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Commonly Used Terms in a Family Law Proceeding – What do they mean?

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  • Applicant: The party who commences the family law proceeding.
  • Respondent: The party who is responding to the family law proceeding (but may also be making claims of their own).


The 3 documents that form the basis for each party’s claims and the various issues that are in dispute in the proceeding, namely the Application, Answer and Reply.

  • A family law proceeding is commenced by the Applicant with an Application.
  • The Respondent then responds with an Answer.
  • If there are any claims made by the Respondent that the Applicant did not address in his or her Application, he or she may file a Reply.

Case Conference

This is the first substantive attendance in a family law proceeding. Both parties attend, with their respective counsel (if represented), before judge to discuss the various issues in dispute in the proceeding. The judge assists the parties in these discussions in a mediator-like role to set up timelines for disclosure and next steps in the proceeding, canvass the merits of each party’s claims and/or negotiate settlements on both an interim and final basis. All discussions at the case conference are “without prejudice”, meaning they cannot be referenced unless and until the issue that was the subject-matter of the discussions has been adjudicated and/or resolved by some other means. This allows the parties to each put settlement positions forward without concern that he or she will be held to that position if the matter does not settle at that time.


Motions are brought during the course of the proceeding to ask the court to make an order for either a temporary or final decision regarding any issue in dispute including but not limited to custody, access, support or property. A motion includes both written materials (see “Motion Materials” as well as an oral argument before a judge.

Motion Materials

  • Notice of Motion: sets out the orders that you want the court to make.
  • Affidavit(s): a sworn document that details the facts upon which you are relying to request the orders in the Notice of Motion.
  • Factum: legal argument that form the basis for the requested orders including but not limited to legislative provisions, jurisprudence and scholarly articles.

About the Author

Maneesha Mehra is an associate at Goldhart & Associates and joined the firm in February 2015 after practicing at several boutique family law firms in Toronto. She was called to the bar in 2006 after articling with a full-service law firm. Maneesha has experience in civil litigation, but has been practising family law exclusively since January 2008.

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