Guardianship: Parenting time and parental responsibilities

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Who is a guardian?

When parents live together, both parents are the child's guardians. This means they're equally responsible for the child's care and upbringing. It doesn't matter if they're married or not.

If a child's parents stop living together, they both continue to be the child's guardians. It doesn't matter who moves out or who the children live with.

A parent who has never lived with his or her child is a guardian if:

  • he or she has regularly taken care of the child,
  • there is an agreement or court order that says that he or she is also a guardian, or
  • the other parent dies and he or she is named in the will.

Most of the time a child’s parents will be the child’s guardians, but other people can be guardians too. A person who's not a parent can become a guardian by a court order or under a will. To find out more about applying to become a guardian by court order, see our fact sheet How can you become a guardian?

What does being a guardian mean?

Guardianship = parental responsibilities + parenting time

Guardians are responsible for the care and upbringing of, and decision making about, their child.

There are two parts to guardianship: parental responsibilities and parenting time.

Parental responsibilities

Guardians have what the law calls "parental responsibilities" for the children. These include your responsibility to:

  • make daily decisions about your child;
  • have daily care and supervision of your child;
  • decide where your child will live,
  • decide who your child will associate with;
  • apply for passports;
  • receive information from others about your child (for example, about health and education); and
  • make decisions about your child's education, religious upbringing, extracurricular activities, healthcare, and other important issues.

When you separate, you can share or divide parental responsibilities in whatever way works best for your children.

Parenting time

Parenting time is the time each guardian spends with the child.

During parenting time, a guardian makes day-to-day decisions about and is responsible for the care and supervision of the child.

Parenting time must be decided on the basis of the best interests of the child. This could mean that:

  • time is equally shared between the guardians,
  • the child lives only with one guardian, or
  • anything in between.

What happens when we separate?

If you and the other parent have lived together with your children, both of you continue to be guardians after you separate. You'll need to figure out how you you'll care for and make decisions about your children. That is, how will you divide or share parenting responsibilities and parenting time?

Even though parents share these responsibilities when they're living together, the law does not assume that any particular arrangement is in the children's best interests after you split up. The law specifically says that courts can't assume that equal sharing of parenting time or equal allocation of parental responsibilities are in the children's best interests.

What do we need to put into an agreement about guardianship?

You and the other parent can make an agreement about parenting. This is sometimes called a parenting plan. When you make an agreement or parenting plan you must only consider what's in the best interests of your children. For more information, see our fact sheet Best interests of the child.

You can set up your parenting arrangements in whatever way works best for your child. You can share all the parental responsibilities or you can each take full responsibility for certain decisions. Here are some examples:

  • Each parent has all of the parental responsibilities and you share parenting time in a co-parenting arrangement.
  • Each parent has responsibility for different types of decisions. For example, one parent deals with the child's extra-curricular activities and the other deals with school.
  • One parent has most of the parenting time and parental responsibility, and the other parent has limited parenting time and parental responsibilities.
  • Both parents share responsibility for all major parenting decisions for two children, but one parent has most of the parenting time and day-to-day care of one child and the other has most of the parenting time and day-to-day care of the other child.

To get help making an agreement, see our fact sheets Making an agreement after you separate and Who can help you reach an agreement?

If you make an agreement or a parenting plan, you can file it at the court registry and the court will enforce it. You can also apply to the court to change an agreement in some circumstances.

Can a parent’s guardianship be terminated?

Guardianship can only be removed by a court order, or if both parents agree that one of them will no longer be a guardian. A court will terminate (end) guardianship only as a last resort and if there is no other way to protect the child’s best interests. A judge will first consider other ways to protect a child’s best interest, such as:

  • limiting parenting time;
  • requiring parenting time to be supervised, and
  • limiting parental decision making.

Can we go to court to settle parenting issues?

You can apply to the court for an order that sets out parental responsibilities and parenting time for each parent. The court must base its decision on the best interests of your children.

To find out more about court orders, see our fact sheet All about court orders. To apply for a court order, you can use one of our self-help guides.

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