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A Divorce Lawyer answers the Question: What is Family Law? 

Meet John and Susan. They are deciding about whether or not their problem is a family law problem or not. John and Susan are the parents to Lucy. Lucy is 11 years old. John and Susan, for the life of them, cannot agree upon a parenting plan for Lucy. 

This is where it is disheartening. We would hope that John and Susan could come up with a plan for Lucy without resorting to the courts and having family law coming into play. Yet, they cannot.

Here is the problem. John and Susan have totally different ideas regarding how to parent and each of them thinks the other is a terrible parent. John wants Lucy to be home schooled and does not believe in the public education system. Susan thinks that Lucy needs to be exposed to many different other children and the demands of our society. She does not think home schooling offers Lucy enough of an opportunity to learn the "hard knocks" that life offers. 

Because of their differing parenting beliefs, John and Susan have turned to the courts so that a Judge will tell them what is family law as it relates to what is going to happen for Lucy. 

Unlike John and Susan, most parents who separate do not have to resort to the courts. 

When looking at what is family law, we see that family law deals not only with parenting plans, but other areas like asset division and support matters.

Family law is the area of law that utilizes formal court orders or legally binding agreements. It answers questions for clients such as:    

  • How are we going to support ourselves financially now that we are dividing our household from one to two?
  • What is the parenting schedule going to look like for our kids?
  • How are we going to make decisions about our kids?
  • How are we going to divide our assets?
  • What are we going to do about our debt?
  • How does the BC Family Law Act affect us as separated spouses?

The questions above, are really a nice way of saying focusing on such legal terms as spousal support, child support, parenting plans, parenting responsibilities, and asset and debt division. The legal part of separation is what family law is all about.

The answers to the above questions can be reached in a relatively informal process like a negotiation or 4-way meeting. Even though the process can be informal, the ultimate result is formal, in that the parties can enter into a legally binding and enforceable agreement. 

Other times, these questions will be answered for the parties by a judge.

For example, like John and Susan, some parents cannot, for the life of them (or the benefit of their children), agree on ANYTHING. They cannot agree on where the children will live, how often they will see each parent, what school the kids should go to, or even who should be making these decisions in the first place.

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What is Family Law?

One area that parents may need help from their lawyers is about determining how they will exercise the various parental responsibilities and what is in their children's best interest.

What are the parental responsibilities? Will you share the parental responsibilities with the other parent? What if you are sure you will not be able to agree on anything significant with the other parent? Do you ask for the parental responsibilities to be borne by you solely so you don’t have to engage with the other parent? You may have heard of a parenting coordinator and you may want to know if a parenting coordinator can help you and the other parent with exercising parental responsibilities.

Other areas people need help with may be assisting them with child support applications (or responding to such claims), finding out if someone is entitled to or will have to pay spousal support, finding out whether or not the parties are going to have to sell their family home now that they are separating, finding out whether or not one parent can get some financial assistance from the other parent when they have found out their child needs braces, or finding out how a parent who is away a lot from time to time (as when they are in the military), can parent their kids when they are in town.

Not only do people need help with areas in what is family law such as this, they also can be helped in various different ways. For example, just because someone hires a lawyer to assist them, it does not necessarily mean they are going to end up in a courtroom in front of a judge in a trial. In fact, we would say that most of the time we are able to avoid trial. When looking at what is family law, lawyers can assist with not only your court case, but with the mediation process, negotiating with your ex-spouse and their lawyer in a 4-way meeting, or even simply attending a settlement conference with you to bring you closer towards resolution.


By Val Hemminger, Family Law lawyer at Hemminger Law Group Westshore.

Hemminger Law Group Westshore - Lawyers with heart! Providing Family law and Personal Injury law services to the Westshore and beyond (Langford, Colwood, View Royal, Sooke, and Victoria)!