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Law Reform Commission of Nova Scotia recommends overhaul of law governing matrimonial property division


SYDNEY, N.S. - The Law Reform Commission of Nova Scotia has recommended an extensive makeover of the province’s outdated Matrimonial Property Act.

First enacted in 1980, the act governs the distribution of assets of married couples and registered domestic partners when they decide to terminate their union.

The commission’s 293-page report, offers 130 recommendations for change including adopting a new name, the Family Property Act.

In addition, a number of recommendations are aimed to protect spouses and common-law partners.

A spokesperson for the commission was not available for comment.

While the final report recommends maintaining the principle of dividing property 50-50, the commission said such a division should also extend to common-law partners who have been together for at least two years.

“The commission is of the view that after a certain period of time, common-law partners often show the same kinds of sharing of responsibilities and financial integration as married couples. That leads to the situation where the couple breaks up but one of them does not have a fair share of the assets,” stated the commission, in a news release announcing the delivery of its final report to the provincial government.

During its public consultative process, the commission reported hearing that many common-law partners did not realize the 50-50 rule did not apply to them. “Common-law partners may leave the relationship having contributed to the family without realizing they will not see an equal division of the assets at the end of the relationship. In a number of other provinces in Canada, the law has been extended to common-law couples.”

The report further recommends that pre-marriage property should not be part of the matrimonial assets that are divided.

Presently, the law requires married spouses to divide property that either brought to the relationship. However, as stated by the commission, property bought by a spouse or partner before the relationship began cannot be said to be part of the family’s assets to which both have contributed.

Another key update addresses the practice in Nova Scotia of exempting business assets from division.

The commission states such a provision is difficult to justify. The majority of other provinces do not allow such a practice.

“A spouse may have worked in the home for years, while the other spouse grew a business. A spouse must be adequately compensated for their contribution to the family at the end of the relationship.”

The recommendations are designed to make the law simpler and clearer, to make it easier for spouses and partners to resolve disputes without going to court.

The commission’s final report can be accessed at

The commission also noted that while there continues to be social and economic shifts in gender roles within a marriage, women remain more likely than men to end up in poverty after divorce.

Women still do not have pay equity with their male counterparts and they continue to assume more work inside the home than men. Census data indicates women, working full time, earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

In Nova Scotia, the divorce rate has remained steady since 1998 when it stood at 28.2 per cent. In 2004, the rate was 30.2 per cent and in 2008, 31.1 per cent.

The report also notes that fewer new divorce cases are being filed with the courts in Nova Scotia.

Between 2009 and 2011 there was a 22 per cent drop in the number of new divorce cases.

Contested cases in Nova Scotia are taking longer than the Canadian average to be resolved. In 2010-11, 25 per cent of total active divorce cases were ongoing for more than four years.


• In 2016, couples with children represented 22.2 per cent of census families in the province. However, there was a larger group, couples without children, which registered 29.8 per cent.

• In 1981, married couples in Nova Scotia represented 83.7 per cent of census families but by 2016, that level had fallen to 67 per cent.

• The rates of common-law families, including those raising children, registered 4.2 per cent in 1981 and 15.7 per cent in 2016.

• In 2016, there were 1,760 same-sex married couples in Nova Scotia representing .5 per cent of all census married spouses in the province. This is slightly higher than the national average of .4 per cent.

• Lone parent families made up 12.1 per cent of all census families in Nova Scotia in 1981. By 2016, such families were represented at 17.3 per cent. The 2016 census figures indicate Nova Scotia has the highest incidence of lone parent families in Canada.

Source – Statistics Canada

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