Parenting apart

Provincial Court
Supreme Court

You'll have to make some important decisions about how you're going to care for any children if:

  • you stop living with your children's other parent, or
  • you and your spouse:
    • have children together, but
    • don't live together.

But you also need to know what words to use when you're talking about looking after the children.

In BC, the provincial laws about who looks after the children when a couple separates were changed in 2013 to:

  • get away from the idea of winning and losing that the words custody and access suggest, and
  • focus more on parents' responsibility for their children.

The people who suggested this new way of looking at parenting after separation hoped it will encourage both parents to look after their children, even if the roles and responsibilities of each parent are different.

But it's also a bit confusing, because now the federal and provincial laws:

  • use different words to talk about parenting after separation, and
  • look at parenting after separation in two different ways.

Click Family Law Act or Divorce Act to find out:

  • which words the law uses, and
  • what the words mean.
Words What they mean
  • When a child's parents live together, they're both the child's guardians (they have guardianship).
  • When they separate, they're still both guardians until they agree to change that or a court orders a change.
  • Guardians have parental responsibilities and parenting time (see below).
Parental responsibilities
  • Guardians are responsible for making decisions about their children. These decisions are called parental responsibilities. They can include day-to-day decisions as well as bigger ones about things like health care, education, or religious upbringing.
  • After they separate or divorce, guardians can share or divide parental responsibilities in whatever way works best for the child. You and the other parent can decide this yourselves and write down what you decide in an agreement or you can ask the court to decide. If you decide to sort it out yourselves, see Write your own separation agreement for some tips on how to do this.
Parenting time
  • The time that a guardian spends with the child.
  • During parenting time, a guardian is responsible for the care and supervision of the child and makes day-to-day decisions about the child.
  • When parenting time is being sorted out, you can only look at the best interests of the child. This could mean that time is equally shared, the child lives only with one guardian, or anything in between. And you might not be happy with the decision.
Parenting arrangements The arrangements made for parental responsibilities and parenting time in a court order or agreement between guardians. Parenting arrangements do not include contact with a child.
Contact with a child The time that a parent who isn't a guardian, or any other person who isn't a guardian, spends with the child.
Words What they mean
Custody Where the child lives, who they live with, and the rights and responsibilities a guardian has for the child in their care.
Access The time children spend with the parent they don't usually live with. Other people can also apply for access to a child (including grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives).

Which words should you use?

In BC, most of the time judges and lawyers use the Family Law Act words: parenting time, guardianship, and parental responsibilities.

The federal government has recently introduced changes to the Divorce Act. If they're accepted by Parliament, the Divorce Act and the Family Law Act will use the same words.

So it's probably easiest to use the words in the Family Law Act.

To find out more, see: