If your matter does go to a hearing or trial, there is a new workbook that can help you to prepare for court. The workbook is called 'Going to Court: Self-Represented Parties in Family Law Matters,' and you can find it here. The workbook contains information about preparing for court and how to present a case in court, as well as worksheets to help you prepare.

1. When does the judge make a decision?

Judges will often give decisions at the end of the hearing or trial by telling the people what the decision is (referred to as giving an ‘oral decision’). Sometimes they will ask for the parties to come back on another date when they will give the decision. Sometimes the decision will be done in writing and mailed to the parties (referred to as reserving decision and giving a ‘written decision’). It can take several months for a decision to be made in some cases, especially if the matter took several days to hear or the case is complicated.

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2. Who prepares the court order?

If one of the parties involved has a lawyer, then the lawyer is usually, but not always, given the job of preparing the court order that sets out the details or summarizes the decision. If no one has a lawyer, then the court usually prepares the order and then sends it out in the mail. If the situation is urgent or an emergency, then the court may ask the parties to wait while the order is being prepared or to come back later on to pick it up.

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3. My lawyer isn’t representing me anymore, but they were told to prepare the order when we were in court. What do I do?

Any orders granted by the court must be typed out and stamped (issued) by the court before a new application can be made dealing with the same issues. For example, if you were in court 6 months ago about child support, the order granted at that time must have been written up and issued by the court before another application dealing with child support can be made by either you or the other party/ies on your file.

Often, if there are lawyers involved in a case, the court will direct that one of the lawyers prepare the order. Once directed by the court, the lawyer told to prepare the order must do so, even if they stop representing you after court has finished.

If your lawyer has not prepared the order as directed by the judge, contact the lawyer and ask them about it. There may be a reason why they have not been able to do it. You can write to the lawyer and ask them to complete this task - remember to save a copy of the letter, fax or email. If the lawyer still does not prepare the order, contact the court where the order was granted and speak to a court officer. You may be able, at some courts, to get a copy of the running file that will have notes about what happened in court and any directions given, to make sure that you are accurately remembering what happened in court. The court officer you speak with may be able to help sort out the problem or give you direction as to what to do next. 

If there were no lawyers involved in your case, the court will usually prepare the order. Remember that preparing an order takes time, and the court staff member preparing the order is dealing with many files at one time, not just yours. If, however, some time has passed and your order is not prepared, you can call the court to follow up.

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4. Does anyone besides the parties get a copy of the court order?

The court automatically sends a copy of any court order that deals with child support or spousal support to the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) for registration. This is required by law, under the Maintenance Enforcement Act.

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5. What is an 'appeal'?

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. For more information about variations, click here.

Appeals from Family Court, Supreme Court (Family Division) and Supreme Court (General Division) are filed and heard at the Nova Scotia Court of Appeals at the Law Courts at 1815 Upper Water Street in Halifax. You do not file an appeal with the court that originally made the decision that you are now appealing.

There are particular documents that must be filed to start an appeal, and there are timelines in which this must be done. Most appeals must be filed within 30 days of the original decision. There are filing costs for starting an appeal.

Appeals are very difficult legal applications, and there are a lot of rules about the documents that must be filed, as well as the way you present an appeal in court. You will need to prepare a legal brief, called a ‘factum,’ and you will need to know about the law that applies to your case. Appeals are not an opportunity to have your entire case re-heard or re-tried. When you appear in appeal court, you must speak about the errors in law or fact that you are alleging the judge made when initially hearing your case. This process is very difficult to do, especially for those who do not have legal training.  Decisions to file an appeal should be made with the help of legal advice. Remember that you may have to pay costs to the other person if the appeal is not successful.

For more information about appeals, please speak with a lawyer, or click here.

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6. What do I do if I need to change my order in the future?

If you have a court order that you want to apply to change (vary), the same basic rules around jurisdiction apply as if you have never had an order before. Where you file your court application will depend on what issue you are applying to deal with, and where you, the other party, and perhaps the children, live. It may also depend on whether or not you were divorced from the other party. The Supreme Court (Family Divisions) and the Family Courts operate using different sets of court rules, and may view jurisdiction differently.

Note that if you have a final order dealing with property, pensions, or debts, you probably cannot change that order. Usually, once these issues are finalized in an order, you cannot change them afterward. If you have an order for property, pensions, or debts that you want to try to have changed, you should speak to a lawyer for advice.

For a variation application (an application to change a court order), you must be able to show that there has been a material change in circumstances.

For more information on varying a court order, click here.

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7. How do I order a transcript of my court proceeding?

The courts provide copies of the audio recordings of court proceedings on CDs. No text transcripts are made available. However, there are several certified commercial transcription services in the Province that can produce transcripts from the audio recordings.

To order a copy of the audio recordings from your court proceeding, you must fill out the form found here with the appropriate court. You can fill out this form on your computer and print it, or print it off and fill it out by hand. Once it is filled out, sign it, and file a copy with the court where your hearing or trial took place. You will usually also have to pay a fee for the CD at the same time you file your request.

For contact information for Nova Scotia courthouses click here.

The information in this FAQ is taken from the Courts of NS website, with modifications.

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