Ending a relationship is never easy. Your emotional, physical, and mental state can be turned upside down. It's not as simple as just saying goodbye and going your separate ways.

You'll need legal advice about dividing your property, how to deal with debts, spousal support, and, if you have children, child custody, access, and child support. If you have a house you may need to have it appraised and contact a realtor to help you sell it. If you have been a stay at home parent you may have to think about returning to paid work. You may need counselling on how to help yourself and your children deal with the break-up. You may need help from a credit counsellor and/or financial planner.  You should also review estate planning documents like your will, power of attorney, and personal directive. 

It can be overwhelming, but try to take it step-by-step, and don't be afraid to get help from experts! 


The term separation applies when one or both spouses or partners decide the relationship is over, and usually, one  spouse or partner moves out.  Sometimes a couple may be 'separated' even if they are still living in the same household. Separation can apply to married couples and to couples who live together in a common-law relationship.

Once you have separated, no further action is required to make it 'legal'. However, you and your spouse may have to deal with issues such as child custody, access and support, spousal support, property, family debts, and pension rights. You and your spouse or partner can negotiate a separation agreement, which is a legal document that is signed by both of you and outlines what has been agreed upon. Your lawyer will advise you on how to protect your interests and meet your needs. The agreement is considered legally binding once it has been signed by both of you. It is therefore very important to have legal advice when the agreement is being drafted, and before you sign anything.  If the two of you can't agree on everything that needs to be worked out, you may have to go to court.


Divorce allows married couples to formally end the marriage by court order. Once the divorce is final, either spouse is free to remarry. The federal law dealing with divorce is called the Divorce Act and only a Supreme Court Judge can grant a divorce. Common law couples do not need to divorce, as they are not married.

Property Division

Property includes such things as the family home, furniture, cars, pension plans, and bank accounts. In Nova Scotia the provincial Matrimonial Property Act sets out laws for dividing property. It applies to married couples and Registered Domestic Partners , but does not apply to common law couples (click here for information for common law couples). You will also need to work out who is responsible for family debts.

Child Custody 

Custody refers to the arrangement made by the parents for the care of the child. Joint custody generally means that both parents have the right to make major decisions about the child. Usually, the child will live with one of the parents while the other parent will still have access and share in the decisions that affect the child. Sole custody refers to one parent having the right to make major decisions and being responsible for the care of the child. The other parent may have access to the child and could be consulted on any major decisions concerning the child. In a shared custody arrangement a child lives at least 40% of the time with each parent. The term split custody applies if there are two are more children, and each parent has one or more of the children living with them. Shared and split custody are terms laid out in the Federal Child Support Guidelines and used to establish the amount of child support under the Guidelines.

Child Support

Parents have a legal obligation to support their children. When parents separate or divorce usually the parent without custody must pay child support. The Federal Government of Canada and the provinces have established Child Support Guidelines to address child support issues and to establish a fair system child support. For more information visit Canada's Department of Justice at www.canada.justice.gc.ca. Also, click here, and go to nsfamilylaw.ca, for more child support information.

Estate planning

The end of a relationship is a key time to review and update estate planning documents like your will, power of attorney, and personal directive.   If you do not already have these documents, it is also a good time to consider putting them in place! Click here for information about these topics.

Click here for more information about any of these family law topics, and more!  You'll also find lots of great family law information online at nsfamilylaw.ca.