Separation/Divorce

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Separation happens when you are in a ‘couple’ relationship, like a marriage or common law relationship, and you and your spouse or partner decide that you are going to live ‘separate and apart.’ This means that you are no longer going to live together as a couple. Usually separated spouses or partners live in different homes. Sometimes they stay in the same home, because of child-care or money issues, and have separate areas for sleeping, and do not share in daily activities together. Whether or not you are considered to be ‘separated’ in this kind of situation will depend on all of the facts.

If one spouse or partner leaves the relationship with the intention of ending it, the couple is separated, whether or not the other person agrees. You cannot force your spouse or partner to remain in the relationship because you do not want to separate from them.

You do not apply to the court to be separated. There is no such thing as being ‘legally separated’ in Canada. Some spouses use the term 'legally separated' to refer to the fact that they have a signed separation agreement settling their family law problems with one another. Having a signed separation agreement does not mean that spouses are divorced. You are married until you are granted a divorce by the court, even if you have a separation agreement. If you choose, you can have a lawyer write a separation agreement for you. Or , you can apply to the court for an order dealing with related issues, like parenting arrangements (custody/access), child support, or spousal support. You are not required to do any of these things, though, to be separated.

Married couples usually have to be separated for one year before they can apply for divorce. Divorce is the formal, legal end to a marriage, and requires filing a court application with specific documents.

Common law couples do not get divorced, but can get a separation agreement or court order put in place to deal with the issues resulting from their separation, if they choose.

It is always a good idea to speak with a family law lawyer to get advice about your rights and obligations when you separate from your spouse or partner, or if you are applying for a divorce, even if both you and your spouse or partner agree on all of the issues.

On this website, people who were in a common law relationship together are generally referred to as 'partners.' People who were in a marriage together are generally referred to as 'spouses.'

If you never lived with the other person, and were not married to them, but you have children together, this section does not apply to you. Instead, you can find information about parenting arrangements (custody/access) here.

Use the menu on the left or click any of the links below for more information:

Common law relationships (including common law separation)

Separation & Divorce (for married couples)


If you are separating from your partner, or are involved with, or going to be involved with, the court, it is always a good idea to speak with a lawyer. Click here for information about legal support and advice options in Nova Scotia, including no- and low-cost services.