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When considering issues of custody, guardianship, access and parenting the Courts will focus specifically on what is in the best interests of the children. Determining what is in a child’s best interest may be complex and is highly fact specific. Generally the Court’s encourage children to have regular contact with both parents; however, depending on the circumstances this may not always be achievable or desirable. People often do not realize that the different terms relating to children (such as custody and access) have specific meanings.

Child Custody & Parenting – How it Works

When most people hear the term “child custody” they think that it refers to who the child or children will live with. Child custody and parenting time are actually two separate concepts. Custody describes a decision-making authority with respect to a child. The decisions involved can include medical and dental care, religious upbringing, education, daily activities and where the child lives. Parents may agree to joint custody, where they share making all major decisions about the child. When parents have joint custody of a child, it does not necessarily mean that the child lives with each them half of the time. When a parent has sole custody of a child, that parent is able to make decisions for the child without the other parent’s consent.

Access/Parenting Time

The time a parent spends with a child is called “access”, in the Divorce Act, or “Parenting Time”, in the Family Law Act.


Under the Family Law Act, guardianship refers to the parent who is responsible for making day to day decisions for the child and is responsible for the child’s well being. Similar to custody, a guardian has the ability to make decisions about medical care, education, where the child lives and who the child can associate with.

In some circumstances the Court may determine that neither parent is able to properly care for the child. In this situation the Court may appoint a third party to do so. This may be a family member or friend. In extreme situations when Child and Family Services is involved, the Court may order that the director of Child and Family Services has guardianship rights.  This can be on a temporary or permanent basis.


Contact refers to communication with, or time spent with a child, by a person who is not a guardian. People who are not guardians do not have decision making authority with respect to the child.  This is usually a grandparent or someone who previously stood in the place of a parent such as a former step parent.  The court may also allow other people to apply for contact with a child.

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