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Family Law Definiton
Divorce & Separation

Family Law Definition

In Canada, family law is governed by federal and provincial laws (statue and case law) that deal with family related legal issues, including marriage, separation and divorce, custody and access, child protection, division of property, support and adoption. The area of family law often includes financial negotiations, inheritance issues and the drafting and interpretation of prenuptial contracts and separation agreements.


Primarily statute-based, family law is largely codified within statues including the federal Divorce Act, which applies to married people residing in Canada. Issues such as the division of family property, child protection and custody and support matters between people who are not married are governed by statutes which vary from province to province.


Family lawyers represent clients in court and in settlement negotiations and they prepare prenuptial, separation, divorce and custody agreements in the appropriate circumstances. Family lawyers are trained to resolve disputes between parties through a number of dispute-resolution mechanisms, including litigation (bringing a matter to court and asking a judge to make a determination) and negotiating with opposing counsel. Some lawyers are also trained in mediation (assisting the parties, in a non-partisan manner, to reach agreements on the issues).


In recent years, some Canadian family lawyers have received training in Collaborative Family Law. Collaborative Family Law is a process in which the parties and their lawyers make a formal commitment to resolve the dispute using an interest-based model rather than a ligation model. Clients engage lawyers to reach a settlement, but if the process breaks down, the lawyer must withdraw from the case. The collaborative process relies on principled negotiation techniques.


Oftentimes, a family lawyer helps clients through the most difficult time in their lives. In the middle of family legal disputes, clients’ emotions tend to run high especially in cases of physical abuse or adultery. A good family lawyer not only possesses extensive knowledge of the law but also exceptional “people skills” and the ability to help clients navigate the complex legal realities of transitioning families.

Contracts and Cohabitation Agreements

Our family lawyers are skilled at reviewing, negotiating and drafting marriage contracts and cohabitation agreements. Taking the step to move in with a loved one or to get married is a big commitment. Many people do not fully understand the financial implications of living with a partner or getting married. Our lawyers believe it is important for all parties taking these steps to understand the legal rights and responsibilities that come along with it.

CLE Family lawyers provide thorough advice regarding the rights and responsibilities that arise and assist clients to create a mutually agreeable contract, containing terms that address their assets and incomes in ways with which they are comfortable. Whether the assets and other considerations are relatively straightforward, or highly complex, taking the time to plan at the outset can save untold cost, stress and time later on, should the relationship come to an end.

Divorce and Separation

The breakdown of a relationship is difficult for all parties. This is compounded when factoring in the numerous decisions that lay ahead with respect to custody and access, the division of assets, support, and matrimonial home considerations. Our lawyers use their considerable knowledge and skills to guide and advise clients through these decisions with compassion and professionalism.

CLE Family lawyers work with clients on a comprehensive plan for their separation and divorce, negotiating all relevant factors with the other party in an effort to eliminate the need to engage in costly and time-consuming litigation.

Disclosure of Assets and Hidden Assets

The disclosure of assets is an important factor in nearly all family law matters. Failure to disclose finances and assets can lead undesirable and costly consequences being imposed by the court. In situations where the other party appears less than forthright with respect to their own disclosure, our lawyers can do everything possible to uncover hidden assets, and may engage the assistance of experts where necessary. Disclosure of assets may be a relatively straightforward process, or it can be complicated by the existence of trust arrangements, business holdings and more. Our lawyers are experienced in navigating these situations, and will work with our clients each step of the way, no matter how simple or complex his or her particular circumstances are.

Child and Spousal Support

In family law, cohabitation within or outside marriage is viewed as a financial partnership. When a relationship ends, financial assistance, in the form of either child or spousal support, may be payable from one spouse to the other.

The federal and provincial rules and guidelines that provide the framework for child and spousal support can be complex. Our lawyers will explain the law to help you navigate this sometimes-complicated process and advocate for our clients’ rights through negotiation, mediation, arbitration and litigation. We offer customized, creative, forward-thinking and where appropriate, tax-driven solutions, and take pride in delivering superior service with care and compassion.

Child Support

Child support is calculated based on Federal or sometimes provincial Child Support Guidelines ("CSG"). In general, monthly "Table" child support is to cover day-to-day expenses, including food, clothing, and school supplies and is based on the gross annual income of the payor parent and the number of children involved. There are exceptions to the above where the parenting schedule for the children is "shared" or "split" between the parents.

The determination of a payor's income is very important and can be challenging where the payor is self-employed, has variable income, lives in a different jurisdiction, or where income is taxed in different ways than a salaried employee.

Spousal Support

Spousal support (often called “alimony” in some jurisdictions) is paid by one party to another after a relationship ends in separation and/or divorce. While legislation and the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines bring some structure to the process, it remains a complex issue due to the many exceptions and exclusions, as well as the broad discretion of the courts to determine eligibility, amount, and duration of spousal support.

Determining parties' incomes/means and reviewing budgets through the lens of reasonableness is an important skill required of your lawyer. We offer a clear and intelligent approach to this process that is built on experience and expertise. Knowledge is power.

Retroactive Support

In most circumstances, the court system prefers that support issues be addressed in a timely fashion. To prevent applications for a new order or to change an existing order from being filed after many years have passed, support orders are generally only retroactive to the date an applicant starts court proceedings. The issue of establishing or defending against retroactive support is complex and depends on the facts of your situation.

Our team understands the law and factors relating to these claims and provides you with sound advice to assess your case.

Asset and Property Division

In most circumstances, the court system prefers that support issues be addressed in a timely fashion. To prevent applications for a new order or to change an existing order from being filed after many years have passed, support orders are generally only retroactive to the date an applicant starts court proceedings. The issue of establishing or defending against retroactive support is complex and depends on the facts of your situation.

Our team understands the law and factors relating to these claims and provides you with sound advice to assess your case.

Equalization of Net Family Property

Under the Family Law Act, on a breakdown of marriage, the cumulative net worth acquired during the marriage must be equalized as between the spouses. The process of equalizing of the parties' net family property is meant to ensure that spouses are fairly compensated for their contributions to the marriage regardless of legal ownership. If one spouse has accumulated more net family property during the marriage than the other, then that spouse will owe an "equalization payment" to the other to compensate.

Determining the values of assets and liabilities as at the date of marriage and as at the date of separation, which is the date when one or both partners decide to end the marriage or relationship, is the starting point. Other considerations relate to the source of certain assets received during marriage, as being gifts from third parties, inheritances, certain lawsuit proceeds, and insurance proceeds, which assets may be considered differently in the equalization process. Common law and married spouses may also have trust claims against each other in addition to the equalization of net family property.

Financial situations can become more complicated when a couple’s financial portfolio includes complex assets, such as investment properties, pensions, retirement accounts, stock options, trust interests, corporate assets and other more complicated financial assets. We understand what information is needed to value these assets and the particular tax considerations that accompany such assets.

Trust Claims

When common-law spouses separate and seek to divide their assets, they are not governed by the same automatic property regime as married spouses. They are not automatically subject to the equalization of net family property. In certain cases, common-law spouses may have to make "trust claims" for a share of the other's property on the basis of unjust enrichment or based on the contributions to the acquisition, preservation or maintenance of a property. 

Financial Disclosures & Investigations

Whether a couple applies to the court to resolve financial matters or seeks to settle matters through negotiation, the law requires full and complete financial disclosure by both spouses. For the equalization of net family property, both sides must disclose the value of all assets and debts at the date of marriage and the date of separation, and sometimes valuing assets and debts is not as simple as it may seem. Where there is misrepresentation of financial information or concealing of assets, more in-depth investigation is necessary. Agreements that are based on misrepresentation of financial information may be voidable by the courts. Agreements based on proper disclosure are more difficult to set aside.

Contracts & Agreements
Disclosure of Assets
Child & Spousal Support
Child Support
Spousal Support
Retroactive Support
Asset & Property Division
Family Property
Trust Claims
Financial Disclosures

Finding the best resolutions for your family with an experienced Canada Law Expert

Our CLE Family Lawyers know that family law issues can come up when you least expect them, and that they are often combined with emotional concerns. With our knowledge and experience we strive to make the legal process as straightforward as possible for you, ensuring that your interests are protected. CLE lawyers are at the forefront of developments in family law. We can help you address all of your family law issues using the best resolution process for your particular situation.

We can provide you with continuity of service by working as a cohesive unit. This means when you hire one of our family lawyers, you get the support of our entire team if and when it is needed. If your lawyer is away, another of our lawyers will be available to assist you. It also means that our legal services and fees will reflect the complexity of your issue. Members of our group have appeared before all levels of courts and tribunals, and have contributed to precedents that have helped Canadian family law evolve to meet today’s values.

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