Access is the word used in the federal Divorce Act to describe the time that a parent spends with the children who live with the other parent. Provincial family law doesn't use the word access. Instead it talks about contact with a child, which is slightly different.
This fact sheet applies to 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.
- 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,
this fact sheet does not apply to you. Please see our fact sheet Parenting apart instead for information about the laws about parenting after separation that relate to you.
What is access under the Divorce Act?
Access generally means the time children spend with the parent they don't usually live with. But access isn't limited to the parent who doesn't have custody. Any person can apply for access to a child, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives. If the court believes this access is in the child's best interests, the court will grant it.
Access includes the right to ask for and get information about the child's health, education, and welfare.
How is access decided?
You and the other parent can decide how much time the parent without custody, or other relative, can spend with the child. To decide this, you must consider only what is in the child's best interests in making this decision. If you can't agree, you can apply to court for an order. In court, the judge will decide based on what is in the child's best interests.
What types of access arrangements could we make?
You might be able to agree that that access should be "reasonable" and/or "generous." This means you decide together informally when and how often the children will spend time with each parent or person with access.
Another common arrangement is to agree to generous access, but specify 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 p.m. to Sunday at 6 p.m." This type of arrangement is called specified access. You might also set out who will pick up and drop off the children, and where.
An access agreement or order can also describe when each parent will see the children on special occasions and holidays such as Christmas, Easter, birthdays, Mother's Day, and Father's Day.
What if I am worried about my child's well-being while he or she is with the other parent?
If you are worried about your child's well-being during access or if a young child needs to be reintroduced to a parent, the court may order or parents may agree to supervised access.
This means that either:
- a person you both agree on, or
- someone from an agency that provides such services,
will be with the child and parent during access time.
What if the other parent and I can't get along at pick-up and drop-off times?
You could agree or the court may order that your children be dropped off and picked up in a way that reduces or avoids contact between the two of you. This could mean that:
- you meet in a public place, such as a restaurant or public park, to transfer the children, or
- the parent dropping the child off stays in the car and watches outside the other parent's home until the child is safely inside.
You can avoid conflict in many ways. If you are worried about your or your children's safety, always get help from a family justice counsellor, advocate, or lawyer.
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