There are three different words to describe the time that a parent spends with the children who live with their other parent:

  • Access is the word used in the federal Divorce Act to describe the time that a parent or other person who does not have custody spends with the child.
  • Contact with a child is the term used in provincial family law to describe the time that a non-guardian spends with the child.
  • Parenting time is the term used in provincial family law to describe the time that a guardian spends with the child.

This information about access is for you if:

  • you are or were married, and
  • you're applying to get or change an order under the Divorce Act in BC Supreme Court.

See Parenting apart if you:

  • aren't married,
  • want to settle your parenting issues without going to court,
  • are applying to get or change an order in Provincial Court, or
  • are applying to get or change an order in Supreme Court under the provincial Family Law Act.

What is access?

Access generally means the time that a parent who doesn't have custody spends with the children.

But you don't have to be a parent to apply for access.

Any person can apply for access to a child. For example:

  • step-parents
  • grandparents
  • aunts and uncles
  • other relatives

If the court believes this access is in each child's best interests, they'll agree to give access.

If you have access, you might also have the right to ask about the children's:

  • health
  • education
  • welfare

Who decides who gets access?

You and the parent with sole custody can decide how much time anyone can spend with the children.

But when you're deciding this, think only about what's in their best interests. It's not about what you want or what the other parent wants. The children's needs are the most important thing.

This means that you might not be happy about the decision.

If you and the other parent can't agree about access, you can apply to the court for an order. This means a judge will look at what's in the children's best interests and make a decision about access.

What types of access arrangements could you make?

There are several possible options for access. For example, you could:

  • Decide that access should be "reasonable" and/or "generous." This means you can decide together:
    • informally (that is, you agree together but don't write anything down) when the children will spend time with each person who has access, and
    • how long they'll spend with them.
  • Agree to generous access, but say when or for how long some or all of the access visits will be. For example, you might agree to "alternate weekends, from Friday at 3 pm to Sunday at 6 pm." This is called specified access. You might also decide who'll pick up and drop off the children and where they'll do this.
  • Make a special access agreement or order for special occasions and holidays such as Christmas, Easter, birthdays, Mother's Day, and Father's Day.

What if you're worried about your children's safety while they're with their other parent?

You or the judge might decide that supervised access is the best option if:

  • you're worried about your children's safety or well-being when they're with their other parent, or
  • a young child needs to meet a parent again after a long break.

This means that someone has to be with the children and their other parent during access time.

This person could be:

  • someone you both know and trust, or
  • someone from an agency that provides such services.

Supervised access does not usually go on forever. The goal is to get the other parent to a point where they can care for the children safely on their own.

What if you can't get along with the other parent at pickup and drop-off times?

If you and the other parent can't get along when you see each other, it could upset you and your children.

If you think you're likely to argue or fight with the other parent when you drop off or pick up your children, you could:

  • meet in a public place, such as a restaurant or play park, or
  • stay in the car and watch outside the other parent's home until the children are safely inside.

If you're worried about your safety or your children's safety, get help from a family justice counsellor, advocate, or lawyer.