Newfoundland & Labrador Custody Court Process

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Provincial Court and the Supreme Court make orders about family matters, like parenting, divorce and child support arrangements.

If you reach an agreement, you may not need to involve a court. You can draft a parenting plan (aka custody agreement) with the other parent, with or without the help of a lawyer. From there, you have two options to handle your agreement: hold onto it or have the court turn it into a consent order. (Simply filing the agreement is not an option in NL.)

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If you can't agree, follow the steps below to get a divorce or parenting order. You'll be able to exit the court process if you reach an agreement.

It's highly recommended that you consult with a lawyer before starting the court process.

Choosing the right court

The court that hears your case depends on where you live and your case type.

St. John's has a unified family court (Supreme Court — Family Division) that hears all family cases.

Outside of St. John's, the Supreme Court can handle divorce and all other family cases, while the Provincial Court can only handle child custody and partner and child support cases for parents who've never married.

In some areas, partners who've never married can ask for custody and support orders in the Supreme Court. If you have a choice between the two courts and you need to resolve a property dispute, you'll go to Supreme Court.

Filing in the wrong court can delay your case. Consult with a lawyer, legal aid office or your local court to ensure you're filing in the right one.

Starting your case

Fill out and file an application to request an order from your court.

Locate the forms you'll need on the court website:

Emergency applications

Though rarely awarded, you can request an emergency interim order if any of the following is true:

  • There's an immediate risk of your child being taken outside of the jurisdiction.
  • The safety of the child or another person (including yourself) is in immediate danger.
  • There would be "immediate and irreversible consequences" if you didn't get an order.

The Supreme Court form to request an emergency order is available online. For the Provincial Court form, contact your local court.

Attach your request to a completed application (see links in the next section) and hand the documents in at the court nearest you. You don't have to notify the other parent at this point if any of the following apply:

  • Giving notice could potentially put you or your child in danger.
  • The issue is too urgent or notice is inappropriate for another reason.
  • Notice is unnecessary based on what you're asking for.

The court will grant an emergency order if your circumstances qualify. You can expect to get a hearing date from the court about seven days after you receive the order. You'll have to notify the other parent of the hearing date so they may defend themselves in court.

The judge may extend or terminate the order based on the evidence presented at the hearing. The order will remain in effect until the court allows a modification or a final order is made in your case.

Standard applications

Fill out your court's application:

If your case is in Supreme Court, you may also attach an interim application to ask for an order that sets out arrangements for custody, support, etc. during your case. You'll need permission (called leave) to request one before the case management conference.

You must ask permission before requesting an interim order in Provincial Court. (Check the box that says "leave to file an Application for an Interim Order" on your application.)

If you're asking for child support, you may need to provide financial information.

  • In Supreme Court, fill out a Financial Statement if you're asking for support beyond the guideline amount or are requesting a shared or split parenting arrangement.
  • In Provincial Court, consult paragraph 13 of the Supporting Affidavit to find out which forms you'll need to provide. See the Financial Information Sheet for more information.

Filing your paperwork

Hand in your paperwork at the court closest to where a parent lives — unless you're filing for child support, in which case you'll go to the court nearest where your child lives.

Then, you must give the other parent copies through a process called service. Some courts have unique rules for service, so it's best to contact the court prior.

If your case is in Provincial Court, you can hand deliver the paperwork and a Provincial Court Notice to the other parent. In the Supreme Court, a friend, family member or professional process server must serve your paperwork and a Supreme Court Notice. (If the notice won't open, try a different browser.)

Afterward, the server will fill out an Affidavit of Service, which you must file with the court as proof of service.

The other parent will have 30 days to file a response stating whether they agree or disagree with what you're asking for.

If they agree, the judge can order your requested terms to end your case.

If they disagree, your case will proceed through the following steps.

If the other parent doesn't respond in time, the court may award you what you requested without their input (so long as the terms are in the child's best interests).

Family Justice Services

After your application is on file, the court will refer your case to Family Justice Services (FJS). FJS helps parents resolve parenting and child support disagreements for free, without court intervention.

The agency will screen your case and can refer you to counselling or mediation based on the results. If you're referred, you must attend.

All parents must attend the Parent Information Program session offered through FJS.

Case management meeting

If your case is not fit for mediation or mediation is unsuccessful, the court will schedule a case management meeting.

You'll discuss:

  • What has happened thus far (e.g., documents exchanged)
  • The possibility of settlement
  • Whether the case is ready for a final hearing (also called a trial)
  • Evidence, witnesses, and other final hearing matters
  • Estimated time needed for the final hearing
  • Orders needed before the final hearing
  • The next steps in your case

You must provide full financial disclosure if your case involves the division of assets, property, debts, etc. You'll continue to request and exchange information until your final hearing.

You may set dates for your hearing if settlement is not a possibility.

Settlement conference

You may attend a settlement conference before the case proceeds to a final hearing. You and the other parent, along with your lawyers, will appear before a judge to attempt to negotiate an agreement. These conferences are less common in Provincial Court and only available in some court locations. The conference may be mandatory for you.

Before the settlement conference, parents must provide one another and the court with up-to-date financial information.

You'll talk over your respective positions, then try to find areas of compromise. The lawyers can draft any agreements reached. The judge may ask the court reporter to draft terms for parents without lawyers.

If some or all issues are still in dispute, you'll proceed toward your hearing.

Final hearing (trial)

Most cases settle to avoid a final hearing. When settlement isn't possible, the judge makes the final decision.

During a hearing, each side presents arguments and evidence to a judge. You must exchange all evidence and all requested documents by the time the hearing starts.

A hearing can last a couple of days or a few weeks depending on how many issues are at hand. Prior to the start, you'll estimate how much time you'll need. If your hearing requires more time than estimated, there will be a delay in your case as you'll have to wait for additional court dates to open up.

Final orders

The judge concludes the case by signing the final order.

If the case involved parents who were strongly at odds, the order usually includes a specific parenting time schedule. Otherwise, the order may be more general. For example, the order may just specify which days the child will be in each parent's care without exact times.

If you disagree with the judge's decision, you can file an appeal.

You may need to modify your parenting order as your children get older or if there are other changes, like a parent moving.

Resources to help you get started

Although it is possible to represent yourself in court, hiring a lawyer is recommended. They have the legal knowledge to help you navigate the court system.

If you cannot afford a lawyer, look into legal aid services.

Be sure to do your own research as well:

Throughout your case

During the court process, you may need to create a parenting plan, draft parenting time schedules, keep a log of interactions with the other parent and more.

The Custody X Change online app enables you to do all of this in one place.

With a parenting plan template, customizable parenting calendars, a digital journal and more, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to parenting in two households.

Take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts of your case.

Our professional sources

The following professionals helped us understand Newfoundland and Labrador family law and may be able to help you, too.

Central Law
Erika Breen Hearn
Gander, NL

Curtis Dawe Lawyers
Shane R. Belbin
St John's, NL

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