This page provides definitions of common legal words and phrases used in arbitration, mediation and parenting coordination in family law disputes. For more definitions of legal words and phrases, see the Terminology page in the wikibook JP Boyd on Family Law, published by Clicklaw and Courthouse Libraries BC.

Act:

A written law made by the federal government or a provincial government. Acts are also called “legislation” or “statute law,” and sometimes just “statutes.”

Application:

A party’s request for a direction, order or interim award in an arbitration proceeding.

Arbitration:

A voluntary, confidential, out-of-court dispute resolution process in which the parties to a family law dispute agree to be bound by the decision of a neutral and impartial legal professional, an arbitrator, on the legal issues in their dispute.

Arbitration Act:

A provincial statute setting out certain minimum requirements of arbitration proceedings, including the arbitrator’s duty of fairness, and the court’s role in arbitration proceedings, including when arbitral awards can be appealed to the court. Each province has its own Arbitration Act.

Arbitration agreement:

A participation agreement between the parties to an arbitration appointing the arbitrator for the proceeding, identifying the legal issues to be resolved and addressing a number of technical and procedural issues, including describing how the arbitrator will be paid, preventing the parties from going back to court to address the legal issues and providing that the arbitration will be private and confidential.

Arbitrator:

A legal professional, usually a lawyer, appointed by the parties to an arbitration proceeding to resolve the legal issues in the proceeding.

Argument:

A party’s explanation about how an arbitrator should interpret a particular fact or why the arbitrator should reach a particular decision about the legal issues in an arbitration. An argument may be based on logical reasoning, the law, or both. Arguments may be made orally, in writing, or both.

Award:

The decision of an arbitrator in an arbitration proceeding. An award can be temporary, also called an “interim award,” or it can be final.

Child:

A person under the age of 18 in Alberta or under the age of 19 in British Columbia.

Children’s lawyer:

A lawyer appointed to represent a child in a mediation or an arbitration.

Conference:

A meeting of the arbitrator or mediator, the parties to an arbitration or a mediation, and the lawyers for the parties to address technical and procedural issues in the arbitration or mediation, including clarifying the legal issues to be resolved and the nature of the process that will be used to resolve them.

Consent award:

An award that is made by the arbitrator with the agreement of the parties.

decision-making phase:

The second stage in parenting coordination, in which the parenting coordinator resolves a dispute through an arbitration-like process if the first stage fails to result in a settlement of the dispute.

Direction:

An order of an arbitrator on a procedural issue in an arbitration requiring one or both parties to do or not do something in relation to the arbitration process.

Evaluative mediation

A mediation process in which the mediator provides the parties with an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of their cases, and sometimes an opinion of the likely outcome were the dispute to be resolved by a judge through litigation.

Evidence:

Information and documents presented by the parties to an arbitration that tend to establish a fact relevant to the legal issues to be decided. Evidence provided by a witness may be given orally, in writing, or both.

Expert:

A person with special knowledge or a skill in a subject allowing the person to provide an opinion on facts related to a legal issue in an arbitration. In family law disputes, experts commonly give evidence about parenting arrangements, the value of property and the tax results of dividing property in a certain way.

Fact:

The arbitrator’s conclusions about the relevant events in an arbitration, made after considering the evidence given by the parties in the proceeding and the facts on which the parties are agreed.

Family law AGREEMENT:

A formal written contact that sets out the terms on which the parties to a family law dispute have settled the legal issues in that dispute. Common family law agreements made after a family relationship has ended include parenting agreements, support agreements and property agreements, as well as separation agreements that usually deal with all of the legal issues arising at the end of a family relationship.

Family law dispute:

A dispute about how the legal issues arising from the end of a family relationship should be resolved, which usually includes issues such as how children will be cared for, how decisions about children should be made, whether and how much child support or spousal support should be paid, and how property and debt should be divided.

Final award:

An award that conclusively resolves one or more of the legal issues in an arbitration. An arbitration may result in more than one final award; together, the final awards should resolve all of the legal issues in the family law dispute.

Hearing:

A meeting of the arbitrator, the parties to an arbitration and the lawyers for the parties, in which the parties or their lawyers present arguments and evidence on the facts and the legal issues involved in the family law dispute.

INFORMATION-GATHERING AND AGREEMENT-building PHASE:

The first stage in parenting coordination after a disagreement is brought to the parenting coordinator, in which the parenting coordinator gathers information about the dispute and attempts to resolve the dispute through a mediation-like process.

Interim award:

A temporary award made in an arbitration proceeding that is intended to last only for a short period or until a final award is made.

Legal issue:

A right or responsibility potentially arising from the end of a family relationship about which the parties do not agree, such as a right to receive support and a responsibility to pay it.

Litigation:

An involuntary, public, in-court dispute resolution process in which the parties to a family law dispute are bound by the decision of neutral and impartial legal professional, a judge, on the legal issues in their dispute.

Med-Arb:

A voluntary, confidential, out-of-court dispute resolution process that uses both mediation and arbitration to resolve the legal issues in a family law dispute, usually by attempting mediation first and moving to arbitration if mediation fails to resolve some or all of the legal issues.

Mediation:

A voluntary, confidential, out-of-court dispute resolution process in which the parties to a family law dispute work with a neutral and impartial legal professional, a mediator, to try to reach an agreement settling the legal issues in their dispute.

Mediation agreement:

A participation agreement between the parties to a mediation appointing the mediator for the proceeding, identifying the legal issues to be resolved and addressing a number of technical and procedural issues, including describing how the mediator will be paid, describing the mediator’s duty of fairness and providing that the mediation will be private and confidential.

Mediator:

A legal professional, usually a lawyer, appointed by the parties to a mediation to help them reach an agreement the legal issues in the proceeding.

memorandum of agreement:

A written summary of the key elements of a settlement resolving the legal issues in a family law dispute, usually intended to form the basis of a more detailed court order, to be made with the consent of the parties, or a more detailed family law agreement.

Order:

A direction of an arbitrator in a final award requiring a party to an arbitration proceeding to do or not do something.

PARENTING COORDINATION:

A non-confidential, out-of-court dispute resolution process that uses aspects of both mediation and arbitration to help parents implement the terms of a final court order or final agreement dealing with the parenting of a child. Parents may agree to use parenting coordination or be ordered by the court to use parenting coordination.

PARENTING COORDINATION agreement:

A participation agreement between the parties to a parenting coordination process appointing the parenting coordinator for the proceeding, describing how the parents can bring issues to the parenting coordinator for resolution, outlining the duties of the parents and the duties of the parenting coordinator, and providing that the parenting coordination process is not private or confidential.

PARENTING COORDINATOR:

A legal or mental health professional appointed by the parties or by a court order to help parents implement the terms of a final court order or final agreement dealing with the parenting of a child.

participation agreement:

A formal written contract between the parties to a family law dispute and the independent legal or mental health professional they have hired to help them resolve their dispute out of court, describing the dispute resolution process, the parties’ duties to each other and the legal professional, the legal professional’s duties to the parties and how the legal professional is to paid. Participation agreements are usually required for arbitration, mediation and parenting coordination.

Party:

An adult person whose rights and responsibilities are the subject of a family law dispute.

Rules of evidence:

The rules governing how evidence may be presented in an arbitration and the weight the arbitrator should give to that evidence. The rules of evidence are usually much more flexible in arbitration than they are in litigation.

Rules of procedure:

The formal, written rules that govern the management of an arbitration, including how the arbitration is started, how applications are made, how evidence is presented, the rights the parties have to disclosure and discovery of documents, the appointment of experts and how awards are made.

Settlement:

An agreement of the parties resolving one or more of the legal issues in a family law dispute.

Statement of agreed facts:

A written summary of the relevant facts in a family law dispute about which the parties agree.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child:

An international convention, signed by every country in the world except the United States of America, giving children a number of civil and human rights, including the right to have their wishes heard in legal proceedings affecting their interests.

Waive:

A person’s voluntary surrender of a right or a claim, such as the ability of a party to go to court about a legal issue being resolved through arbitration or mediation.

Witness:

A person, including a party and an expert, who provides oral or written evidence in an arbitration.

Written statement:

The evidence of a witness given in writing in an arbitration, similar to the evidence given in an affidavit in litigation but not provided on the witness’ oath or affirmation.