Family Law Dictionary You’ll hear a lot of new words when your parents are separating or divorcing. But what do those words mean?

Dictionary-small Below is a list of some of the words that you may hear mentioned when your parents are separating or divorcing. They are explained so that you can better understand these words, and what they mean for you.


This is sometimes called visitation. It means the time that you spend with a parent, a grandparent, or a guardian who you don’t normally live with.

Age of Majority

This is the age when a young person is considered an adult. In Newfoundland and Labrador you are considered an adult at 19 years of age.

Best Interests of the Child

Any decisions made about a young person by a judge have to be made in the best interests of that young person. This means that a young person’s needs and well being are always the most important considerations. This is especially important when making decisions about custody or access. Decisions must be made based on what is best for the child, not what is best for either of the parents.

Child Protection

When parents cannot properly care for their children, child protection social workers may become involved. This could happen for any number of reasons. The child protection social workers will look at how they can help the family and offer support. The most important job of the child protection social workers is to make sure that children are safe and taken care of. 

Child Support

This is the money one parent pays to the other parent of a child to help to pay for things like housing, food, clothing and other basic living expenses for their child.


A counsellor is a person who is professionally trained to talk with you and/or your family about issues or problems.


If separating parents are not able to agree on decisions relating to their separation or divorce, they may have to go to Family Court so a judge can make a decision for them. Children do not normally have to go to court. 

Court Order

A decision by a judge that is written down. The order says what each person can or can’t do and what they must or must not do. Court orders must be followed by everyone who is involved. Court orders can be changed by going back to the judge and asking for a change, but only if there is good reason.


This means the care, supervision, and responsibility that a parent has for their child. A parent who has custody of a child is responsible for making important decisions about a child’s life, such as decisions about education, health care and religion. There are two main types of custody: joint custody and sole custody. 


The process of legally ending a marriage.

Emergency Protection Order

This is a court order that says that a person must stay away from certain people and/or follow certain conditions. Such an order can be given in cases of family violence between adult partners, such as parents. Disobeying an emergency protection order is against the law.

Family Violence

Abuse that occurs between family members.

Joint Custody

Joint custody means that both parents make major decisions about their child together. It does not mean that you always live with both parents an equal amount of time (although that is sometimes the case).


The person who makes decisions in court. A Family Court judge makes decisions about parenting arrangements, child support payments, and where children live.


A collection of rules that people use to settle disagreements with one another.


Instead of going to court to ask a judge to make decisions, parents can meet with a person (a mediator) who will help the parents talk about the issues or problems they have and see if there are ways to work them out, without having to go to court.

Parenting Arrangement

This is an arrangement normally decided upon by parents about how they will take care of children after they separate. Such an arrangement is normally written down and includes things such as how much time you will spend with each parent and the things each parent will do to take care of you.

Peace Bond

This is a court order that says that a person must follow certain conditions. These conditions may state that he or she must stay away from certain people (possibly including family members) and stay away from certain places such as the family home or where a parent works. Disobeying the conditions in a peace bond is a crime.


When parents who are living together decide they don’t want to live together anymore.

Separation Agreement

This is a written agreement that some separated parents will sign that decides how some issues like parenting arrangements and child support will be dealt with after their relationship as a couple ends.

Social Worker

This is a trained professional who works to protect children and families and to offer information and support. Social workers sometimes have to go to court to help protect children.

Sole Custody

This means one parent has full legal responsibility for their child and will make all of the major decisions about school, activities, health care, and religion. The parent can make decisions without having to check with the other parent.


Speaking in court and telling the judge what has happened to you or what you’ve seen. A person testifying in court has to promise to tell the truth. They might do this by swearing an oath on a Bible or another religious book or affirming an oath that they are promising to tell the truth. 

Trusted Adult

An adult that you feel safe and comfortable talking to, including about questions or worries you might have about things happening in your family.

Victim Services

This is an organization that offers information, help, and support to victims of crime and children who go to testify in court.