Q - What is Family Court?
A - In all areas of the province, except the Halifax Regional Municipality and the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, Family Court deals with family law issues such as custody, access, child and spousal support. Family Court deals with:
- orders for child support, spousal support, custody, and access involving family members such as a husband, wife, parent, child, common-law spouse and same-sex partners.
- cases involving children and adults who are in need of protection
- criminal charges as well as provincial summary offences involving youth
The Court may also deal with a peace bond application if it is already dealing with other matters for the same family.
In the Halifax Regional Municipality and Cape Breton, the Supreme Court (Family Division) deals with all family law court issues.
Q - What family law issues are not dealt with by Family Court?
A - Family Court does not deal with divorce or the division of property. The Nova Scotia Supreme Court deals with divorce and division of family assets. The Supreme Court can also deal with custody, access and support.
In Halifax Regional Municipality and Cape Breton the Supreme Court (Family Division) deals with all family law court issues.
Q - Do I need a lawyer to go to court?
A -Although you can represent yourself in court, it is recommended that you have a lawyer represent you. A lawyer will provide advice, discuss your options with you, prepare the necessary documents, and present your case in court.
If you cannot afford a lawyer you may be able to get help from Nova Scotia Legal Aid. If you cannot pay a lawyer, and cannot get Legal Aid, you should at least try to talk with a lawyer about your legal problem before you go to court. Lawyers are listed in the yellow pages of the phone book (look for a lawyer who does family law), or you can use LISNS Lawyer Referral Service.
Nova Scotia Legal Aid also provides a Summary Advice Lawyer at the Supreme Court (Family Division) in Halifax and in Cape Breton. See the 'Family Law Help' page for more information.
Q - How much does it cost to go to court?
A - If you hire a lawyer you will have to pay legal fees, or in some cases, you may qualify for legal aid. You will need to discuss with the lawyer his or her hourly rate and how long he or she thinks the case will take. There may also be fees for filing and serving documents. You can get information about court costs and fees on the Courts of Nova Scotia website, or contact the court for information. Courts are listed under 'Courts' in the government section of the phone book, or go to www.courts.ns.ca.
Q - How do I take my case to court?
A - It depends on the type of application that you are making.
If you are making an application to Family Court and you do not have a lawyer, you can phone the Family Court and speak to the intake worker. The intake worker will help you to consider what action you can take and can assist you in preparing for court. Intake workers cannot give you legal advice or represent your interests in court. Courts are listed under 'Courts' in the government section of the phone book, or go to www.courts.ns.ca.
Q - How long does it take to get a hearing in Family Court?
A - Usually, you will get a 'docket date' within four to six weeks of your application. The docket is the list of cases to be heard on a particular date.
The docket date gives the judge a chance to:
- identify the issues to be heard,
- find out if the parties have or intend to have lawyers represent them, and
- determine if the parties are able to resolve the issue on their own.
You should attend court on the docket date, but you do not need to bring your witnesses. Usually the judge will set a hearing date, which will be two to six months from the docket date. In an emergency, you may get an early date to go to court.
Q - What is it like in Family Court?
A - The court is less formal than the Supreme Court because it is dealing with family law issues and many individuals who come to court are not represented by a lawyer. Usually the people who will be in the courtroom are:
- the judge,
- court officials,
- the parties to the hearing and their lawyers, and
- witnesses (both sides can have witnesses).
There are no juries in Family Court.
In cases dealing with family matters, the court is usually closed to the public and the media. However, anyone can ask the judge to be allowed to attend a hearing. It is up to the judge to decide whether to allow the person to be at the hearing.
When the Family Court hears criminal cases involving young persons, the court is open to the public and the media. However, the media cannot publish the name of or any information that might lead to the identification of any young person involved in the case whether as a victim, witness, or accused.
Q - Can I appeal a decision of the Family Court?
A - Yes. If you disagree with the judge's decision, you may appeal to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal. You must have a good reason to appeal. You should talk to a lawyer if you want to appeal. The lawyer can advise you whether you have grounds for appeal and tell you how to appeal.
You have 30 days from the court decision to start an appeal.
Q - What happens if the court order is not obeyed?
A - If a Family Court order is not obeyed, you may apply to the court to have it enforced or changed. If a custody or access order is not obeyed, you can talk to the intake worker at Family Court. For more information on enforcing custody, access and support orders see the other FAQs on Family Law.
Q - Where is Family Court?
A - There are Family Courts in major centers across the province. Family Courts are listed in government blue pages at the back of the phone book under Courts. Here are phone numbers for the main offices:
Amherst - 667.2256
Antigonish - 863.7312
Bridgewater - 543.4679
Kentville - 679.6075
New Glasgow - 755.6520
Pictou - 485-7350
Truro - 893.5840
Yarmouth - 742.0550
Q - What is the Supreme Court (Family Division)?
A - In 1999, the Supreme Court (Family Division) was established in the Halifax Regional Municipality and in Cape Breton to hear matters previously heard by Family Court as well as to deal with other family-related matters such as divorce.
The Supreme Court (Family Division) offers additional services such as conciliation, mediation and parent education which may help reduce the conflict that can arise as a result of parents separating or divorcing.
Supreme Court (Family Division)
Sydney - 563.2200
Port Hawesbury - 625.4012
Halifax - 424.3990