Custody and Access: A simple explanation

February 7th, 2013 by Meliha Waddell

Many people confuse the terms “custody” and “access”. While commonly related in terms of parenting time, the two words mean different things.

Custody refers to the legal right to make major decisions about your children. These decisions usually include education, such as what school your child will attend, and health, what treatment your child will obtain. The parent with custody also has the right to make decisions regarding religious upbringing, although this is a less common issue. Generally, the parent who has the children on a particular day makes the day-to-day decisions, i.e. whether your child should stay home from school sick.

Access is the time each child spends with a parent.

If you have joint custody of your child, you and the other parent must agree on any major decisions. However, this does not mean that your child spends half of their time with you. Two parents can have joint custody, but the child spends every other weekend with one parent and the balance of their time with the other. Similarly, one parent can have sole custody, but the child can reside entirely with the other parent.

Custody is assessed based on the best interests of a child, and that test is set out in section 24 of the Children’s Law Reform Act. Decisions with respect to custody are often based on two major factors: During the relationship, did the parents make decisions together, or did one parent make all of the decisions, and, since the separation, can the parents continue to make decisions together. Courts and professionals are also very aware of both parents’ ability to promote the child having a relationship with the other parent. A parent who discourages a child’s relationship with the other parent may be seen as “alienating”, which is a problem that is taken very seriously.

It is important, both to protect your children, and to protect your right to make decisions for your children, that you work together with the other parent in regards to custody and access following a separation, as long as the circumstances are appropriate to do so.

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