Parenting, custody & access

Parenting includes contact with a child, guardianship, parental responsibilities, and parenting time (BC Family Law Act); and access and custody (federal Divorce Act), and covers who has the right and responsibility to make decisions about the child, and guardians' and non-guardians' time with the child.

Frequently asked questions

Can I get legal aid for my family law problem?

Legal aid in BC, provided by the Legal Services Society (LSS), can take one of three possible forms: legal representation, legal advice, or legal information.

If you are financially eligible, you may be able to get legal representation and most legal advice for free. The eligibility guidelines for legal advice and for legal representation are separate. Legal information (plus some kinds of legal advice) is free to all British Columbians. If you're reading this page, you've already received a form of legal aid.

To find out more about legal representation for family law problems and what's covered, see the Serious family problems or Child protection matters pages on the LSS website. If you don't qualify for legal representation, you may still be eligible for legal advice services.

To find out for sure whether your particular case qualifies for legal representation, go to your local legal aid office (or call the provincial LSS Call Centre) to apply.

If my child is under 19 and leaves home, what are my financial responsibilities?

In BC, a parent is financially responsible for a child until they're 19 years old. A parent is also financially responsible for a child who's 19 or over but unable to support themselves because of illness, disability, or for other reasons (such as attending a post-secondary institution full time).

If a child under the age of 19 voluntarily leaves home and is in need of financial support, a parent is still financially responsible for that child. However, there are exceptions:

  • the child is a spouse
  • the child has left home and refuses to return although welcome (unless the child left because of family violence or other intolerable circumstances)

The courts have also said that these are exceptions:

  • the child is living with a boyfriend or girlfriend who's supporting them or helping to support them financially
  • the child is supporting themself financially

For information and community resources, see Parent Support Services of BC, Healthy Families BC, or talk to a family justice counsellor. See also our fact sheet Can you sue your parents for support?

At what age can children choose which parent they get to live with?

Many people believe that when children turn 12, they can choose which parent they'll live with, but this isn't true.

When your parents are trying to figure out where you'll live after a separation or divorce, or if a judge is deciding, they have to make the decision based on what's best for you. According to the law, the child's best interests involves a bunch of things — not just what you want but also your relationship with each parent and their ability to take care of you.

If your wishes are based on poor reasons, or your parents or the judge think there are other important facts related to what's best for you, they can decide on living arrangements that you don't agree with.

For more information, see the online fact sheets Guardianship and Custody and the booklet Living Together or Living Apart: Common-Law Relationships, Marriage, Separation, and Divorce.

My former common-law partner pays child support for our daughter, who lives with me and stays with him every second weekend. Now he wants her to stay every weekend, but I don't agree with that. We both want what's best for our daughter, but just can't seem to agree on this, no matter how much we discuss it. What can we do?

It's always best if you and your former partner can resolve things without going to court, especially when they're related to your children. Help is available for you and your former partner to make decisions based on your daughter's best interests.

You could take a free, three-hour Parenting After Separation course for parents who are dealing with child custody, guardianship, access, contact, and support issues.

You can also meet with family justice counsellors who are accredited mediators. One of the things they do is to help separated parents come to agreements on parenting and other family law issues. These agreements are legally binding and can be filed with the courts.

You can also get help from a private mediator. See the Mediate BC website for a list of available mediators and other information about mediation and how it works.

If you and your former partner try these services and still can't reach an agreement about access to your daughter, your other option is to go to court.

For more information, see the fact sheets Making an agreement after you separate and All about court orders. We also have a booklet called Living Together or Living Apart: Common-Law Relationships, Marriage, Separation, and Divorce.

Do I have to put the name of the other parent on my baby's birth certificate registration?

The birth certificate registration only contains information about the child's date and place of birth, and who his or her parents are. If you choose not to put the other parent's name on the birth certificate, that parent's legal relationship to the child is still the same, including his or her obligations to pay child support and his or her right to ask for guardianship, parenting time, parental responsibilities, contact with the child, custody, or access.

If you're deciding whether to put the other parent on the birth certificate registration, it's important to get legal advice based on your circumstances and legal needs. See Who can help? for more information about how to find a lawyer.

See the BC Vital Statistics website for more information on filling out the registration form for a birth certificate.

For more information, see the fact sheet Parenting Apart.

Can I get access to my grandchild?

My son let his wife have sole guardianship of my granddaughter, and my granddaughter's mother has been very difficult to deal with. She got the order through Provincial Court.

There are options for relatives who want to maintain a relationship with a child. These options include family justice counsellors, mediators, and going to court. See our fact sheets Spending time with a child if you're not a guardian: Contact and Children's right to time with grandparents.

Some services that might help you are Provincial family duty counsel or the Lawyer Referral Service. Or see the other services listed in Who can help?

What if we want to change a parenting or support order, but one of the parties no longer lives in British Columbia?

If either you or your spouse doesn't live in BC, standard family law rules won't apply. If this is your situation, your case is more complicated, and you should see a lawyer to get some advice. See Who can help? for how to find a lawyer. See also the fact sheet about when one party doesn't live in BC on this website. Or see the booklet Living Together or Living Apart: Common-Law Relationships, Marriage, Separation, and Divorce.

Can a child under 19 years of age leave home?

In BC, children have the legal right to leave home when they reach 19 years of age (the age of majority). However, practically speaking, a child in BC may choose to leave home before reaching 19.

Can a child be "emancipated" in BC?

"Emancipation" isn't a legal concept in BC.

Emancipation generally refers to the legal process for a minor (a person under the age of majority) to become legally separate from their parents or guardians. If a minor is emancipated, parents can't make decisions for them and aren't financially responsible for them.

Emancipation is recognized in some places outside BC, including Québec and the United States.

Still got a question?

If your legal information question isn't answered here, please send us an email. Provide some background information for your question, including where you live in BC and the level of court involved (Provincial or Supreme), if applicable. Your question (without your name or identifying details) and its answer may be added to our FAQ pages.

If we can't answer your question, we may have to refer you elsewhere.

We can't guarantee that your question will be answered quickly. If you need a quick response, contact one of the resources listed in Who can help?