When can you change a final order?

Provincial Court
Supreme Court

If things change in your life, you can apply to change an order anytime after it's made. This is also called varying an order.

If you have a final order and you'd like to get it changed, first ask yourself if you and your spouse are likely to agree about the changes.

You can't change everything in the order. The court:

  • only allows certain changes, and
  • has to be sure that the changes are being made for the right reasons.

The court will look at:

  • the type of order you have, and
  • what changes you want.

It will then use a set of rules to help it decide what it will change.

For example:

  • If you have a parenting order, the court needs to see that it would be in the best interests of the child to change the order.
  • If you have a support order and you've lost your job, the court would look at ordering a new amount of support for you.

Usually, the court wants to see that there's been a significant change in your life before it decides that you need a different order. See the tables below for more information about the different rules and guidelines on what can be changed.

How do you change a final order?

Usually you need to apply to the court that made the original order. See Change a family order in Supreme Court if you can't both agree or Change a family order in Provincial Court if you can't both agree for more about this.

If you want to change an interim order, see Can you change an interim order? on the page Final and interim court orders.

Changing an order isn't the same as appealing an order. You can only appeal an order to a higher court if you think the judge has made a mistake about the facts or the law. (See Canada's Court System to find out more about which courts are higher courts.) You don't have much time to bring an appeal, so act fast. See Can you appeal an order? to find out more about this.

What act was your order made under?

A judge (or master) uses certain tests (almost like a checklist) to change an order. The test the judge or master uses depends on:

Usually your order will say what act it was made under.

Here's a list of tips to help you work out which act your order was made under:

  • If you applied for a divorce, and the order doesn't say anything about which act your order was made under, the law assumes it was made under the Divorce Act.
  • If your order was for parenting time or allocation of parental responsibilities, it was made under the Family Law Act.
  • If you were living together in a marriage-like relationship (but you weren't married), your order was made under the Family Law Act.

How does the court decide to change an order?

The tables below list the things the court will think about before it decides if an order should be changed. There's one table for orders made under the Family Law Act and one for orders made under the Divorce Act.

Read them to see if they apply to you before you start a court application. The changes in circumstances you're giving as reasons to change the order must be major changes.

If you're trying to change the amount of child or spousal support, check the Federal Child Support Guidelines or the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines first.

See Child support for information about the child support guidelines.
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 agrees that there's been a material change in the child's needs or circumstances since the order was made. (This could include a change in the circumstances of another person involved, such as the parents.) The court must agree that:

  • the change has affected the child's needs or the parents' ability to meet the child's basic needs, and
  • that no one expected these changes to happen when the order was first made.

Contact with a child

(section 60)

If the court agrees that 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 the changes affect the amount of support that would be paid under the child support guidelines (for example, the [define:payor's] income has gone up or down and the amount of child support should change).
  • 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 anything in your spouse's life has changed (for example, their income or bills have gone up or down, or they've remarried).
  • If you have important evidence that wasn't available before.
  • If financial information was missing and not discovered until after the order was made.

(Note: Section 17 of the Divorce Act is used to decide about all applications to change an order.)

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

If anything in the child's life has changed (for example, the parent with custody has lost their job and can't pay rent, or they want to move to a different town without the child). But the court will only consider the change if they decide it's in the best interests of the child.

Child support

If the changes affect what would be payable under the child support guidelines (for example, the [define:payor's] income has gone up or down and the amount of child support should change).

Spousal support

If anything in the other person's life has changed (for example, their income or bills have gone up or down, or they've remarried).