Child Custody & Divorce Court Process in Nova Scotia
In Nova Scotia, the Supreme Court's Family Division handles cases for divorce and parenting arrangements.
Parenting arrangements refer to the following:
- Parenting time: Time parents spend with their children
- Decision-making authority: The right to make decisions on a child's behalf
- Contact: Time someone other than a parent spends with a child
- Interaction: Contact with the child that is not in person (e.g., talking to them on the phone)
Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.
If both parents agree on parenting arrangements, you don't have to go to court about them. However, it's recommended you ask the court to approve your agreement in case a parent doesn't follow it. The only way to divorce is through court.
Every case is different, and processes vary by court and judge. However, you will likely follow a process similar to the one below.
Before you start a case
Preparation is essential to your case.
You can do research on your own:
- How to Prepare for Divorce
- Best Evidence for Child Custody
- Before Court: Preparing Your Case and Preparing Yourself
- Canada's Divorce Act
- Nova Scotia's Parenting and Support Act
- Nova Scotia's Family Court Rules
A lawyer or legal aid office can also guide you.
If you're without a lawyer and not divorcing, your court may require you to attend an intake session before filing an application. You will learn about the court process and where to get help. You can register for in-person intake at the court nearest you or attend an online session (no registration necessary).
Out-of-court dispute resolution
Parents are encouraged to try to settle before going to court, so long as it is safe. Learn more about alternative dispute resolution methods to find which will work best for you.
Registering your agreement or getting a consent order
If you reach an agreement, you can register it with the court or ask the court to write its terms into a consent order. In either case, the agreement becomes legally enforceable, meaning you can take the other parent to court if they disobey its terms.
Nova Scotia Family Law's guide to registering an agreement will help you. If your agreement is approved by a judge, each parent will receive a certified copy of the agreement in the mail.
Typically, parents get consent orders when they reach a settlement during a court case. Consult with a lawyer to learn how to request a consent order from the court.
It's recommended that you hire a lawyer to write your agreement, although you can do it yourself. If you have kids, you'll draft a parenting plan. If you're divorcing, the plan will be part of your separation agreement. A judge may refuse to approve your parenting plan if the terms aren't in the child's best interests.
Starting a case
If you want a court order, you'll need to start a court case. Fill out an application or petition.
Urgent or emergency cases
You can apply for an urgent or emergency order if you have a matter that needs immediate attention.
It's up to the court what qualifies as urgent or emergency. Urgent orders address nonemergency issues that can't wait for a standard court order. Emergency orders are necessary when there's an immediate danger to the child's well-being.
Due to the volume of cases in the Family Division of the Supreme Court, urgent and emergency orders are typically reserved for Child Protection cases.
To request either type of order, fill out a Notice of Motion for Interim Relief (Word download) in addition to the documents for standard cases below. You'll detail the urgent or emergency issue in an Affidavit (Word download).
The court officer will schedule a hearing if your situation qualifies. A judge will review your case at the hearing and issue an order if they find it necessary.
Find your case type below and follow the instructions:
- Guide to applying for parenting arrangements (without divorce)
- Guide to starting a contested or uncontested divorce
- Forms for applying for child support
If parenting arrangements are in dispute, you must fill out a parenting statement (Word download). This explains your current parenting time arrangement and the new arrangement you believe would be best for your child. You can attach a parenting plan to propose arrangements for matters other than parenting time.
Take your forms to the Supreme Court closest to where your child lives. You'll pay a fee to hand in your forms for every case except child support. You can ask the court to waive the fees if you cannot afford it.
Filling out forms incorrectly can delay your case. This is one of many reasons why it's recommended you hire a lawyer. Those with low incomes may qualify for free or reduced-cost legal services through legal aid.
Service is the delivery of documents to the other person involved in your case.
An adult who is not part of your case must hand deliver copies of the documents you filed with the court to the other parent. They'll fill out an Affidavit of Service for you to hand in to the court as proof of service. The person served will then have 15 days to respond.
After the other parent responds, you can request a 30-minute conference call with a judge.
During the call, the judge clarifies the outstanding issues, how much court time is necessary, and what information parents need to disclose, among other procedural matters.
What happens next depends on your case. The judge may:
- Schedule another conference
- Give you time to hire a lawyer
- Send you to court-based dispute resolution
- Schedule a case management conference if your case is complex
- Schedule a pretrial conference if your case is ready for trial
Court-based dispute resolution
The following methods offered by the Supreme Court Family Division can help parents negotiate an agreement.
Conciliation is free to litigants in nondivorce cases who do not have lawyers.
During conciliation (also called assisted dispute resolution) parents meet with a court officer who helps them identify the issues they need to address and improve communication. The conciliator cannot give legal advice.
If you reach an agreement, the conciliator will draft a consent order. After each parent signs the document, they have 10 days to object. If there's no objection, the conciliator will forward the order to the judge to ask for their approval. You will receive a copy of the order in the mail if the judge approves.
If there's no agreement, the court officer may refer you to mediation or a settlement conference, or advise you to consult a lawyer.
At a settlement conference, parents and their lawyers (if they have them) meet with a judge to attempt to negotiate a settlement.
If you reach a settlement, your lawyers can write up the terms. If you don't have a lawyer, the court may ask the court reporter to write it up for you. The judge can sign off on the agreement, making it a consent order and ending your case.
Going to a trial
If you're unable to reach an agreement, you'll start planning for a trial. You'll need to gather evidence, attend conferences and set dates for the occasion.
Note that you must take a Parenting Information Program course to get an order through a trial. Take it well in advance of your trial to show the judge that you're on top of things.
Discovery is the exchange and collection of information to help each side build their case. Discovery spans several months and can continue up to the trial if new information emerges.
Each side requests and provides documents that will help support their arguments.
Discovery may involve the out-of-court questioning of witnesses. Your lawyer (or you if you don't have one) will write a list of questions for a witness to answer. The witness will answer the questions under oath in the presence of a court reporter. You can then use their responses to support your case.
Voice of the child report
The court may ask a professional to prepare a voice of the child report to learn more about the child's wishes and needs.
In the lead-up to trial, you may have to attend any of the following:
- Case management conference: The judge manages the case to guide it toward trial.
- Pretrial conference: You'll discuss the issues in your case to see whether you can settle some or all of them. If not, you'll prepare for a trial.
- Settlement conference: After a pretrial conference, the judge may schedule a settlement conference to try again to reach a settlement.
- Date assignment conference: When the case is ready for trial, you'll meet with the trial judge to discuss witnesses and more.
At a trial, parents (or their lawyers) present arguments and evidence in support of what they're asking for.
Witnesses — those with firsthand knowledge related to allegations made by either side — answer questions under oath. Witnesses can include the parents themselves, family members, friends and experts.
The trial also involves documentary evidence like documents, videos and photos to support claims.
Once both sides have finished presenting their cases, the judge makes a decision. How the judge informs you depends on what they prefer. They may tell you their decision the same day, call you back at a later date to give you their decision or send you a written decision in the mail.
Final orders spell out the judge's decisions.
When you're granted a divorce, you usually get two orders: a divorce order and a corollary relief order covering matters like parenting arrangements and child support.
If you're not divorcing, your final order comes in the form of a parenting plan.
You may need to modify your order as your child gets older.
Throughout your case
The Custody X Change online app enables you to do all of this in one place.
With customizable parenting calendars, a parenting plan template, 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 Nova Scotia family law and may be able to help you, too.
Christopher I. Robinson