When can you change a final order?

If you have a final order and you'd like to get it changed, first ask yourself whether or not you and your ex-spouse would agree to the changes.

If you can agree, you can apply for a consent order and avoid going to court. For our step-by-step guide on how to get a consent order, see How to change a family order in Supreme Court if you agree. And if you don't agree, there are people who can help you come to an agreement, such as mediators. See our fact sheet Who can help you reach an agreement?

If agreement isn't possible, you'll have to apply to the court to change the order. The court will allow only certain changes, however. The general rule is that there must have been a significant change in your situation, and that another order would be more appropriate. So if you have a parenting order, it would be in the best interests of the child to replace the order; if you have a support order, a new guideline amount would apply. The tables below contain more information about the specific tests the court will apply.

In most cases, you apply to the court that made the original order. For our step-by-step guide, see How to change a family order if you and your spouse can't agree.

(For changing interim orders, see the section "Can I change an interim order?" in the fact sheet All about court orders.)

Important: Appealing an order is very different from changing an order. You appeal an order to a higher court when you think the judge has made a mistake about the facts or the law. You have a short period of time in which to bring an appeal. (See Can you appeal an order?) You can apply to change an order anytime (and you go back to the same court where you got your original order). Usually, you change an order because the circumstances have changed.

What act was my order made under?

The specific tests a judge (or master) will use to change an order are different depending on the type of order and whether the order was made under the Family Law Act or the Divorce Act. Usually your order will say what act the judge made the order under. If it doesn't, consider the following:

  • If you applied for a divorce, the law assumes the order was made under the Divorce Act, even if you applied for parenting or support orders under the Family Law Act (or the old Family Relations Act). (Section 17 of the Divorce Act governs all applications to change an order.)
  • If your order was for parenting time or allocation of parental responsibilities, your order was made under the Family Law Act.
  • If you were unmarried (but living together in a marriage-like relationship), your order was made under the Family Law Act.

What are the legal tests to change an order?

The charts below set out the tests the court will use to decide if an order should be changed. Consider whether these apply to your situation before going to the trouble and expense of a court application. Remember, the changes referred to must be significant. Minor changes will not result in a change to a court order.

If you're looking to change the amount of child or spousal support, always check the Federal Child Support Guidelines or the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines first. See our fact sheet on child support guidelines to find out how much child support you should be paying or receiving, and the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines to find out the range of reasonable spousal support.

Important: A judge can decide not to change the child support to match the guidelines if your order was made under the Divorce Act and had other provisions for child support, such as special or extraordinary expenses.

Family Law Act

Type of order When will a court change, suspend, or terminate a court order?

Parenting arrangements
(allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time)
(see section 47 of the Family Law Act)

If the court is satisfied that the child's needs or circumstances have changed since the order was made. This could include a change in the circumstances of another person involved, such as the parents.
Contact with a child
(section 60)
If the child's needs and circumstances have changed since the order was made. This could include a change in the circumstances of another person involved, such as the parent with contact.
Child support
(section 152)
  • If circumstances change according to the child support guidelines, usually because the payor's income has gone up or down and another amount of child support should be paid.
  • If you have important evidence that wasn't available before.
  • If financial information was missing and not discovered until after the order was made.
Spousal support
(section 167)
  • If the conditions, finances, needs, or other circumstances of either spouse have changed.
  • If you have important evidence that wasn't available before.
  • If financial information was missing and not discovered until after the order was made.

Divorce Act

(Section 17 of the Divorce Act governs all applications to change an order.)

Type of order When will a court change, suspend, or terminate a court order?
Custody

If the conditions, finances, needs, or other circumstances of the child have changed. The court will consider the change only if it's in the best interests of the child.

Child support

If circumstances change according to the child support guidelines, usually because the payor's income has gone up or down and another amount of child support should be paid.

Spousal support

If the conditions, finances, needs, or other circumstances of either spouse have changed.

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