Frequently Asked Questions about Getting or Changing a Child Support Order

1. How do I apply for a court order for child support?

You can start your application through a lawyer, either one that you hire privately (retain), or get assigned to you through Legal Aid, if you qualify. You can visit Legal Aid’s website for more information.

You can also start a court application without a lawyer.

As a general rule, if both you and the other parent live in Nova Scotia, you can contact the court nearest to you to start the court process, or you may have to contact the court where the other parent is living, if the children also live there. Many courts, like the Family Court and Supreme Court (Family Division), have an intake process, where you can get help from a court officer to start your application. You may also find help in our application guides:

If the other party lives outside of Nova Scotia, different rules may apply, depending on where they live, and whether you are divorced from that person.

If you live in Nova Scotia, and the other person lives outside of Nova Scotia, you may have to use the ISO process. ISO stands for the Nova Scotia Interjurisdictional Support Orders (ISO) Act. This is the law that governs the process used for getting and changing support orders involving Nova Scotians and parties who live in other jurisdictions, where provincial or territorial laws (not the federal Divorce Act) are being applied. If you are divorced from the other person (or are in the middle of a divorce proceeding), you probably will not use the ISO process.

Many forms for starting applications are available online, as well. You should get advice from a lawyer or speak with court staff to make sure you are filing the right documents for your case. You will usually have to file several documents to start an application.

If you are addressing child support issues as part of an ongoing (not yet final) divorce proceeding, you will deal with these issues wherever the divorce was filed. Once the divorce is finalized, and you apply to change your order for support, you may have to speak to a court officer or get advice from a lawyer to figure out which court you should apply to.

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2. I already have a child support order. How do I change it?

You can apply to change, or ‘vary,’ your court order if you have a material change in circumstances. This means that something important in your situation, the other party’s situation, or your child’s situation, has changed since the last court order, and you need to change something in the order as a result.

Generally, the same process applies for changing an order as it does for getting an order in the first place.

If you have a court order that you want to apply to change (vary), you use the same basic rules around where to apply as if you have never had an order before. Where you file your court application will depend on what issue you are applying to deal with, and where you, the other party, and perhaps the children, live. It may also depend on whether or not you were divorced from the other party. The Supreme Court (Family Division) and the Family Court operate using different sets of court rules, and may view jurisdiction differently.

For a variation application to succeed (an application to change a court order), you must be able to show that there has been a material change in circumstances.

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3. What is a ‘material change in circumstances’?

A material change in circumstances, sometimes called a ‘substantial’ change in circumstances, means that something important has changed in your situation, or your ex-partner’s or children’s situations, since your last order was made. As a result of this change, you feel you need to update your order. The change needs to be substantial, and not just a minor change.

For applications to change child support, examples of a substantial change in circumstances could include:

  • your income changed
    • you lost your job, or are earning more or less money than you were when the order was put in place
  • the child is no longer dependent
    • they are grown, finished school, and living on their own, supporting themselves
  • the child’s special or extraordinary expenses have changed
    • for example, the child is now older and their activities have become more expensive, or they are starting university, or have new medical expenses
  • the child was living with the other parent, and is now living with you

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4. What is a 'retroactive' application?
A retroactive application is one where the relief being requested is back-dated.
 
For example, if you have a child support order and recently found out that the paying parent got a large pay increase 2 years ago but did not tell you, you may apply to the court for a change in child support, going back those 2 years. This is called a retroactive child support variation.
 
Generally, if you are making an application for retroactive child support, you can ask for the change as far back as the most recent court order that also dealt with child support. Whether or not the court will grant retroactive child support for some or all of the time you are asking for will depend on your situation.

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5. How do I make a retroactive variation application?

If you are making a retroactive variation application, you must note this in 2 places in your documents:

  1. On your Notice of Variation Application
  2. In your affidavit

In the affidavit, make sure you say what date you are going back to (the date on which the new order will take effect, if granted) and why you are asking to use that date. You should also explain why you didn’t make the variation application before now. Remember: whether or not the court will grant retroactive child support for some or all of the time you are asking for will depend on your situation.

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6. When do I stop paying child support?

In most cases, child support is paid until a child reaches the age of majority (which can differ between provinces – in Nova Scotia, the age is 19). Child support can extend past that time if the child is still dependent (for example, if they are still in school, or cannot support themselves because of a disability).

If you are paying support for a child over 19 who is in school, the obligation to pay support usually ends when the child finishes their first program or degree; however, this is not always the case, and will depend on your particular situation.

Child support orders do not stop automatically. If you want to terminate a child support order, you must apply to the court to do this. If you are not sure whether you should make an application to stop your child support, speak to a lawyer for advice.

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7. My ex-spouse lives in another province and I want to change child support payments - what do I do?

The Divorce Act allows parties who are divorced and live in different provinces to make a special kind of application to vary (change) a support order, without having to travel to the other province to make the application. 

This application is called a ‘provisional’ variation application. There is a special process involved with these applications.

Either person can apply to change the support order. The application can deal with child and/or spousal support as long as the parties are varying a final order made under the Divorce Act in a Canadian province or territory. It is helpful for you to have a complete, current home or work address where the other party may be personally served with notice of the application.

The process starts by filing the correct documents in the Supreme Court or Supreme Court (Family Division) nearest to where you live. Court staff will direct you as to what to file. The process involves several different stages and government departments, so the process can be long, and is sometimes complicated.

The court in Nova Scotia will set a time for the applicant to appear in front of a judge. The judge will make a provisional order based on the information and evidence presented by the applicant. The other party is not provided with notice of the hearing.  

The provisional order is not enforceable until it is confirmed by the court in the province or territory where the other person lives. The provisional order is sent to the other province or territory where the other party lives, along with the documents filed by the applicant and the transcript from the Nova Scotia hearing.

A second court hearing will take place in the province or territory where the other party (the ‘respondent’) lives. The respondent is entitled to be at that hearing. The applicant is not provided with notice of the hearing. The judge in the other party’s jurisdiction considers all of the evidence, including the documents and transcript from Nova Scotia, as well as the evidence from the respondent, and makes a decision. Sometimes the judge requires more information from the applicant in Nova Scotia in order to make a decision. In that event, the applicant will be notified of the requirement to provide further information. 

After considering all of the evidence, the judge in the respondent’s jurisdiction can decide to confirm the provisional order entirely or with variations, or can reject the provisional order and make a different order instead. The applicant will receive a copy of the order that was made by the court in the other party’s jurisdiction.

You should get advice from a lawyer before filing any application.

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