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Case law

Law made by judges as they decide each case. Case law might explain how a judge interpreted legislation or a regulation, or how a judge applied a particular legal principle.

Certificate of Divorce
Or ‘divorce certificate,’ is the final document issued by the court at the end of a divorce proceeding. The Certificate of Divorce shows that the divorce is final and the parties are free to remarry.
Certified copy
A copy of a document from a court file, like an order, that is authorized as a true copy of the original. Court staff will put a stamp and signature on the copy to show that it is certified. A plain photocopy without a stamp and signature is not acceptable as a ‘certified copy.’
The process used for a judge to review applications for some kinds of family court orders. When an application is heard by a judge in Chambers, this often means the judge is reviewing the file in their office, and the parties do not appear in court.
Change in circumstances

A material change in circumstances, sometimes called a ‘substantial’ change in circumstances, means that something important has changed in the applicant’s situation, or their ex-partner’s or children’s situations, since their last order was made. As a result of this change, they feel they need to change their order. The change needs to be substantial, and not just a minor change. Changes in circumstances are usually set out in an affidavit.

Child abuse

A term that describes behavior that results in significant negative emotional or physical consequences for a child. The term may be defined in laws that deal with child abuse, such as the Children and Family Services Act that deals with protecting children from abuse and harm in Nova Scotia.

Child of the marriage

A specific definition used in the Divorce Act. The definition is ‘…a child of two spouses or former spouses who, at the material time, (a) is under the age of majority and who has not withdrawn from their charge, or (b) is the age of majority or over and under their charge but unable, by reason of illness, disability or other cause, to withdraw from their charge or to obtain the necessaries of life.’

In other words, a ‘child of the marriage’ is a child under 19 (in Nova Scotia) who still depends on their parents to provide for them, or who is over 19, but still depends on their parents because, for example, they are still in school, or have an illness or disability that prevents them from supporting themselves.

Child protection services

Services involving the protection of children under 16 from abuse and/or neglect while making every effort to keep families together. Under the Children and Family Services Act, child protection workers and certain other social workers in child welfare agencies are required to investigate (look into) reports of reported child abuse and neglect. Child welfare workers also work with children who are in the permanent care of the agency or with children in the permanent care of an agency who are being adopted.

Child support

Money paid by one parent to the other parent to contribute to the children’s living expenses. It is usually paid monthly and based on the paying parent’s yearly income. 

Child Support Guidelines

Federal rules that determine the amount of child support to be paid for the support of a child. In most cases, support is based on the province or territory where the paying parent is living, the paying parent’s income, and the number of children that support is being paid for. There are special rules that allow for extra child support to cover certain expenses, called ‘special expenses,’ such as child care, health care, education, and some extracurricular activities.

Child’s wishes assessment
See ‘Assessments’
Civil Procedure Rules
The rules used by the Supreme Court and Supreme Court (Family Division) that determine court process and forms.
Cohabitation agreement

A written legal contract between two people who are living together or are about to live together. It is similar to a pre-nuptial (‘pre-nup’) agreement for a married couple. It will usually contain sections (‘clauses’) on financial arrangements, arrangements for any children, and how custody and parenting time, support issues and property will be dealt with if the relationship ends.

Collaborative Family Law
A way of practicing law where lawyers for both parties in a family law matter assist their clients in resolving conflict using cooperative strategies, rather than adversarial techniques and litigation (going to court). The emphasis of Collaborative Family Law is to achieve a satisfactory settlement in an efficient, cooperative manner.
When spouses agree to lie or make up facts in order to get a divorce or to deceive the court in some way, for example, by purposely claiming an incorrect separation date on divorce documents.
Commissioner of Oaths

A person who has been appointed by the Minister of Justice to take declarations (sworn oaths or solemn affirmations) on legal documents within Nova Scotia. All lawyers are Commissioners of Oaths. People who are not lawyers must apply to become Commissioners of Oaths.

Common law relationship

Where two people, who are not married, live together in a 'marriage-like' relationship. This means that they not only share a home, but they refer to themselves in public as spouses or partners, and often share things like bills and other finances. A common law couple may or may not have children together.


A process where both parties, either in separate meetings or together, meet with a trained court officer who will help the parties to focus on their situation and consider the appropriate options available to them in their court case. Conciliation is mandatory in some courts for certain types of applications. The conciliator helps the parties to sort out what issues need to be resolved, makes sure both parties filed the necessary court documents, helps to reduce conflict, and helps the parties to negotiate a settlement of their issues without going to court.

A trained court officer who helps the parties to sort out what issues need to be resolved, makes sure both parties filed the necessary court documents, helps to reduce conflict, and helps the parties to negotiate a settlement of their issues without going to court. A conciliator cannot provide legal advice to either party, and cannot force the parties to agree on issues.

A meeting between everyone involved in a court case: the parties, their lawyers (if any), and the judge. The meeting is to get the case ready for a hearing. The conference helps to make sure that everyone is ready with the right information when the hearing happens. See also ‘Date assignment conference.’

Consent Order
A court order whose terms are agreed to by all of the parties involved, that has been signed by a judge and issued by the court.
Contact time

The time a child spends with someone other than a parent or guardian, under a court order or agreement. This may include a grandparent or other family member.


Contested divorce
See ‘Divorce’
Corollary Relief Order
One of the court orders usually issued to finalize a divorce. The Divorce Order ends the marriage, and the Corollary Relief Order deals with all of the issues dealt with as part of the divorce, such as custody and access, support, and division of property and debts.
Legal expenses relating to or stemming from a court proceeding. Costs can sometimes include lawyers’ fees, filing fees, and other expenses. A party can apply to the court for costs from the other party in a contested case, depending on the situation. Costs are meant to compensate one party for the legal expenses they had to pay as a result of going to court. Costs may also be ordered against a person who fails to follow the court’s directions or instructions, or during a trial.

When the Respondent to a Petition for Divorce files an Answer to contest the divorce, and checks off section 8 of the Divorce Act on their Answer, this makes them a 'counter-petitioner' to the divorce.

Court file
A folder containing all of the material relating to a court case.
Court Order

A court order is a formal, typed document that is granted and issued by the court – this means it is approved and signed or initialled by a judge, and then signed, dated and issued by a court officer. A court order contains sections called ‘clauses’ that set out what you or the other person(s) involved in your situation are required to do by law as a result of a judge making a decision in your court case, or, the parties reaching an agreement in a court case.


Cross-examination is when the other person (if they are self-represented) or their lawyer asks you, or one of your witnesses, questions in court. Cross-examination also occurs when you or your lawyer asks the other party, or one of their witnesses, questions in court. This is sometimes just called ‘cross.’ The general purpose of cross-examination is to point out any errors or inconsistencies in the other party’s testimony, or in the testimony of any witnesses testifying on behalf of the other party, and to try to show the court that the witness should not be believed.

Custodial parent
The parent the children live with most often, and who makes major decisions for and about the children. 

Custody is a general term describing who has the responsibility for a child’s care, who makes the decisions about the child’s upbringing and development, and where the children will live. When a person has custody, this means they will make these decisions.

In law, parents share equal decision-making, unless otherwise ordered by the court. The court may grant custody to more than one person. If custody is granted to more than one person, this means those with custody would make joint decisions about issues like the child’s education, medical and dental care, and religious upbringing. Day-to-day decisions, like what the child will wear or eat for breakfast, are usually made by the parent caring for the child at that time. Parents are expected to maintain as much consistency as possible in the child’s upbringing and daily care.

  • Split custody is when parents have two or more children together, and each parent has one or more of the children living with them most of the time. For example, Jane and Michael have 2 children – Tim and Tom. Tim lives with Jane most of the time, and Tom lives with Michael most of the time. This is a split custody arrangement.
  • Shared custody is when one parent has the child living with them for at least 40% of the time over the course of the year. For example, Sandy and Dale have 1 child, Billie. They have a week-on, week-off parenting schedule – Billie lives with Sandy for a week, then with Dale for the next week, and so on. This is a shared custody arrangement.
Custody and access assessment

See ‘Assessments’