If you are separating from your partner, or are involved with, or going to be involved with, the court, it is always a good idea to speak with a lawyer. Below is information about legal support and advice options in Nova Scotia, including no- and low-cost services.
Legal information is general information about the law, or the court process. Legal information can include information on:
how to resolve a dispute without going to court (for example, using mediation)
the different ways to start a court application
how to find a lawyer
what different legal terms mean
Generally, the word ‘should’ indicates you are asking for legal advice. For example, only a lawyer can tell you what you should or should not do in your situation, what specific court application you should make, or what you should say in your court forms.
Legal advice is when you are provided with specific information about your legal problem. Only lawyers are qualified to give legal advice. When you are involved with a family law issue, it is best to speak with a family law lawyer. There are many different types of law, and you want to speak with a lawyer who is familiar with your type of legal issue, and who has worked within the family court system.
Lawyers are professionals who are trained and licensed to practice law and give legal advice. Lawyers are qualified to tell you specifically what you should do in your situation, and whether or not you should make a court application. They can appear in court for you or with you, and speak on your behalf. They can complete and file court documents for you.
A lawyer will give you legal advice based on the information you give them, so it is important that you tell the lawyer everything they need to know about your situation. A lawyer will give you advice based on the facts of your case, the current law that applies to your case, and their experience. A lawyer will give you the advice that is in your best interests, even if this is not what you want to hear.
A lawyer will act based on the instructions you give them, as long as those instructions are in your best interests and are ethical. A lawyer may decide to not represent you if you ask them to act in a way that would be unethical. Lawyers have a professional code of conduct that they must follow. Do not expect your lawyer to be rude or nasty to opposing counsel, court staff, the other party, or the judge.
A lawyer in a family law case represents one client only, and does not represent the child or children.
You can deal with a family law problem or go through the court process without a lawyer in most situations, but it is always recommended that you get at least some legal advice.
The court process in real life is very different from what you see on TV. Most people are not aware of the law or how to present their case properly. There are also many rules to follow in the courtroom, including rules about what evidence can be accepted by the court, and what evidence cannot be accepted. Do not assume that you will be able to go into court and just ‘say your piece.’
If you do something wrong because you did not get legal advice, this can have serious consequences for you. For example, if you filled out your application wrong, or failed to mention important information in court, this can affect how your case is processed or decided.
It is important to get legal advice even if you are not going to court. For example, if you sign a separation agreement without getting legal advice, you may be giving up rights or entitlements without knowing it. A lawyer can tell you about your legal rights and responsibilities, and advise you about whether to sign important legal documents such as a prenuptial, cohabitation or separation agreement, or a ‘Quitclaim Deed.’
Independent legal advice means that you and the other party or parties involved with your case get advice from different lawyers. A lawyer should only give advice to or represent one party. Otherwise, this is a conflict. Even if you are getting along with the other party, both of you should still get advice from different lawyers.
If you are two grandparents making an application together, one lawyer can represent you both. If you and the other grandparent are living together and are making an application together for decision-making responsibility for, or contact time or interaction with, your grandchildren, this may be the one exception to this rule.
You can find contact information for family law lawyers in the phonebook or online. You may have a friend or family member who knows a family law lawyer they can refer you to. If you have a lawyer for another legal issue, they may be able to refer you to a family law lawyer as well. For example, if you have a real estate or business lawyer, that lawyer may know a family law lawyer that you can speak with. Court staff cannot provide you with a list of lawyers.
Some lawyers will offer consultations. Some may offer free initial consultations, or you may have to pay a fee. Every lawyer may offer a different service.
To find a lawyer in another province, you can contact the Law Societies of that province or look in the Yellow Pages for lawyers practicing in that area.
Hiring a lawyer to take on just part of a case can make legal costs much more affordable. This practice – known as ‘unbundling’ or ‘limited scope retainer’ – is now offered by many lawyers in Nova Scotia.
Unbundling legal services means you can hire a lawyer for just a section of your case, such as:
completing your court forms
offering general direction
assisting you by writing an affidavit
attending a hearing, and
providing legal research
The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society updated its Code of Professional Conduct on February 22, 2013, to make rules that allow lawyers to represent you for specific tasks rather than an entire case. These new rules are meant to provide guidance to lawyers who provide unbundled services.
Some people may not be able to afford to hire a lawyer to deal with all aspects of their case. Unbundling helps to increase the availability of legal services for all Nova Scotians.
If you know that you will be handling some parts of your own case, you can hire a lawyer to handle other parts that you may not know how to complete. This way, you and your lawyer work as a team to address your legal problem. If you decide that you want a lawyer to work on some tasks for you, it’s very important to be clear on which tasks you will each be handling. Make sure you communicate regularly with the lawyer and ask questions.
You can represent yourself in court, but it is always recommended that you at least get some legal advice. When you act as your own lawyer, this is called being ‘self-represented.’
People sometimes self-represent because they want to act as their own lawyer, but often it is because they cannot get a lawyer. This may be because they do not qualify for legal aid, and cannot afford to hire their own lawyer. Many people represent themselves in family court matters for this reason.
Even if you start the court process on your own, you can hire a lawyer or consult with one for advice at any time.
Video: I can't afford a lawyer. What should I know about representing myself?
This video was made available through the Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick and Family Law NB.
There are several materials available to people who are self-representing, that may assist them in the court process.
You can visit the Courts website for information guides and frequently asked questions.
Family Law Information Program Centres, or ‘FLIP Centres,’ exist in the Halifax and Sydney Supreme Court (Family Division). FLIP Centres provide general information on family law and court processes, as well as written materials on different family law topics. Staff in the FLIP Centre can direct you on how to find a lawyer, and to community resources that may be helpful to you. FLIP Centres may also offer information sessions on family law topics, like divorce, and may provide a computer for filling out forms.
Court staff may be able to direct you to other services as well, or click here for a list of legal information and support options.
If you are going to a court hearing without a lawyer, the Going to Court Workbook can provide you with helpful information.
There are many ways to get legal advice if you cannot hire your own lawyer. These ways may include:
getting a lawyer through Nova Scotia Legal Aid
meeting with a Summary Advice lawyer
accessing a lawyer through an Employee Assistance Plan, reachAbility, or lawyer referral service, or
meeting with a private lawyer for a consultation.
The Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia (LISNS) is a non-profit organization that provides legal information and resources, and operates the Lawyer Referral Service. You can contact the Lawyer Referral Service to get the name and contact information for a lawyer in your area. You then contact the lawyer to arrange for a 30 minute appointment. This appointment is $20 + tax.
If you decide to hire the lawyer after the initial appointment, and the lawyer agrees to represent you, you will need to discuss how much the lawyer will charge to represent you.
If you are employed, you may have an EAP through your workplace, or your current spouse or partner may have an EAP that you can use. EAPs provide services to employees, and sometimes this will include a free or discounted meeting with a lawyer. Check with your Human Resource Department or a supervisor or manager to see if you have an EAP.
Nova Scotia Legal Aid provides help to Nova Scotians across the province.
Help is given primarily in 3 areas of law:
family law (including child protection)
criminal law, and
Social Justice is help with administrative decisions that affect your income benefits or housing security: EI, CPP Disability, Income Assistance, Residential Tenancies and Housing grants. Youth Social Justice is help with things like School Board suspensions.
To get legal information or advice or to get a lawyer to represent you, you should apply to Legal Aid. There are financial eligibility guidelines for full service (this means a lawyer for your case), but discretion can be applied. The NS Legal Aid website has contact information for area offices and online application processes. You can also find this information below.
NS Legal Aid can provide you with help in family, criminal, and social justice issues. Social Justice is help with income benefits and housing security.
NS Legal Aid will provide you with information or advice, or if you qualify, a lawyer for your case. Some level of help is available to all Nova Scotians in these 3 areas of law.
Discretion is exercised in deciding if you financially qualify for a lawyer for your case. A contribution agreement (you contribute to the cost of your legal services) may be considered if you are over the financial guidelines by more than 50%. If you do not qualify for a lawyer for your case, you will be given information or advice.
Visit the Legal Aid website for contact information and online applications, or call your local office at:
|Annapolis Royal||(902) 532-2311|
|New Glasgow||(902) 755-7020|
|Port Hawkesbury||(902) 625-4047|
You may still be able to get a Legal Aid lawyer assigned to your case, even if your court matter is being dealt with somewhere else. For example, if you live in Kentville, but your court matter is proceeding in Halifax, you can go to the Kentville office to apply for Legal Aid. If you qualify, you will most likely be assigned a lawyer in a Halifax or Dartmouth Legal Aid office to help you with your case.
If you live in Nova Scotia, and your court matter is happening in another province or territory, the same thing may happen. Nova Scotia Legal Aid has agreements with most other Canadian provinces and territories that might allow you to get a lawyer in the other place to help you. In these situations, you would still go to the Nova Scotia Legal Aid office nearest you to fill out your Legal Aid application. There may be some limits on whether you can get Legal Aid help in the other province, though, as Legal Aid plans are different in each province. Legal Aid plans in some provinces may not offer help with family law issues. Check with the Legal Aid office closest to you for more information.
More than one party can be assigned a Legal Aid lawyer. Usually, one of you will have a lawyer through the main Legal Aid office, while another may be referred to Dalhousie Legal Aid Service (if in the Halifax area), or be given a Legal Aid certificate (so that you can be represented by a private lawyer who accepts these certificates).
If child welfare (the Department of Community Services) is involved with you and your children, you can get help from NS Legal Aid. The idea is to give you information and confidential advice early on, and talk with you about community resources that may be available. This is front end, preventative help so that hopefully there will not need to be a court case where the agency takes you to court claiming that your children are in need of protection.
If you live in Cape Breton, the Early Referral (ER) Mediation Process may work for you.
The ER Process is an upfront mediation process offered by the Department of Community Services, the Department of Justice and Nova Scotia Legal Aid. Nova Scotia Legal Aid will represent you and the Department of Justice will represent the social worker. You, your lawyer, and the social worker and their lawyer, will meet. This is called ‘Lawyer Assisted Case Conferencing.’ It is a type of mediation.
The goal of the ER Process is to help you as a parent understand at an early stage what is going on and help you make the right decisions for you and your children.
If you live in the Sydney area, you should consider ER if:
you do not understand why Child Welfare is involved
you are concerned about what might happen with your children
Child Welfare staff are asking you to sign a document called a ‘Case Plan’
Child Welfare staff are suggesting you voluntarily place your children in foster care or in the care of another family member
Child Welfare wants you or your children to be assessed by a professional
Child Welfare has requested you to do drug testing
If you have any questions about the ER Process, you can call Nova Scotia Legal Aid at (902) 563-2295, or ask your social worker with the Department of Community Services.
For more information about child protection, click here.
Dalhousie Legal Aid is a community law clinic, where staff lawyers and third-year Dalhousie law students provide legal advice and representation to clients who qualify for this service. DLAS law students work under the direction of staff lawyers. Generally, to be assigned a lawyer through DLAS, you must first apply for Legal Aid through the main Legal Aid office near you.
DLAS mainly does family law and youth criminal issues, but may offer assistance to clients in other areas as well.
Yes. You must put your request for an appeal in writing, and send the request to the lawyer who made the decision, or to the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Appeal Committee. The Committee’s contact information is:
This service is available throughout Nova Scotia. Your case or issue must be somehow related to the court where the Summary Advice lawyer is located. For example, if you are making an application to the court in Halifax, you should book an appointment with the lawyer in Halifax.
The Summary Advice Counsel is a lawyer who assists people who need legal advice on a family law matter, but who do not have a lawyer. The Summary Advice lawyer provides basic legal advice, free of charge, regardless of how much you make or where you get your income.
The purpose of the Summary Advice Counsel service is to give people a better understanding of their legal rights and responsibilities. The Summary Advice lawyer can give basic information about legal terms, how to start or respond to a court application, court processes, legal documents, and other aspects of family law.
The Summary Advice lawyer can give advice on parenting arrangements, child support and spousal support, property division, divorce, and most other family law matters and court processes.
The Summary Advice lawyer does not provide advice to parents involved in child protection matters, or for matters involving Mi’kmaw Family Services. The Summary Advice lawyer may provide advice to a non-party to a child protection matter. For example, if you are not directly involved with a child protection proceeding and are applying for decision-making responsibility for, or contact with, the children involved.
The Summary Advice lawyer does not go to court with you. For more information about this service, click here.
You can contact your local Summary Advice lawyer to book an appointment by calling the appropriate number below:
Court staff are people who work in the courts. Even though some court staff members may be trained as lawyers, they do not act as lawyers when working for the court, and cannot provide legal advice. Court staff can provide you with accurate information in a timely and courteous manner. Court staff must remain impartial at all times, and cannot advocate for either party. This means that they cannot help one party in a way that may give them an advantage over the other party.
Court staff can help you with things like:
providing forms and instructions
telling you why your documents might not comply with the court's rules
telling you the process you go through for a hearing or trial
telling you what has happened previously in your own case, and
referring you to other services that might be helpful to you.
Court staff cannot:
tell you which of several processes you should choose
predict what will happen to you in court
tell you how to give your evidence in court
tell you what words to put in your court forms, or what to ask for in your application
refer you to a specific lawyer or for-profit agency.
For more information on what court staff can and cannot do, click here.