Important things to think about before you start a divorce

  1. Get Legal Advice

  2. Safety

  3. Best interests of your children

  4. Property, pensions and debts

  5. You must complete court documents for a divorce, even if you agree on everything

  6. Getting a divorce takes time


1. Get Legal Advice if you can:

It is always a good idea to get legal advice from a family law lawyer when you are thinking about getting a divorce.

It is especially important to get legal advice if your divorce will be complicated. Examples of things that may make your divorce more complicated are:

  • you and your spouse do not agree on all the issues so you may need to have a divorce trial

  • there is a high level of conflict between you and your spouse

  • there is, or there has been, family violence and you are afraid for your safety or your children’s safety

  • your spouse lives in another country

  • your children live in another province or country

  • you don’t know where your spouse is

  • you and/or your spouse have pensions, property, debts or business assets that need to be divided

  • you want to apply for a divorce based on your spouse’s adultery or cruelty.


It is a good idea to get advice even if you and your spouse agree on everything. If you make mistakes with certain parts of your divorce, you may not be able to fix the mistakes after the divorce is final.

Here is information on ways to find a lawyer to get legal advice, including free or low-cost options. Even if you cannot hire a lawyer for the whole divorce, try to have a lawyer review your paperwork before you send it to the court.  


2. Safety:

a.) Privacy

Your privacy is important. When you give documents to the family court, your spouse will get copies of everything you file.  And, you will get copies of everything your spouse files with the court. If there is information that you want to keep private and do not want your spouse to have, speak to the staff at the court for help. For example, if you do not want your spouse to have your current civic address or information about your employer because you have safety concerns or for another reason, you may be able to give this information to the court on a separate paper that would not be sent to your spouse.


b.) Tell the court about any family violence

Tell the family court staff if there has been any family violence. Family violence includes:

  • physical abuse

  • sexual abuse

  • harassment (including stalking)

  • harming, or threatening to harm, people, pets, or property, or actually doing that harm

  • a pattern of controlling or coercive behaviour

  • emotional or psychological abuse, and

  • financial abuse.

This is not a complete list. Under family law the behaviour does not have to be a crime to be considered family violence.  You do not need to contact the police if you tell the court staff about family violence.

Family violence includes situations where abuse is directed at you, another family member, your child, or where your child witnessed the abuse. Family violence includes situations where you are afraid for your safety or for someone else’s safety.

Telling the court about any safety concerns will help make sure you and your family stay safe.

You can find more information about family violence here.


c.) Court orders from other courts:

Tell family court staff about:

  • any criminal law or child protection order or cases involving you or your spouse 

  • any civil protection order or cases involving you or your spouse.

Some examples of criminal, child protection or civil cases or court orders you need to tell the family court about:

  • Any criminal charges or orders

  • Emergency Protection Order (click here for information regarding Family Homes on Reserve and EPOs)

  • Peace Bond

  • Cyber-protection order

  • Protection of Property (PPA) notice

  • a lawsuit involving you and your spouse

  • criminal charges or orders

  • any other ‘no contact’ order

  • any child protection orders, agreements or steps that have been taken involving you, or your spouse, and/or the child(ren), including if child protection is working informally with the family and there have not been any court applications.

The family court will not know if you and your spouse have other cases in another court if you do not tell the family court staff.

In some divorce court forms, there is a section where the court asks you to provide information about other court orders and proceedings. The court must ask you for this information and you must provide it when asked by the court. 

Tell the court as early as possible.  The judge who looks at your divorce papers will need this information to make sure the family court order does not order something different from other court orders. This is especially important when children are involved because it will help the judge make sure the children are safe. In most cases you will need to provide copies of the information to the court as the court does not have access to it.


3. Best interests of your children

If you and your spouse have a child or children together who are under 19 years old or still dependent, most often, parenting issues will have to be resolved with your divorce. In doing so, parents need to focus on what is in the best interests of their children. If a judge has to decide parenting issues, their decision will be based only on the best interests of the child or children.

Parenting issues can be straightforward or complicated, depending on your circumstances. It is important to speak with a lawyer to learn about your rights, responsibilities, and options.

You can find information about parenting issues, terminology, list of factors considered in determining the best interests of the child, parenting plans, parenting duties under the Divorce Act (including protecting children from conflict) and more here


4. Property, Pensions, & Debts

Your divorce may be more complicated if you or your spouse have property, pensions, or debts. It is important to speak with a lawyer before you ask the court for a divorce because you need to know your rights and responsibilities, even if you believe your divorce is simple. You will likely not be able to change the division of property, pensions, and debts after your divorce is final. For example, if you agree in your divorce to not ask for a share in your spouse’s pension, you probably will not be able to change this after the divorce order is final. Even if you and your spouse are agreeing on everything, you may regret your decisions if you are not informed about all your options, but it may be too late at that point to change your mind.


5. You must complete court forms, even if you agree on everything

Even when both spouses agree on everything, you will need to complete court forms to tell the judge about your agreement.  This is so that the judge has evidence to make a decision about the divorce.

In most cases where there are children, you cannot ask the court to deal with divorce and ignore other issues such as parenting of a child or financial support. In Nova Scotia, the judge will often make two court orders when you ask for a divorce:

  1. a Divorce Order, which will end the marriage and allow the spouses to remarry, and

  2. a Corollary Relief Order, which will include parenting arrangements, child support, spousal support, division of property and division of pensions.

If you have children under 19 years of age, the court will require you and your spouse to provide financial information, even if both parents agree on the parenting arrangements and the child support.

If you do not have children and you do not want to divide any property, pensions, or debts as part of your divorce (i.e. you want to keep everything held in your name and do not want a share in your spouse’s property, pensions or debts, and vice versa), the court will require you and your spouse to file court documents that says this and that neither spouse wants spousal support.

You will need to give a lot of detailed information in your divorce paperwork, and you may have to repeat the same information in different court forms. It is important to provide all the information requested in the court forms so that the judge has all the information they need.

Starting a divorce proceeding with the court does not mean that you are divorced. You are not divorced and you cannot get remarried until the judge reviews your paperwork and makes the divorce order, and the court sends you a copy of the certificate of divorce.


6. Getting a divorce takes time

The family court cannot guarantee how long a divorce will take before being finished. Divorces often take a long time, especially when there are many issues involved.

  1. Uncontested Divorce: If you and your spouse agree on everything, you would not need to appear in court after giving the staff your paperwork. The judge would review your paperwork on their own time, and without having you or your spouse attend court. Even divorces that are uncontested can take several months before the divorce is finalized.

  2. Contested Divorce: If you and your spouse cannot agree on parenting arrangements, child support, spousal support, property division or pension division, then both of you will need to attend court to appear in front of a judge. If the judge must decide on any or all the issues, then the court will schedule a trial where you and your spouse will need to appear and present evidence and make arguments about your position. A contested divorce will take longer than an uncontested divorce.

You can’t remarry until your divorce is final and you have a divorce certificate. Do not plan a wedding to get remarried until you have received your divorce certificate from the court. The court will not speed up your divorce because you want to remarry.

A divorce may take more time if:

  • Documents are not done properly

  • Documents are missing or not complete

  • The court is very busy

  • It is a contested divorce that was started by a petition for divorce, which will require the spouses to attend court

  • The court does not get a “clearance certificate” for your divorce application.

What is a clearance certificate?

When you apply for a divorce, the court will apply for a clearance certificate from the Central Registry of Divorce Proceedings in Ottawa. The clearance certificate confirms that there are no other divorce cases between you and your spouse anywhere in Canada. It may take several weeks for the court to get this certificate, and the court cannot start to process your divorce until they get the clearance certificate.

You cannot have two divorce cases happening at the same time. If you or your spouse had already filed paperwork to start a divorce somewhere else in Canada, then you will either need to:

  • continue with the divorce in that province, or

  • apply to that court to stop the divorce (‘discontinue’ it) in that province before being able to move ahead with your divorce in Nova Scotia.

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