In family law ‘custody’ has been used to describe how decisions are made for a child, and ‘access’ has been used to describe how the child’s time would be spent with their parents or caregiver.
Family laws have changed.
To describe who will make decisions for a child, the Divorce Act (federal law) and the Parenting and Support Act (provincial law) have replaced the word ‘custody’ with ‘decision-making responsibility’.
To describe when the child will spend time with important people, the Divorce Act has replaced ‘access’ with “parenting time” (for spouses) and “contact” (for non-spouses). The Parenting and Support Act has replaced ‘access’ with ‘parenting time’ (for parents or guardians), and ‘contact time’, or ‘interaction’ for others.
An agreement or court order that uses ‘custody’ or ‘access’ to describe the parenting arrangements will continue until it is changed (varied) with a new agreement or court order. You do not need a new agreement or court order just because the language of parenting has changed.
The term ‘parenting arrangements’ is often used to include decision-making responsibility, parenting time, contact or contact time, or interaction, or a combination of these terms.
There are no presumptions (legal starting points) in the Divorce Act or Parenting and Support Act about parenting arrangements. For example, the law does not have a presumption that parents will have an equal amount of time with their children.
All parenting decisions about children are to be made based on the best interests of that child. Click here for information on best interests.
The Divorce Act and the Parenting and Support Act place duties on parents, others who apply for orders under the Acts, the court and legal advisors. To learn more about these duties click here.
For terms often used when making parenting arrangements, click here.
Parents who are not together need to make parenting arrangements. Parenting arrangements explain where the child will live, who will be responsible for making major decisions, and when the child will spend time with important people in the child’s life.
The term ‘parenting arrangements’ is often used to include decision-making responsibility, parenting time, contact, contact time, or interaction, or a combination of these terms.
Parents are encouraged to work together to develop a parenting arrangement that is in their child’s best interests. Some parents work together and/or with a family law professional to work out the details of the parenting arrangements. The parenting arrangements do not have to be written down in a formal agreement. Some parents prefer to have a written agreement in place. Other parents, who are not able to work together (for reasons such as violence), or who are unable to agree to the parenting arrangements, use the court process to get a court order.
Family courts have services to help you to get a court order that sets out the parenting arrangements.
A good place to start is to consider the parenting arrangements for your child:
Parenting Plan Tool (DOJ Canada)
It is always recommended you obtain legal advice. Click here for information about legal support and advice options in Nova Scotia, including no and low-cost services.