Glossary

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

An old term that is no longer used in either the Parenting and Support Act (provincial) or the Divorce Act (federal).   Terms like ‘parenting time’ ‘‘contact’ and ‘interaction’ are used instead. You may still see the term ‘access’ used in older court orders and agreements.

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.

Parenting 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 decision-making responsibility and parenting 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 parenting 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.

Best Interests

The test that courts apply when making decisions about decision-making responsibility for a child and parenting time. The children’s needs and well-being are always the most important factors. The judge must decide what is best for the children, not what is best for either of the parents.

Biological parent

A child’s birth (‘natural’) mother or father.

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.’

Chambers

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.

Collusion

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.

Conciliation

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.

Conciliator

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.

Conference

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

The time a child spends with anyone other than a parent or guardian under a court order or agreement. This will often include grandparents. If the person also wants interaction, this must be pleaded separately. Used to be called ‘access’ - a term that is no longer used.

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 decision-making responsibility and parenting time, support, and division of property and debts.

Costs

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.

Counter-petition

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

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.

Custody

An old term that is no longer used to describe who has the responsibility for decisions about a child. The term ‘decision-making responsibility’ is used instead. You may still see the term ‘custody’ used in older court orders and agreements.  An agreement or court order that uses ‘custody’ to describe the parenting arrangements will continue until it is varied/changed with a new agreement or court order. You do not need a new agreement or court order just because the language of parenting has changed.

Date assignment conference

A short appearance (usually 30 minutes) before the trial judge in a divorce matter, to get the file ready for trial. The date assignment conference has 3 main purposes: to ensure all required disclosure has been filed, to determine if any witnesses will be called at trial, and to determine how much time is necessary for trial.

Date of separation

The date when one or both spouses decide they will no longer live together as spouses. Sometimes this is also the date that one of the spouses moves out, but spouses can be separated and still live together.

Decision-making responsibility

Decision-making responsibility is a general term in the Divorce Act and Parenting and Support Act describing who is responsible to make significant decisions for and about a child. For example, this includes decisions about a child’s: health, education, culture, language, religion, spirituality, and significant extra-curricular activities.  This has traditionally been called ‘custody’.  The Divorce Act and Parenting and Support Act no longer use the word custody.

Both parents may share responsibility for making all of the significant decisions about their child. Sometimes one person alone may have decision-making authority. Other times each parent may be responsible for making specific decisions about the child. For example, one parent may make all of the medical decisions, and the other parent may make all of the education decisions. Most parents will be expected to talk about important decisions that affect a child, regardless of who has been given the decision-making authority.

Every person who has decision-making responsibility is able to ask for and get information about the child from third party care providers subject to any applicable laws (for example, privacy laws) and unless there is an order limiting disclosure of information about a child.

Designated address

An address at which a person is guaranteeing they will be able to receive court documents. When a person gives their designated address, they are certifying that anything sent to that address by the court or by the other party will be received by them.  Some courts call this a ‘service address.’ A designated address does not have to be the person’s home address (for example, another address, like a work address, can be used).

Direct examination

Direct examination is when your lawyer is asking you, or one of your witnesses, questions when you are testifying in court. Direct examination also occurs when the other party’s lawyer is asking the other party, or one of their witnesses, questions in court. If you do not have a lawyer, then you would ask questions of your own witnesses when conducting a direct examination. Direct examination is sometimes just called ‘direct.’

Discoveries

Parties sometimes hold Examinations for Discovery (Discoveries) where the parties are given an opportunity to question each other or each other’s witnesses, under oath, before a trial. The discovery allows the parties to narrow the issues and focus their trial on contested matters (those that the parties do not agree on). In family law, discoveries are normally only held in divorce cases, unless a judge orders otherwise.

Division of property

Division of property is how spouses divide what they own, and includes division of their debts. Each province has its own laws governing property division on separation. Nova Scotia’s law is called the Matrimonial Property Act. It applies to married spouses and registered domestic partners, but does not apply to common law spouses. Spouses who cannot agree can apply to the court to divide their property after separation or death of one spouse.

Divorce

The legal end to a marriage. You have to apply to the court to become divorced – divorce never happens automatically in Canada, no matter how long you are separated from your spouse.


There are basically two types of divorce proceedings – uncontested and contested.


An uncontested divorce occurs when both you and your spouse agree on all of the outstanding issues resulting from your separation and divorce. This means that you have both agreed on absolutely everything - parenting arrangements for your children, child and spousal support issues, and how to divide your property, assets, debts and pensions. When your divorce is uncontested, you will likely never see the inside of a courtroom – you will file paperwork, and your divorce will be processed ‘behind the scenes’ by court staff and a judge. Uncontested divorces include ones filed as a Joint Application for Divorce, an Application for Divorce by Written Agreement, or a Petition for Divorce where the Respondent does not file an Answer to contest.


contested divorce means that you and your spouse do not agree on some or all of the outstanding issues resulting from your separation and divorce. A contested divorce starts when one party, the ‘Petitioner,’ files a Petition for Divorce, and the other party, the ‘Respondent,’ files an Answer to indicate that they are contesting something that is being asked for by the Petitioner.

Divorce Act

The law that applies to all divorces filed in Canada. No matter which province or territory your divorce is started in, it is dealt with under the Divorce Act. The Divorce Act applies to heterosexual and same-sex couples who were married and are now divorcing.

When you are divorced, and in the future need to apply to the court to change your Corollary Relief Order (the order issued as part of your divorce), you will often still use the Divorce Act to apply for this change (‘variation’).

Divorce Order

An order from the court that says that two people are divorced. Unless one of the parties appeals the divorce, the Divorce Order becomes effective after 31 days. The Divorce Order is often issued at the same time as the Corollary Relief Order.

Docket

Can refer to a brief courtroom appearance in front of a judge in the Family Court, or to the schedule of court matters being heard on any given day.

Domestic violence

Also called relationship or dating violence, spousal abuse, family violence, intimate partner violence or gender-based violence.  Domestic violence is violence or abuse that can happen between people who are related to each other or who have relationships with each other. It includes violence, abuse or intimidation by one person over another which causes fear, physical, and or psychological harm. It may be a single act or a series of acts forming a pattern of abuse.

Emergency Protection Orders (EPOs)

Emergency Protection Orders are short term, temporary orders to help protect victims of domestic violence made under the Domestic Violence Intervention Act (DVIA) of Nova Scotia.

Employee Assistance Plan (EAP)

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.

Evidence

Information given to the court by a party or witness, either orally or in writing (for example, in an affidavit), which the judge uses to make their decision.

Exclusive possession

The right of one party to be the only one to use a residence or other asset, usually a matrimonial home (the family home) or its contents. Exclusive possession can be ordered by the court under the Matrimonial Property Act, or agreed upon by the parties as a term in a separation agreement. 


If the parties are not married and are not in a Registered Domestic Partnership, one of the parties can apply for occupation’of the family residence under the Parenting and Support Act.

Exhibit

A paper, document, or piece of physical evidence provided to the court at a trial or hearing or as part of an affidavit.

Expert witness

A neutral person who assists the court. Experts include doctors, psychologists, social workers, teachers, or other professionals who have been dealing with you or someone important to the case. Expert witnesses can be called to court by a party or appointed by the court. See also 'witnesses.'

Family Law Information Program (FLIP) Centre

A service available at the Halifax and Sydney Supreme Court (Family Division).  The FLIP Centre is an information centre open to the public, where on-site court staff members are available to answer general family law questions, and clients can access written materials on family law issues and court processes.  


FLIP staff cannot give legal advice – they cannot tell you what application you should make, what the outcome of your application will be, or give their opinion on your legal issue. FLIP staff can, however, tell you how to find a lawyer and get legal advice, explain available court programs and services, and refer you to community agencies that may be helpful to you. FLIP staff can give you court documents for certain applications.

File

See ‘Court file’

File number

The number assigned to a new court file when someone files a new application.

Filing fees

Money paid to the court to start a legal proceeding or file an application. People with low incomes may qualify to have certain fees waived. The law in Nova Scotia that says how much court fees are is the Costs and Fees Act.

Financial disclosure

Financial information that may be required by the court from one or both parties. When you are required to provide financial information to the court, this usually means you have to file a sworn/affirmed Statement of Income or Financial Statement, your last three years of income tax returns and notices of assessment or reassessment from the Canada Revenue Agency, and two recent pay-stubs, or other official documents showing your current year-to-date income. You should speak to court staff to learn exactly what you will be required to file in your circumstances.

Gross income

The total money you earn before taxes or other deductions are taken out

Grounds for divorce

In Canada, divorce is always based on the ground of ‘marital breakdown’, and there are three ways to show that your marriage has broken down. These include:

  • One year’s separation from your spouse:  living “…separate and apart for at least one year immediately preceding the determination of the divorce”
  • Adultery: “the spouse against whom the divorce proceeding is brought has…committed adultery” (this means you cannot apply for divorce based on your own adultery – it has to be the other spouse who committed it)
  • Cruelty: “…physical or mental cruelty of such kind as to render intolerable the continued cohabitation of the spouses.” This means that the cruelty had to have been of a serious nature, and you could not continue to live with your spouse as a result.
Guardian ad litem

See ‘Litigation guardian’

Hearing

A structured court appearance involving the people named on the file (the ‘parties’) and their lawyers, if applicable, where evidence is presented in front of a judge in a courtroom. It is a called a ‘hearing’ if it involves a contested application (one where the parties disagree about what should happen) or variation application for a matter other than the final disposition of a petition for divorce or child protection matter. For a final divorce or child protection matter, it is referred to as a 'trial.'

Hearsay

‘Hearsay’ is a written or verbal statement or piece of information given by a party or witness that they learned or heard from someone else. It is hearsay when a witness, in an affidavit or when giving evidence in court, repeats information given to them by another person, that the witness did not see or experience first-hand. Hearsay is generally not permitted to be part of the evidence the court relies upon, because the other party, or their lawyer, can’t cross-examine the person who actually heard or saw what happened.

Imputed income

An income amount used to determine child support that is based on what the person should be earning, instead of what they are actually earning or claiming to earn. Reasons for imputing income include situations where the payor is purposely unemployed or underemployed.

Independent legal advice

When 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.

Intake

A service offered in most family courts in Nova Scotia as a way for you to begin your court application for certain issues. Intake processes differ from court to court, so you should call your local court to find out their specific process. For some courts, you will have to call and book an intake appointment, and during your appointment you will get help from an intake officer to fill out your court forms, either in a group session or one-on-one. In other courts, you may have to complete some forms first before you meet with an intake person.

Intake usually deals with issues relating to children, like decision-making responsibility, parenting time, contact time, or interaction, or child support or spousal support. Intake usually does not deal with issues like divorce.

Interaction

Direct or indirect association with a child, outside of parenting time or contact time. Interaction includes communications with a child other than ‘in person’ time – like, for example:

  • phone calls, emails, or letters
  • sending gifts or cards
  • attending the child’s school activities or extracurricular activities
  • receiving copies of report cards or school photos
  • Skyping with the child
Interim Order

A temporary order dealing with some matters until the court makes its final decision.

Interrogatories

Parties sometimes use a special form of written questions, called interrogatories, instead of discoveries, to help them find out information that the other party has about a trial. See also 'discoveries.'

Joint Application for Divorce

When the spouses apply for a divorce together, as they agree in writing for a divorce and the terms of any corollary relief. Spouses who do this are called joint applicants, or co-applicants. A joint application is only for uncontested divorces.  Joint Applications for Divorce can only be filed based on one year’s separation, and documents cannot be filed until the one year separation period has elapsed.

Jurat

The designated space where the party and their witness sign a sworn or affirmed document

Jurisdiction

When a court has jurisdiction, this means that they have the right to deal with the particular application being filed. Jurisdiction also means the geographic area over which a court has legal authority.

Leave of the court

The court’s permission to proceed with certain types of applications.

Legal advice

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. See also ‘Independent legal advice.’

Legal Aid

Refers to the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission, and the lawyers employed by the Commission, in offices throughout the province. Legal Aid lawyers represent people involved in criminal law and family law matters, as well as social justice matters like residential tenancies, Income assistance, Employment Insurance and CPP-disability appeals and other administrative hearings.

Legislation

See ‘Act’

Limited scope retainers

When a lawyer is hired to do only certain parts of your case. Sometimes this is also called 'unbundled legal services.'

Litigation

A legal proceeding, or ‘going to court.’ The people involved in going to court are sometimes called ‘litigants.’

Litigation guardian

Or ‘guardian ad litem’ - an adult who appears in court on behalf of a person who is under the age of majority or who is not mentally competent. Certain requirements must be met before a person can act as a litigation guardian, including the need to be represented by a lawyer.

Lying-in expenses

Money the court orders a party to pay toward the expenses of a woman during her pregnancy and the birth of her child.

Maintenance

A term once used to describe money paid by a person for the living expenses of a spouse or child, under provincial laws. This is now called ‘support’ under both Federal and Provincial laws. See ‘Child support’ or ‘Spousal support.’

Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP)

MEP is a provincial government program through which all court orders for child support or spousal support must be filed (registered). When a support order is issued anywhere in Nova Scotia, a copy of the order is automatically sent to MEP.

Matrimonial home

Where married spouses lived before separation.

Matrimonial property

Or ‘matrimonial assets,’ refers to property obtained by either or both of the spouses before or during their marriage. There are some exceptions like gifts, inheritances, or business assets.

Mediation

A type of Assisted Dispute Resolution where a trained, impartial (‘neutral’) mediator helps the parties to reach agreements about family law issues like decision-making responsibility and parenting time, child support, spousal support, and sometimes the division of property.  In mediation, the mediator will assist each person to talk about their needs and issues, and will help the parties negotiate to resolve the issues in appropriate cases.  


There is a mediation service available through some Supreme Court (Family Division). Check with your local court to see if mediation is available through that court. Usually, you must have an active court application to be referred to mediation through the court. You can also hire a private mediator.

Minutes of Settlement

See ‘separation agreement’

Net income

The amount of money you earn after taxes and other deductions are taken out. Net income is often referred to as 'take home pay.'

Notary Public

A Notary Public, or 'notary,' can complete a variety of legal processes and documents, including administering oaths. Only people with the designation of Notary Public can be notaries. The following people are Notaries Public in Nova Scotia:

  • Lawyers who have applied, and been approved, to be Notaries Public
  • Sitting MLAs
  • Commissioned Canadian Armed Forces officers
  • Chief officers of municipal police departments
  • Commissioned RCMP officers on active service
  • RCMP head of detachment officers, who are on active service in the province
Objection

A formal protest raised in court during a hearing, when it appears that proper court process or a rule of evidence is not being followed

Open-ended questions

Questions that do not suggest their own answer. They allow a witness to give information in their own words. For example, “What was she wearing?” or “How did you get home that evening?” Open-ended questions are often used in direct examinations in a hearing or trial.

Orders for production

Often used to obtain relevant information or records held by someone else, usually a professional, like a doctor or psychiatrist. To get an Order for Production, an application must be made, requesting that a judge require a non-party to file copies of certain information or produce a file that is relevant to your case.

Parental capacity assessment

See ‘Assessments’

Parenting arrangements

The arrangements put in place, between parents by agreement or outlined in a court order, that say where the children live, and what the visiting arrangements are.

Parenting arrangements explain where the child will live, who will be responsible for making major decisions, and when the child will spend time with important people in the child’s life. The parenting arrangements do not have to be written down in a formal agreement. Some parents prefer to have a written agreement in place. Other parents, who are not able to work together (for reasons such as violence), or who are unable to agree to the parenting arrangements, use the court process to get a court order to set out the parenting arrangements.

Parenting Information Program (PIP)

A program offered in the family law courts in Nova Scotia to assist parties involved in a court proceeding to support their children during the process and to identify and practice ways to keep children from getting caught in the middle of the conflict. Parties to a court proceeding involving children will be signed up for a group PIP session by court staff, including grandparents making an application in regards to their grandchildren. Your ex-partner will be signed up for a different session – you will not attend together. PIP is offered in both English and French.

The online module is available in English and French:

Parenting plan

A plan to describe how parents who are not together will care for and make important decisions about their child. Some parents prefer open plans while other parents prefer to have a detailed plan. For parents who want a detailed parenting plan, this is a starting point to identify what are the child’s needs, what decisions have to be made for the child and who will make those decisions, how the child spends their time and with whom. Once a parenting plan is agreed on it becomes the parenting arrangements for the child. If a parenting plan cannot be agreed on the parenting arrangements will be ordered by a judge based on what is in the best interests of the child after looking at each parent’s parenting plan and the child’s best interests. A parenting plan should be based on what is in the best interests of the child and not the best interests of the adults in the child’s life.

Making plans: A guide to parenting arrangements after separation or divorce - How to put your children first.

This guide is published by the Department of Justice Canada, and provides information about parenting after separation and divorce, including:

  • how to decide on the best parenting arrangement for your children

  • what processes you can use to come to a parenting arrangement

  • what you (parents) may be feeling

  • what your children may be feeling

Parenting Statement

A document used in the Supreme Court (Family Division) that sets out parenting arrangements. Generally, both the parent requesting an order for child decision-making responsibility and/or parenting time and the parent responding to the application must complete this document.

Parenting time

The time a child spends with a parent or guardian, under a court order or agreement. Each parent’s or guardian’s time with the children is called ‘parenting time’, even when the child lives most of the time with one parent. It is helpful to have a parenting schedule in place.

Party to a file

Someone starting or responding to a court application. This includes anyone listed as an applicant, petitioner, or respondent on that court file.

Party/parties

The person or people on either side of a legal dispute, agreement/order or court file. Parties are the people who have a right to appear in court and to seek an order from the court.

Payor

The person who pays child support or spousal support.

Peace Bond

A court order that you may apply for when someone has threatened or harmed you. This can be a partner or spouse, or another person.  The person who is accused of threatening or harming you may be told by a court that they must be on a Peace Bond, or can agree to go on one when an application is made to the court. The Peace Bond may also include conditions such as to stop contacting you and stay away from your home or place of work. 

Perjury

Perjury is when someone who is giving evidence, either in an affidavit or in court, purposely doesn’t tell the truth. Perjury basically occurs when someone lies under oath or affirmation. There can be serious consequences for committing perjury, including criminal charges.

Personal service

A way of giving notice of a court proceeding to a person, where someone hand-delivers a package of documents directly to that person. Personal service cannot be done by mailing documents to someone, or using a courier, fax, or registered mail. If the person being served has a lawyer, that lawyer may accept service for their client.

Petition for Divorce

One way to start the divorce process in Nova Scotia. A Petition can proceed on a contested or uncontested basis, depending on whether or not the Respondent files an Answer to contest. Petitions for Divorce must be personally served on the Respondent.

Petitioner

The person who starts a divorce proceeding by filing a Petition for Divorce.

Pleadings

The claims, and the responses to those claims, made by each of the parties involved in a court matter. Pleadings are found on the document that starts the court matter (for example, a Notice of Application, a Notice of Variation Application, or a Petition for Divorce). Pleadings are also found in the document that sets out the other person's response to that claim, if applicable (for example, a Response to Application, or an Answer filed to contest a divorce). The pleadings must contain enough information about the claims to establish the factual and legal right to go forward with the matter.


For example, Vivian files a Petition for Divorce, checking off the issues of decision-making responsibility and/or parenting time, child support, spousal support and division of property under the appropriate sections of the Divorce Act and Matrimonial Property Act. These are the things that Vivian wants to 'deal with' as part of the divorce - these issues, and the legal authority she lists for how she is asking to have them resolved, are her pleadings. Her spouse, Robert, files an Answer to show that he is not in agreement with what she is requesting for the parenting arrangements. He outlines in his Answer what he is seeking for the decision-making responsibility and/or parenting arrangements under the appropriate section of the Divorce Act. These are his pleadings.

Primary caregiver

Or ‘primary parent,’ is a term that is often used in agreements and court orders; however, it is not one that is defined anywhere in the law.  Sometimes, the term used is ‘primary residence’ or the phrase ‘the children reside primarily with Parent A’.

This term is used to make the wording of an agreement or order easier to understand. It does not mean that the primary caregiver has any extra authority or decision-making power over the other parent.

Proceedings

The steps taken in a court case.

Provisional Order

An order made in one reciprocating jurisdiction, but it is of no force and effect until a confirmation order is granted in the other reciprocating jurisdiction

Psychological assessment

See ‘Assessments’

Recipient

The person who receives child support or spousal support.

Reciprocating jurisdiction

A province, state or country that has an agreement with Nova Scotia to enforce a Nova Scotia court order when the person paying support lives in that province, state or country and the person receiving support lives in Nova Scotia

Reconciliation

An attempt by spouses to get back together.

Record of payment

A print-out from the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) that shows the dates when support payments were made, and how much the payments were

Registered Domestic Partnership

A formal legal relationship that is registered with the government. This type of relationship allows a couple who are not married to have some of the rights and obligations that married couples have, like pension benefits or the ability to divide property or other assets at separation or death, without being married. This type of relationship generally gives the couple more rights than a common-law relationship, but does not have all of the rights of a marriage.

Registered separation agreement

See ‘Separation agreement’

Relief sought

The type of order requested by you or the other party, for example, the type of parenting arrangements, or how much child or spousal support is being asked for.

Relocation

A change in the place of residence of a parent, a child, or a parent and child is called a ‘relocation’ when the move could reasonably be expected to substantially impact the child’s relationship with a parent, guardian, or person with contact time. Decisions about relocation will always be based on what is in the best interests of the child. 

Please see the section on moving a child's residence, here.  

Respondent

The person against whom an application or a Petition for Divorce has been started.

Response

A court document used when responding to an application, often to add on an issue that was not pleaded (‘checked-off’) by the Applicant.

Retroactive application

An application where the relief being requested is back-dated

Self-represented litigant (SRL)

A party to a legal proceeding who is not represented by a lawyer. Sometimes referred to as ‘self-reps.’ SRLs can hire or get advice from a lawyer at any time.

Senior abuse

The infliction of harm on an older person. It involves any act, or failure to act, that jeopardizes the health and/or well-being of an older person. Senior abuse is sometimes also called elder abuse, or ‘abuse of an older adult.’

Separation

Occurs when you are in a conjugal (‘romantic’) relationship, like a marriage or common-law relationship, and you and your spouse or partner decide that you are going to live ‘separate and apart.’ This means that you are no longer going to live together as a couple.

Separation agreement

Sometimes called ‘Minutes of Settlement’ - a written contract between two former partners or spouses in which you state that you are separated and that usually includes sections (‘clauses’) on decision-making responsibility for and parenting time with children, support issues, and the division of assets and debts. Separation agreements are usually written by lawyers – the court does not prepare separation agreements.

You are not required to have a separation agreement put in place when you separate. If you do make one, then you may be able to apply to the court to ask for it to be registered in certain situations.  When a separation agreement is registered with the court, this makes it a court order, and it may be able to be enforced like a court order.  

You can apply to register your separation agreement with the court. If the judge approves the registration, this means that your separation agreement is now a court order, and if you ever want to change its terms in the future, you will have to apply to the court to do this. If you register your separation agreement with the court, this means that you can now have any child or spousal support payments go through the Maintenance Enforcement Program.

Separation date

Or ‘date of separation,’ is the date when one or both spouses decide they will no longer live together as spouses. Sometimes this is also the date that one of the spouses moves out, but spouses can be separated and still live together in certain situations.

Service

The delivery of court documents to the required person, usually to give them notice of a legal proceeding. See also ‘Personal service.'

Service address

See ‘Designated address’

Settlement conference

An ‘off the record’ meeting with a judge (usually in a board room) who is not going to be hearing the trial. The parties briefly explain their positions on each issue to the judge, and negotiation on these issues may take place. The judge often will give a brief opinion based on how he/she thinks the case could be resolved, or what the outcome would be if heard at a trial. This process is voluntary - both parties must agree to go to a settlement conference. Settlement conferences are generally offered in all Supreme Court (Family Division) sites.

Shared parenting time

Formerly referred to as 'shared custody'.

Terms used for child support purposes that mean the child spends at least 40 percent of the time with each parent over the course of a year.  These terms are not used to describe who will make decisions for or about a child. 

Split parenting time

Formerly referred to as 'split custody'.

Term used for child support purposes where each parent exercises the majority of parenting time with at least one of the children when there is more than one child. In other words:

  • one or more children spend more than 60 percent of the time in a year with one parent; and
  • one or more children spend more than 60 percent of the time in a year with the other parent.
Spousal support

Money paid by one spouse to another to contribute to the others’ living expenses. The support can be paid either by a set amount every month or one lump sum. 

Spouses  

People who are married to each other. Under the Provincial Parenting and Support Act, spouses are also defined as:

  • domestic partners or former domestic partners under the Vital Statistics Act
  • partners who lived together for at least 2 years
  • partners who lived together and have a child together
Statement of Expenses

A court document used to set out all of the person’s expenses. This document is usually completed by both parties when addressing:

  • Child support in an amount other than that set out by the Child Support Guidelines
  • Spousal support
  • A division of property
  • May also be used in other situations
Statement of Income

A document used in the Supreme Court (Family Division) to set out all sources of income for a person. It is required when addressing:

  • Child support (from one or both of the parties)
  • Spousal support (from both of the parties)
  • A division of property (from both of the parties)
  • May also be used in other situations

Completing this document requires that a number of records be attached, such as pay stubs and income tax returns and notices of assessment or reassessment.

Subpoena

A court document that requires a person to give evidence at a hearing or trial

Substituted service

A way to make sure a person has notice of a court proceeding if he or she cannot be found or is trying to avoid being served with legal documents, like a Petition for Divorce. Substituted service requires an application to the court to ask to serve the party in a way other than personal service. You must prove that you have taken all reasonable steps to try to find the other party.

Summary Advice Counsel

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. This service is available in several locations throughout Nova Scotia, including Annapolis, Antigonish, Amherst, Bridgewater, Halifax, Kentville, Pictou, Port Hawkesbury, Sydney, Truro, Windsor and Yarmouth.  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.

Summations

A legal argument made to the judge in court at the end of a hearing or trial

Supervised exchange

Occurs when a neutral third party is responsible for collecting the child or children from one parent, and escorting the children to the access parent for their visit, so that the parents do not come into contact with each other.

Supervision

Under the Divorce Act there may be a provision to require a parent’s or other person’s time with the child, or transfer of the child from one person to another to be supervised. Sometimes this is referred to as ‘supervised parenting time, and/or supervised exchange’. This arrangement is also permitted under the Parenting and Support Act.

Support

See ‘Child support’ or ‘Spousal support’

Supreme Court (Family Division)

The court that hears all family law cases in Nova Scotia. These courts are also called the ‘Family Divisions’ or ‘unified family courts’.

Swearing an oath

The process of swearing on a holy book (like the Bible, the Qur’an, the Torah) that everything in a document is true. A lawyer, Commissioner of Oaths or Notary Public must witness the person signing the document, and must sign the document as a witness.

Third party

Someone other than a party who becomes involved in the court process. One example of a third party is an employer who is ordered to provide income information.

Trial

A structured court appearance involving the people named on the file (the ‘parties’) and their lawyers, if applicable, where evidence is presented in front of a judge in a courtroom. It is a called a ‘trial’ (instead of a 'hearing') if it involves deciding the final outcome of a court proceeding, such as a petition for divorce, or the final disposition of a child protection matter. It is a called a ‘hearing’ if it involves a contested application (one where the parties disagree about what should happen) or variation application for any other matter.

Unbundled legal services

See 'Limited scope retainers.'

Uncontested divorce

See ‘Divorce’

Variation application

An application to change an existing court order or registered agreement.

Variation Orders

Family court orders, approved by a judge and issued by the court, that make changes to a previous order.

Waiver of fees

Persons with a low income can apply to the court to have their court fees, including filing fees, waived by filing this form. If you qualify for the waiver, this means that you won’t have to pay most court fees. Note: if filing a Joint Application for Divorce, both parties must qualify for the waiver. Proof of income must be attached to the waiver, for example, a recent pay stub, social assistance stub, or tax return.

Will

A will, sometimes called a ‘Last Will and Testament,’ is a formal document that says how someone’s estate (property and things that they own) is to be dealt with when they die.

Will-say statements

A list of people who will be appearing as witnesses in a hearing or trial, with brief explanations of why they are being called as witnesses.

Witness box

The place in the courtroom where a witness sits when giving their testimony

Witness list

A written list of the people who are going to testify for your case in court. If you are giving your own testimony, your name would likely be included on your witness list.

Witnesses

people who give evidence to the court so that the judge has information to make a decision. In most cases, witnesses give their evidence in the form of an affidavit. An affidavit is a written statement of fact relating to the issues being dealt with by the court in a case. Witnesses who file affidavits must be present at a hearing or trial to be cross-examined, unless a judge orders otherwise. This means they can be questioned by the other side or their lawyer about the information they gave in their affidavit. Witnesses may also give their evidence in the courtroom (orally, on the witness stand) without an affidavit if the judge allows. Witnesses can be required to attend a hearing or trial if they are served with a subpoena. See also 'expert witness.'