Changes to the Maintenance and Custody Act and other family law legislation

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The province is helping to safeguard the best interests of children when couples are going through a separation.

The province has proclaimed changes to the Maintenance and Custody Act, which take effect immediately. The act deals with issues of custody, maintenance and access for separating couples where divorce proceedings have not begun or are not relevant.

"Our family-law system must consider the needs of Nova Scotian families, especially children, when a family separates," said Justice Minister Ross Landry. "Taking care of our children must always come first, and these changes will help families and the courts focus on what is best for children."

Changes include:

-- a list of factors for courts to consider when assessing the best interests of a child

-- requiring courts to consider the impact of any family violence, abuse or intimidation when assessing the best interests of a child

-- removing the age cut-off for "dependent children" so children going to college or university may still be eligible for child support

-- establishing a "maximum contact rule," which states a child should have as much contact with each parent, so long as it is in the best interests of the child.

The province began a multi-year review of family laws in 2011.

Family Law Reform Project

February 20, 2013

Nova Scotia is reviewing and improving its family law legislation to make life better for families.

The Department of Justice's Family Law Reform Project is a multi-year targeted review of the province's family laws with the goal of updating the laws, clarifying the laws, and bringing them more into line with other Canadian jurisdictions.  We have just completed Phase I of the project.  In Phase I, the department proposed and consulted on its first package of legislative changes, which focused on improvements to Nova Scotia's custody and access provisions in the Maintenance and Custody Act, amendments to our Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act, and the repeal of a number of outdated statutes no longer in use.  We consulted with the public, other key stakeholders, as well as family law experts on proposed legislative changes and received constructive feedback. Four family law bills were introduced and passed by the Provincial Government in the spring 2012 legislative session:

  • Bill 34: Matrimonial Statutes Repeal Act – This statute repealed the Alimony Act, the Married Women’s Deeds Act, the Married Women’s Property Act, and the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes (Nos. 1-3). It came into effect immediately on May 17, 2012.
  • Bill 37: An Act to Amend the Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act – This statute made a number of amendments, most of which are based on model amendments developed though a federal-provincial-territorial working group to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the interjurisdictional support orders process. These amendments came into effect on February 19, 2013.
  • Bill 39: An Act to Amend the Maintenance and Custody Act – This statute also came into effect on February 19, 2013, and the changes included:
    • An amended definition of “dependent child,” which removed the age cut-off and made the definition more consistent with the Divorce Act;
    • The addition of a list of factors for courts to consider when assessing the best interests of the child, including consideration of whether there has been any “family violence, abuse or intimidation”;
    • The addition of a definition of “family violence, abuse or intimidation”; and
    • The addition of the principle that a child should have as much contact with each parent as is consistent with the child’s best interests.
  • Bill 41: Grandparents’ Rights Affirmation Act – This statute amended the Maintenance and Custody Act to make it clearer that grandparents and other non-parents are able to seek custody of or access to a child with prior permission of the court. This amendment came into effect immediately on May 17, 2012. 

Phase II of the project is now underway and will focus on a more substantive review of the Maintenance and Custody Act