Duties for Parents and Others

Parent, grandparents, step-parents and other important people in a child’s life must follow several legal duties. 

If the Parenting and Support Act (provincial law) applies to your case then you have a legal duty to provide for a child’s reasonable needs at least until they reach the age of majority (19 years of age in Nova Scotia), unless you have a good legal reason not to.

During parenting time with a child, you have a duty to:

  • be responsible for the child’s day to day care

  • supervise the child’s activities

  • have exclusive authority to make day-to-day decisions affecting the child.

During contact time you have a duty to be responsible for the care and supervision of the child, and to comply with the decisions about the child made by the person(s) with decision-making responsibility.

If the Divorce Act (federal law) or the Parenting and Support Act (provincial law) applies to your case then you have a duty to:


What does this mean?


1. A duty to put the child’s best interests first

The child’s best interests must come first when:

  • you make decisions for and about the child

  • you spend time with the child.

For example, parents must think about the child’s best interests first when they make decisions about the child’s extracurricular activities, or if one parent asks to change the parenting arrangement. This includes thinking about how the decisions will affect the child and the child’s relationship with the other parent or important caregiver.

For more information about the best interests of the child:


2. A duty to protect the child from conflict

Family breakdowns are hard, but everyone has to do their best to keep the child out of the conflict as much as possible.

Here is more information:


3. A duty to try to resolve your dispute through a family dispute resolution process

Parties who are looking to have an agreement or court order in place about the parenting arrangements (for example, decision-making, parenting time, child support) for a child must think about ways to come to an agreement without going to court, if appropriate in their situation.

The term “family dispute resolution” describes the ways family law issues may be resolved without going to court.

Dispute resolution processes include:

  • negotiating with or without the help of a lawyer (including a collaborative family lawyer)

  • working with a trained mediator, or

  • working with a conciliator who works out of the courthouse to help you avoid going to court.

Children suffer when the significant people in their lives argue.  It helps for them to see that those they care about can get along.

Sometimes non-court ways to solve family law disputes are not appropriate. For example, court may be better if there has been family violence, or if there is a significant power imbalance between the parties.

Click here for more about dispute resolution processes.


4. A duty to provide complete, accurate and up to date information

To make decisions in a child’s best interests everyone involved must have up to date and accurate information. For example, if child support is an issue then full financial disclosure must be shared with the other party. If parenting is an issue, all of the relevant information about the child’s safety, including if there are any criminal or civil court orders for one or both of the parties must be disclosed to the other party, and the court.

Here is more information:

Other important information the court needs from you:

Families sometimes get involved in many parts of the justice system. For example, if there has been family violence you might be dealing with the criminal court, family court, and child protection might have a file open, all at the same time.  It is important for the family court to know about those other legal things happening in your life, and/or in the lives of others who want a relationship with your child.  That is especially true if you are dealing with parenting arrangements or support.

Make sure you tell the court about any:

  • civil protection order you or any of the other parties are involved in

  • criminal or child protection cases, including any orders, agreements or steps that have been taken that involve any party and/or the child(ren), including if child protection is working with the family informally. 

Examples are an emergency protection order, peace bond, cyber-protection order, protection of property notice, other no contact order, child protection proceeding or order, criminal charges or orders.

Tell the court as early as possible - for example, when you make or respond to an application about a child.  That will give the court time to get information about court orders from other courts.


5.  A duty to follow all court orders

Every person who is subject to a court order must follow the order until it is changed or it ends.

If you do not follow the order there can be serious legal consequences. For example, the court may find that you are in contempt of a court order.  Punishments for contempt of court may be: 

  • a fine paid to the court

  • money paid to the other party

  • jail time, in extreme cases.

Sometimes you may believe that an order is no longer relevant to your circumstances because of big changes in your life or your child’s life that the court order does not cover. For example, if a child has completed a first university degree and is working, you may feel that child support should not be paid. In this situation, you have to go back to court to ask for the order to be changed to reflect the new situation. Until the order is changed, you must follow the original court order.     

  • Click here for more information on how to change (vary) a court order.

  • Click here for information about enforcing parenting time.


6.  A duty to confirm in writing that you are aware of these duties

If you file an application or respond to an application at court then you must sign a form saying (certifying) that you are aware of and understand these duties.

Learn more about this at Duties for the Court.

It is always recommended you obtain legal advice. Click here for information about legal support and advice options in Nova Scotia, including no- and low-cost services.

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