Designating a Spouse for Pension Purposes

NSHEPP includes a definition of “spouse” that reflects the definition set out in the Nova Scotia Pension Benefits Act. The definition from the Act is outlined here and is accompanied by a ‘plain language’ explanation to assist you in understanding how this definition may apply to your individual situation.

Definition of Spouse

Spouse” shall mean either of two persons who

  1. are married to each other,
  2. are married to each other by a marriage that is voidable and has not been annulled by a declaration of nullity,
  3. have gone through a form of marriage with each other, in good faith, that is void and are cohabiting or, where they have ceased to cohabit, have cohabited within the twelve-month period immediately preceding the date of entitlement,
  4. are domestic partners within the meaning of Section 52 of the Vital Statistics Act, or
  5. not being married to each other, cohabited in a conjugal relationship with each other
    1. for a period of at least three years, if either of them is married, or
    2. for a period of at least one year, if neither of them is married;

For purposes of the Plan, an individual may have only one spouse at any given time.

Notwithstanding this definition, for all applications of the Income Tax Act, the relevant definitions therein shall apply. Any right, benefit or privilege available to a spouse under or incidental to this Plan is subject to the limits of applicable legislation in force at the relevant time.


The definition of spouse addresses 5 possible situations.

Item (1) in the definition of spouse applies where a couple is legally married and has not divorced. This is part of the definition that will apply to the vast majority of legally married individuals.

Items (2) and (3) in the definition of spouse address situations where a marriage ceremony has taken place but where there is some problem with the ceremony or with the capacity of the particular individuals involved to marry each other, which results in a marriage that may not be legally valid. These would be unusual situations and do not apply to most marriages.

Item (4) applies to individuals who have entered a “registered domestic partnership” under the Nova Scotia Vital Statistics Act.

Item (5) deals with spouses in common law relationships. If neither of the people in a common law relationship is married to someone else, they will qualify as spouses for pension purposes after living together in a spouse-type relationship for one year. If either of them is married to someone else, they will qualify as spouses for pension purposes only after they have lived together in a spouse-type relationship for three years.


To qualify for spousal Plan benefits after you retire, the spousal relationship must be in existence as of the date your retirement pension starts. Only your spouse at retirement is eligible for spousal retirement benefits.

Your spouse may waive his entitlement to spousal benefits in accordance with the rules of Nova Scotia pension legislation before your retirement pension starts. This waiver can be done through a form provided by the pension regulator in Nova Scotia, or through a court order or written agreement dealing with pension division that complies with the requirements of pension laws. If this applies, your benefits may be determined as if you were a single member. Please contact the Plan administrator for more information if this applies to you.

This information is intended as a general explanation only. It is not intended as legal advice or a specific legal interpretation of a member’s individual circumstances. This information is based on current requirements of Nova Scotia pension law. Those requirements are subject to change. Members should seek specific legal advice on their personal situations.

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