Glossary beginning with A

Abuse

The infliction of harm on a person. It involves any act, or failure to act, that jeopardizes the health and/or well-being of a person.

Access

A term used under the Federal Divorce Act. Also called ‘visitation’ or ‘parenting time,’ access refers to the time the children spend with the parent that they do not live with.

There are three basic types of access, or ‘visiting,’ arrangements. They are:

Reasonable access: a term in a court order, separation agreement, or parenting plan that allows the child to visit or spend time with a parent at times arranged and agreed upon by both parents. Using the term ‘reasonable access’ gives parents flexibility to make their own arrangements without sticking to a specified schedule.

Specified access: a term in a court order, separation agreement, or parenting plan that sets out certain times for the child to be able to visit with a parent. The terms can be open‑ended (‘every second Tuesday’), or specific (‘every second Tuesday at 6 pm, to be picked up at the coffee shop at 123 Main Street’).

Supervised access: a term in a court order, separation agreement, or parenting plan that means a child only spends time with that parent with another adult present. Supervised access is generally ordered in unusual situations where there is some risk to the safety of the child, for example, where there has been abuse, substance abuse issues, risk of abduction, or untreated mental health issues.

For terms used under Provincial laws, please see 'parenting time', 'contact time' and 'interaction.'

Access assessment

See ‘Assessments’

Act

A law, or ‘piece of legislation,’ passed by a federal or provincial government.

Adjournment

A delay or postponement of a court hearing or trial.

Adoption

A court process that creates a parent-child relationship between two people, usually an adult and a child, where that child is not the adult’s biological child. In some situations, a person can apply to adopt someone in their family, like a grandchild.

Affidavit

A written statement of fact that is sworn or affirmed under oath as being the truth. This means that the person whose affidavit it is has to take it to a lawyer or Commissioner of Oaths (or in some cases, a Notary Public) to have that person witness their signature on the affidavit. A party or witness may file an affidavit as a way of giving evidence to the court.

Affidavit of Service

The Affidavit of Service - sometimes called an 'Affidavit of Delivery - is a sworn or affirmed statement that is completed by the person who performs the service. This document tells the court that the other party was served, what they were served (which documents), where and when they were served, and by whom. They will also state how they knew they were serving the right person. For example, they may have asked to see the person’s driver’s license, or they may have been given a picture of the person, and the person they served matched the person in the picture.

Affirm

A way to take an oath to tell the truth without swearing on a Bible or other holy book. It has the same effect as swearing an oath on the Bible.

Age of majority

Generally, the age at which a child is now considered an adult. The age of majority is 19 years in Nova Scotia. It may be different in other provinces.

Alimony

See ‘Spousal support’

Annulment

When a marriage is declared null and void, as if it never existed in the first place. This requires evidence and a complicated court application. You will not qualify for an annulment based solely on the short length of your marriage. Even if you were only married for a day or two before separating from your spouse, you likely still have to use the regular divorce process to end your marriage. Annulments are very rare, and can only be used in certain situations - usually dealing with lack of consent or fraud.

Answer

The formal response to a Petition for Divorce which states the Respondent’s position. An Answer must be filed with the court and served on the Petitioner within a set number of days after the Petition has been served. An Answer is used to show that the Respondent contests something being asked for by the Petitioner in the divorce.

Appeal

A review, by a higher court, of a decision made by a lower court. There must be legal grounds or reasons to appeal, such as that the lower court has made an error in the way the law was applied to the case. You can’t appeal just because you disagree with or do not like the judge’s decision.

An appeal is a special written request to have a higher court determine if errors were made in a decision issued by a lower court or in the way the hearing or trial was heard at the court. An appeal can be filed if a party believes that the judge who heard their case applied the law in the wrong way when making their decision or made an error in the facts relied upon when making the decision. You do not file an appeal simply because you didn’t like the decision that was made.

Appeals are not the same thing as variation applications. If your circumstances have changed since the time your last order was made and you want the court to change your order as a result of these changes, this is called applying to ‘vary’ your order.

Applicant

A person who starts an application in court.

Application

Filing an application is a way of asking the court to make an order. An application states what type of order the person is looking for (what issues they want to deal with). Applications are generally started when the Applicant completes and files required documents with the court.

Application for Divorce by Written Agreement

One way to start the divorce process in Nova Scotia, where only one spouse would apply for the divorce, but both spouses must sign documents agreeing to the divorce. An Application for Divorce by Written Agreement can only be filed if all issues are agreed upon by both spouses. Based on one year’s separation, documents can only be filed after the one year separation period has elapsed.

Arrears

Arrears are child support or spousal support amounts that were not paid, and are still owing.

Assessment

Judges of the court may order that an assessment be completed in exceptional circumstances if parties have children and professional information is needed to help the judge decide what kind of parenting arrangements will be in the child’s best interests. Assessments are carried out by professionals who are court-appointed. The assessor will be asked to prepare a detailed written report and make recommendations about the parenting arrangements and other steps that might need to be taken by parents that will benefit the child.

There are different types of assessments. What type of assessment is ordered will depend on the facts of the case and the needs of the parties and the child. Some assessments may be a combination of the various types explained below.

Access assessments are used to make recommendations about what arrangements are best for the children when having contact with the parent that they do not live with. A home study will be conducted.

In a child’s wishes assessment, the child or children are interviewed by a professional to determine their preferences in parenting arrangements. The assessor will make sure that the child has not been coached or persuaded by anyone or anything to make a certain decision, and will ensure that the child is mature enough to have a say in the proceedings.

In custody and access assessments, the assessor carries out home studies and speaks with witnesses and other professionals to make recommendations about what parenting arrangements or other interventions are best for the child.

In parental capacity assessments, the assessor must look at whether or not one or both of the parents are able to safely parent the child and what interventions might be used to help the parents learn new skills to be able to parent better. Recommendations about the custody and access arrangements will be made and home studies will be conducted.

In psychological assessments, the assessor makes parenting and/or access recommendations, but will also give information about whether there are psychological issues involving a parent or child that could affect the parenting arrangements. A psychologist or psychiatrist will be asked to perform special testing as part of their work and will make recommendations around parenting and possible therapy that are in the child’s best interests.

Assets

Anything valuable a person owns, such as a house, car, furniture, stocks and bonds, pensions, and money. When spouses divorce, the Court puts their assets into one of two groups: matrimonial assets and non-matrimonial assets. Matrimonial assets are generally divided equally. Each spouse generally keeps his or her own non-matrimonial assets, but there are exceptions.

Assisted Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Also called Alternative Dispute Resolution. ADR refers to ways to settle disputes or differences without going to court. Mediation and conciliation are examples of Assisted Dispute Resolution processes.