There are three ways to apply for a divorce in Nova Scotia:
- Petition for Divorce: There is no agreement — there are outstanding issues between you and your spouse that you cannot work out.
- Joint Application for Divorce: You and your spouse have an agreement on everything, and you are filing the paperwork together.
- Application for Divorce by Written Agreement: You and your spouse have an agreement on everything, but only one of you is filing the paperwork.
A Petition for Divorce and an Application for Divorce by Written Agreement both require that the other spouse be personally served with the divorce documents. Here is information about Personal Service. A Joint Application for Divorce does not require personal service of the documents, as you are filing together.
The spouse who files a Petition for Divorce is called the petitioner. The other spouse is called the respondent.
Spouses who apply for a Divorce by Written Agreement are called the applicant and respondent.
Spouses who make a Joint Application for Divorce are both called applicants (applicant and co-applicant, or 'joint applicants').
You can apply for a divorce:
- with a lawyer's help , or
- without a lawyer.
What court deals with divorce?
Recently the Family Courts in Nova Scotia combined with the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in each part of the province to offer family law services as a 'unified' court, called the Supreme Court (Family Division). It is the Supreme Court and Family Courts combined. Before this change the Supreme Court (Family Division) was only in the Halifax Regional Municipality and in Cape Breton. Now the Supreme Court (Family Division) deals with all family law issues everywhere in the province, including divorce, dividing assets (property division), child protection, parenting arrangements, child support and spousal support.
What is an uncontested or desk divorce?
An uncontested divorce or 'desk' divorce is one where the spouses agree on the basis for the divorce (usually one year's separation) as well as other issues related to divorce — parenting arrangements , child support, spousal support (if any will be paid) , division of property and debts. The agreement is confirmed in a Corollary Relief Order — a court order that covers things like parenting arrangements, support, and asset and debt division. The Corollary Relief Order is approved by a judge as part of the divorce process. The spouses file the necessary forms with the court and a judge reviews the forms in their office - that's why an uncontested divorce is sometimes called a 'desk' divorce. It is rare for the spouses to be asked to appear in court for an uncontested divorce. If there is missing information the court will send a letter to each spouse to ask for missing information or to clarify a term of the Corollary Relief Order.
Even for an uncontested divorce there are many steps involved and the process can be complicated. You should consider hiring a lawyer to do this for you. If you cannot afford a lawyer, it is possible to prepare the necessary documents yourself, but representing yourself in any court proceeding, even an uncontested proceeding, has its risks. Your divorce will have a permanent impact on your life, including your rights and obligations. For example, a division of property and waiving a right to get spousal support are final. It is very rare for a spouse to be able to go back to court in the future to successfully get a different division of property or to ask the other spouse to pay spousal support.
Judges and court officers cannot give you legal advice. Make sure you understand the risks involved before you decide to do-it-yourself.
If you do decide to do it yourself, an uncontested divorce may be started by filing:
1) Uncontested Motion for Divorce. This is used when a divorce petition was filed, the respondent did not file an Answer to the Petition, and now the spouses want an uncontested divorce; or
2) Application for Divorce by Agreement; or
3) Joint Application for Divorce.
You should try to speak with a lawyer if you are not sure which of these ways to choose. For more information about applying for an uncontested divorce, go to nsfamilylaw.ca
Can my spouse and I apply for a divorce together?
Yes. If you have a written agreement on everything relating to your divorce you can apply fo an uncontested divorce together as 'joint applicants'. This is called a Joint Application for Divorce. A written agreement may be a Separation Agreement, Minutes of Settlement, or a draft court order about the terms of your divorce (a Corollary Relief Order). You must both agree to the terms of the divorce.
If you decide to apply for a divorce as joint applicants, you do not have to serve (have it delivered to your spouse in person) the Joint Application for Divorce on your spouse, since your spouse is co-signing the application.
How do I get a separation agreement?
You and your spouse can try to reach an agreement in several ways. You can:
- negotiate the terms of an agreement directly with your spouse
- hire a lawyer to negotiate for you
- hire a mediator to help you and your spouse reach an agreement
- file an application with the court. If your application is about parenting or child support a court conciliator may be able to help you. A court conciliator is a court officer who can help you identify the issues involved in your case, make sure that you and your spouse exchange full financial disclosure, help you reach an agreement, and refer your case to a mediator or judge if you and your spouse are not successful in reaching agreement.
Mediators and conciliators cannot give legal advice. They do not decide issues for you and will not force you to reach an agreement. Conciliators can order a spouse to provide full financial disclosure and make limited orders for child support.
There are significant risks involved in trying to negotiate and sign a separation agreement without hiring a lawyer. If you do not have legal advice about your rights and obligations, you may forget to deal with an important issue or agree to something that is very unfair to you or your spouse without realizing it. If you make a mistake it can permanently affect your rights.
At minimum, both spouses should talk to a lawyer before signing any separation agreement. This is called getting independent legal advice. The lawyer will review the agreement with you and make sure you understand what it means and how it will affect you. A lawyer can explain your rights and obligations and may be able to give you an opinion as to whether the agreement is fair or not.
Once you agree to the terms of a separation agreement, it is very difficult to change unless you and your spouse both agree to change it.
What should we put into our separation agreement?
Some of the matters you and your spouse will want to deal with in a separation agreement include:
- what type of parenting arrangements you will have for your child(ren);
- child support (the minimum amount allowed by law is set out in the Federal Child Support Guidelines)
- other expenses for your children such as childcare (called section 7 expenses)
- whether either spouse will receive spousal support, and if so how much, and for how long
- how the family's property (assets) and debts will be divided or have been divided.
What is a contested divorce?
A divorce is contested if one spouse disagrees with the other on the basis for the divorce (one year separation, adultery or cruelty), or parenting arrangements, child or spousal support, or division of property and debts. A contested divorce requires a trial before a judge, who will decide whatever issues the spouses cannot agree on, unless the spouses are able to work things out before getting to a trial. A contested divorce, or one that might be contested, must be started using a Petition for Divorce.
Grounds for divorce
The only ground for divorce in Canada is a 'breakdown of the marriage'. You can prove the marriage has broken down in one of three ways:
1. You and your spouse have been separated for at least one year (one year's separation)
2. Your spouse committed adultery; or
3. Your spouse treated you with intolerable physical or mental cruelty.
Almost all divorces in Nova Scotia are granted based on a one-year separation.
You cannot ask for a divorce based on your own adultery or cruelty, only your spouse's adultery or cruelty.
Another requirement is that at the time the divorce is granted, one spouse must believe, and state under oath or affirmation, that there is no possibility of reconciliation (getting back together).
You should only consider using a do-it-yourself divorce kit if you are seeking a divorce based on one year's separation or if your spouse has admitted adultery. If your spouse abused you in any way, you should speak to a lawyer about your divorce.
Can either spouse apply for or petition for a divorce?
Either spouse may apply for a divorce. You do not need your spouse's permission or consent.
You can file for divorce in Nova Scotia if either you or your spouse has lived in Nova Scotia for at least a year immediately before you file for divorce.
Either spouse can petition or apply for divorce based on one year's separation. Only a spouse who did not commit adultery or cruelty can seek a divorce on the basis of adultery or cruelty. You can file for divorce in Nova Scotia if either you or your spouse has lived in Nova Scotia for at least a year immediately before you file for divorce.
Go to nsfamilylaw.ca for information about the difference between applying or petitioning for divorce.
Where can I get the divorce forms?
Online Guide to Filing for Divorce in Nova Scotia - step-by-step information and forms for filing for divorce. You can fill the forms out on your computer and then print out a hard copy to file with the court in person. The forms also have helpful tips about what to put in the blanks.
The divorce forms come from Nova Scotia's Civil Procedure Rules, which are court rules, forms and processes created by judges. The Civil Procedure Rules are on the Nova Scotia Courts' website at: https://www.courts.ns.ca/operations/rules/civil-procedure-rules.
You can hire a lawyer to prepare the forms for you. If you already have a signed separation agreement, this should not be very expensive.
If you decide to complete the documents yourself, you should still try to have a lawyer review them before you file them with the court. You can speak with court staff to arrange a conversation with Summary Advice Counsel or check out the lawyers and legal help page for further sources of help, including ways to see a lawyer.
File the necessary documents with the court and wait for the court to grant your divorce. This usually takes at least a number of months, so do not schedule a wedding until you have your Certificate of Divorce! When the court grants your divorce, you must wait 31 days from the date on your Divorce Order. This is the appeal period. If neither spouse appeals, you will then get a Certificate of Divorce from the court - it will be mailed to you after the appeal period is over. You will need the Certificate of Divorce to remarry.
I need help with the forms. Where can I go?
- If you are filing for a divorce without the help of a lawyer (self-representing), you will have to complete a Divorce Workshop. This workshop provides information on how to fill out the forms, timelines, and the process you can expect. For more information, you can speak with Family Court Staff, by going to https://www.nsfamilylaw.ca/separation-divorce/divorce, or emailing [email protected].
- You can make an appointment with a Nova Scotia Legal Aid Summary Advice Lawyer. You do not have to qualify for Nova Scotia Legal Aid to use this service. The Summary Advice Lawyers provide brief, basic legal advice free of charge. You will need to speak with Family Court Staff to make arrangements to speak with The Summary Advice Lawyers.
- Contact your local Nova Scotia Legal Aid office at: http://www.nslegalaid.ca/contact.php
- The Family Law Information Program (FLIP) at the courts in Halifax and Sydney can offer assistance. Contact the FLIP in Sydney at 902-563-5761 or in Halifax at 902-424-5232 for further information, or go to: https://www.nsfamilylaw.ca/programs-services/family-law-information-program.
- Check out the Lawyers and Legal Help page of this website for other possible sources of help. Remember: only a lawyer can give you legal advice.
- A private lawyer (lawyer you would pay).
How long will it take to get an uncontested divorce?
It depends. Either spouse may file for divorce as soon as you separate, but a court will only grant a divorce after you have been separated for one year, unless the spouse seeking the divorce can prove the other spouse committed adultery or intolerable cruelty.
It often takes 12-18 months for spouses to reach an agreement on all of the issues relating to their separation, such as parenting, child and spousal support, and division of their property and debts. Some spouses reach an agreement sooner than this; others take longer.
Once you and your spouse have been separated for a year, and have reached an agreement on all issues, you can apply for an uncontested divorce. Even if you fill out all the forms correctly and provide all of the necessary information, it may still take months for the court to process the forms and grant an uncontested divorce. You should contact the court to find out how quickly uncontested divorces might be processed and do not make wedding plans until you have your Certificate of Divorce.
Once the divorce is granted, it does not become final until another 31 days have passed. The court will then issue a Certificate of Divorce. You will need a Certificate of Divorce if you want to remarry. The total amount of time is usually around 18-24 months.
How much does it cost to get an uncontested divorce in Nova Scotia?
If you and your spouse have already agreed on everything and you decide to hire a lawyer to provide independent legal advice and prepare a separation agreement and the necessary forms, you can expect to spend about $1,500.00 - $3,000.00 for legal fees plus HST and the court filing fee. As of January 2021 the court filing fee for an Application for Divorce by Written Agreement or Joint Application for Divorce was $218.05 plus $25 (law stamp) and HST. Here is more information about court filing fees. There may also be some office expenses (photocopies, postage, couriers, etc.), and there may be a fee for having your spouse served with the divorce documents. These expenses are called disbursements.
Generally, it costs more to hire a senior lawyer than a junior one. If you are concerned about the cost, ask about the lawyer's hourly rate, and whether there is a junior lawyer at the firm who can help with the paperwork to save money. Some lawyers may also be willing to just help with part of the work. If a lawyer just helps with part of a case it is sometimes called a "Limited Scope Retainer".
In addition, the other spouse should get independent legal advice from a different lawyer. It is unethical for the same lawyer to provide legal advice to both spouses. This is because each spouse may have different legal needs and it is impossible for one family lawyer to act ethically for each client in this way.
I can't afford the court filing fee. Is there a program to help me?
Yes. Nova Scotians who have a low income can ask the court for a Waiver of Fees application: https://www.courts.ns.ca/resources/public/costs-fees. You will need to provide proof of your income.
Can I get my spouse to help me pay for an uncontested divorce?
In an uncontested divorce, usually each spouse pays their own legal costs. The person who applies for the divorce pays the court filing fees and other court-related costs. Sometimes spouses agree to share these costs.
How long will it take if my divorce is contested?
Most spouses are able to eventually settle their divorces without the need of a trial, but even where spouses are able to settle all of the issues arising from their separation, it can take 12-18 months to do so. If a divorce trial is necessary, it will probably take two or three years to finalize your divorce.
How much does a contested divorce cost?
The overall cost is entirely dependent on how reasonable the spouses are with each other and how complicated the issues are. If both sides hire lawyers and reach agreement quickly, it may only cost a few thousand dollars each for legal fees. If one or both spouses are unreasonable, or if there are complicated issues to resolve, it may cost each spouse $5,000 or more in legal fees even if the spouses eventually reach agreement. If the spouses cannot reach agreement and a divorce trial is necessary, it will probably cost each spouse a minimum of $5,000 and can cost $20,000 or even $40,000 or more in complicated cases. These are general figures. You should ask your lawyer for an estimate as to how much your divorce will cost.
I was married outside of Canada. Can I get divorced in Canada?
Yes. You can file for divorce in a province if either you or your spouse has lived in that province for at least a year immediately before you file for divorce. You will need to get an original marriage certificate from the place you married.
If you were married in a country where a marriage certificate is not issued then there are steps you may take to prove your marriage and to get a divorce in Canada. You should speak with a lawyer or a court worker for help on this process.
I just moved to Nova Scotia. Can I file for divorce here?
You can file for divorce in Nova Scotia if you or your spouse has lived in Nova Scotia for at least a year. If you just moved to Nova Scotia from another province, and your spouse has lived in their province for at least a year, you can ask your spouse to file for divorce in the other province instead. This 'residency' rule applies across Canada, as it is part of the federal Divorce Act, which is Canadian law.
I don't know where my spouse is. Can I still get a divorce?
Yes. First you should do everything you can to find your spouse. For example, you might:
- contact friends or relatives to try to find your spouse
- do internet searches
- look on social media
- ask at your spouse's recent residence(s) or place(s) of work
- hire a private investigator to help locate your spouse.
Keep records of the steps you take to locate your spouse. If you still cannot locate your spouse, you can apply to a judge to ask for an order for substituted service, which would allow you to notify your spouse in a way other than personal service. This is a court order that tells you what you must do to make sure your spouse is aware that you have filed for divorce, such as having the divorce documents delivered to someone (for example, your spouse's parents) you know is likely to be in touch with your spouse. The judge will want to know that you have made every reasonable effort to find your spouse before the judge will grant an order for substituted service.
Go to nsfamilylaw.ca for more information about service (notifying your spouse of the divorce) or applying for substituted service. You will also find information in Nova Scotia's Civil Procedure Rules (court rules and processes made by judges).
You should try to speak with a lawyer to get legal advice about how to apply for an order for substituted service.
My spouse and I want to try to make our marriage work. Can I put the divorce on hold?
Yes. Divorce law encourages spouses to reconcile (get back together) if at all possible.
An application or petition for divorce expires six months after the day it is filed with the court, unless the respondent is notified of the divorce petition or application within that time, or the court extends the time for notification.
You can get back together any number of times without affecting your date of separation as long as the total number of days that you live together as spouses does not exceed 90 days. If you get back together for more than 90 days and then file for divorce again, your separation date changes to the date your last reconciliation ended. A change in your separation date may affect your division of property as well.
My spouse and I just got back together. Can we cancel the divorce?
If your divorce was finalized you cannot cancel or revoke it, but you can re-marry.
If the divorce is not final, in most cases the petitioner or applicant can stop the divorce by filing a notice of discontinuance with the court, and delivering the notice of discontinuance to the respondent. If you discontinue the divorce and later decide to restart it, you will need to do a new petition or application for divorce and pay the court filing fee again.
Can I ask the court to change my name?
You can go back to using your unmarried name or a previous married name at any time, without waiting for a court order.
After you change your name, you will need to change your identification and inform all of the government offices, agencies, and businesses you deal with. You should provide notice in writing (some places have specific forms to use). If you changed your name in your Divorce Order, you can show a copy of the Divorce Order as proof. If you changed your name informally by just going back to using your unmarried name or a previous married name, you can use your birth certificate or previous marriage certificate as proof of your previous name.
For more information about name changes go to nsfamilylaw.ca
I want to change my childrens names too. How do I do that?
In an uncontested divorce, the court will only change your children's names with the consent of both spouses. You will need to get written consent from your spouse and file it with the court. You should also include a paragraph in your divorce documents indicating what the children's names are, what you want the names changed to, and confirming that both spouses consent to the name change.
If the court orders the children's names changed, you should inform the children's schools, doctors, and other organizations of the change. This should be done in writing.
For more information about name changes go to nsfamilylaw.ca
For more family law information and ways to get legal advice
Can't find what you're looking for? For all your Questions & Answers about divorce, including divorce forms, go to:
To find a lawyer, you can
- ask a friend or family member for a referral
- contact your local Nova Scotia Legal Aid office at: http://www.nslegalaid.ca/contact.php
- contact law firms in your community that do family law
- contact your Employee Assistance Program or union if you have one
- go to nsfamilylaw.ca - the page on getting legal advice;
- contact a women's centre and ask if they can suggest a referral
- go to Lawyers and Legal Help for more ways to find a lawyer.
If you cannot pay a lawyer
Your lawyer may accept alternate billing arrangements, or may be willing to just work on part of your case.
If you have no extra money, but you and your spouse own property, such as a home, investments, or RRSPs, some lawyers may agree to be paid at the end of your case, when you receive your share of the family property.
Also, some lawyers may consider helping you with just part of your legal issue - for example, preparing an affidavit or examining a witness in court. This is sometimes called providing 'unbundled' or "Limited Scope Retainer" legal services. Go here for more information about how lawyers charge for their work.
You may qualify for Nova Scotia Legal Aid.
Contact your local Nova Scotia Legal Aid office for information about Legal Aid's services: nslegalaid.ca/legal-aid-offices/, and ways to apply for Nova Scotia Legal Aid: https://www.nslegalaid.ca/online-application/ . Check your local directory for the addresses and telephone numbers of legal aid offices across Nova Scotia, listed under 'Legal Aid' in the white pages and government section of the telephone book, or visit Nova Scotia Legal Aid's website at: www.nslegalaid.ca
Summary Advice Lawyer for Family Law issues.
You can make an appointment to meet with a Nova Scotia Legal Aid Summary Advice Lawyer at the court. You do not have to qualify for Nova Scotia Legal Aid to use this service. The Summary Advice Lawyers provide brief, basic legal advice free of charge. You can speak with Family Court Staff to make arrangements to speak with The Summary Advice Lawyers.
You can represent yourself.
You can represent yourself and complete the required forms to obtain a divorce. You will find more information about the forms required for a divorce in Nova Scotia online at https://www.nsfamilylaw.ca/separation-divorce/divorce.
If you decide to represent yourself, you should still ask a lawyer to review the forms before you file them with the court, if possible.
More information about family law in Nova Scotia
- Contact us by telephone (Legal Information Line), email, or live chat to connect with a legal information counsellor and get free family law information
- Nova Scotia Legal Aid offers family law live chat on its website on Tuesdays from 3 pm to 5 pm
- Justice Canada Family Law Information
- The Court Services Division of Nova Scotia's Department of Justice operates the Family Law Information Program at the Supreme Court-Family Division in both Halifax and Sydney. Visit nsfamilylaw.ca for more information
- A website called CANLII offers free access to Canadian laws and court decisions. You can also find Nova Scotia laws on the Nova Scotia legislature website - nslegislature.ca and court information and procedures on the Nova Scotia Court website - www.courts.ns.ca
- Francophone Nova Scotians can get help from l'Association des juristes d'expression française de la Nouvelle-Écosse.
Last reviewed: April 2021
Reviewed for legal accuracy by: Lawyer Shelley Hounsell-Gray, QC
Thank you to Justice Canada for funding to help update our legal information on divorce.