agreement or court order. Formerly called “access”, parenting time is governed by the federal Divorce Act (only for parents who were legally married) and the Family Law Act of British Columbia (which applies both to married/formerly married and common-law spouses).


In British Columbia, a person who is or was legally married to their partner or who has lived with their partner continuously in a marriage-like relationship (“common-law”) for a certain period of time (for the purposes of property division, two years).