Parenting Terms: What do the Words Mean?

Access

An old term that is no longer used in either the Parenting and Support Act (provincial) or the Divorce Act (federal).   Terms like ‘parenting time’ ‘‘contact’ and ‘interaction’ are used instead. You may still see the term ‘access’ used in older court orders and agreements.  An agreement or court order that uses ‘custody’ or ‘access’ to describe the parenting arrangements will continue until it is varied/changed 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.

Agreement

You and the other parent (or all parties) come to an understanding about your parenting arrangements for a child. The agreement may be informal and not written down. The agreement may become legally binding, which means the agreement must be followed, if it is written down and each person who signs the agreement has their signature witnessed by an independent person (someone other than the other person(s) who is named in the agreement). An agreement may be registered with the court. A registered agreement becomes a court order.

Change of residence

Please see the section on moving a child’s residence here.

Consent order

When both parents (or all parties) agree on the arrangements and, as long as the arrangements are in the best interests of the child, a judge will make an order based on this agreement. A consent order can be changed with a new order based on terms that are agreed to by filing documents with the court to get a new order based on your agreement, or by going back to court and asking for a change.

Contact

The time a child spends with anyone other than a parent or guardian under a court order or agreement. This will often include grandparents. If the person also wants interaction, this must be pleaded separately. Used to be called ‘access’ - a term that is no longer used.

Contact order

Generally, contact between a child and others such as grandparents, a stepparent, or other extended family members will take place during a parent’s regular parenting time.

A court can make a contact order where it is not possible for contact to take place during a parent’s parenting time, and it is the child’s best interest to have contact with another person.

Grandparents do not need the court’s permission (leave) to apply to court for contact time under the Parenting and Support Act.  Other important people to the child must ask the court for permission (leave) to make an application. This means that the person seeking a contact order would have to explain their connection with the child, and why it is in the child’s best interest to have a contact order in place to maintain the connection. An order for contact time under the Parenting and Support Act may include in-person time as well as other forms of contact such as telephone calls, texts or video chats.

Other than a spouse (person who is divorcing or who has divorced the other spouse), any person (for example, grandparents), who wants to have a contact order under the Divorce Act must ask the court for permission to make an application. This means that the person seeking a contact order would have to explain their connection with the child, and why it is in the child’s best interest to have a contact order in place to maintain the connection. The Divorce Act directs judges to consider if contact with the child could otherwise happen during one of the parent’s time with the child.

A contact order under the Divorce Act may be in place for a specific period of time, or continue until changed, and include in-person time as well as other forms of contact such as telephone calls, texts or video chats.

Court order

A decision by a judge. Parents must follow what the court order says. Court orders can be changed with a consent order with terms that are agreed to by filing documents with the court to get a new order based on your agreement, or by going back to court and asking for a change.

Custody

An old term that is no longer used to describe who has the responsibility for decisions about a child. The term ‘decision-making responsibility’ is used instead. You may still see the term ‘custody’ used in older court orders and agreements.  An agreement or court order that uses ‘custody’ to describe the parenting arrangements will continue until it is varied/changed 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.

Decision-making responsibility

Decision-making responsibility is a general term describing who is responsible to make significant decisions for and about a child. For example, this includes decisions about a child’s: health, education, culture, language, religion, spirituality, and significant extra-curricular activities.  This has traditionally been called ‘custody’.  The Divorce Act and the Parenting and Support Act no longer use the word custody.

Who can apply for decision-making responsibilities for a child of the marriage?

  • Either spouse (divorcing or divorced from the other spouse)

  • Both spouses (divorcing or divorced from the other spouse)

  • A parent of the child

  • A person who stands in the place of a parent (taken on a parenting role)

  • A person who intends to stand in the place of a parent

  • Any combination of the above.

If you are not a spouse (divorcing or divorced from the other spouse) then you must seek permission (leave) of the court to make the application.

Both parents may share responsibility for making all of the significant decisions about their child. Sometimes one person alone may have decision-making authority. Other times each parent may be responsible for making specific decisions about the child. For example, one parent may make all of the medical decisions, and the other parent may make all of the education decisions. Most parents will be expected to talk about important decisions that affect a child, regardless of who has been given the decision-making authority.

Every person who has decision-making responsibility is able to ask for and get information about the child from third party care providers subject to any applicable laws (for example, privacy laws) and unless there is an order limiting disclosure of information about a child.

With permission of the court, grandparents or other persons may ask for an order for decision-making responsibility of a child.

Interaction time (in the Parenting and Support Act)

Covers things like being able to:

  • go to specified activities of the child, like school events or extracurricular activities

  • send gifts to and get gifts from the child

  • get in touch with the child - such as by telephone, letter, email, text, video chat

  • get photographs of the child and information regarding the health, education and well-being of the child.

Important people in a child’s life can apply to court to ask for interaction time with a child under the Parenting and Support Act.  An interested person (other than a parent or grandparent) must ask the court for permission (leave) to make an application. This means that the person seeking an interaction order would have to explain their connection with the child, and why it is in the child’s best interest to have an interaction order in place to maintain the connection.

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 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 to set out the parenting arrangements.

Parenting plan

A plan to describe how parents who are not together will care for and make important decisions about their child. Some parents prefer open plans while other parents prefer to have a detailed plan. For parents who want a detailed parenting plan, this is a starting point to identify what are the child’s needs, what decisions have to be made for the child and who will make those decisions, how the child spends their time and with whom. Once a parenting plan is agreed on, it becomes the parenting arrangements for the child. If a parenting plan cannot be agreed on the parenting arrangements will be ordered by a judge based on what is in the best interests of the child after looking at each parent’s parenting plan and the child’s best interests. A parenting plan should be based on what is in the best interests of the child and not the best interests of the adults in the child’s life.

Making plans: A guide to parenting arrangements after separation or divorce - How to put your children first.

This guide is published by the Department of Justice Canada, and provides information about parenting after separation and divorce, including:

  • how to decide on the best parenting arrangement for your children

  • what processes you can use to come to a parenting arrangement

  • what you (parents) may be feeling

  • what your children may be feeling

Parenting time

Refers to the time that a child spends in the care of one of their parents or person who has a parenting role, and includes time when the child is at daycare or in school. Parenting time may be court ordered and set out in a schedule or as agreed between the parents.

Unless a court order or agreement says otherwise, a person who has parenting time automatically has the right to ask for and get information about the child’s health, education, and general welfare (for example, from a school or doctor)

Third parties, like schools and medical agencies, may not understand this, so parents may wish to have the right to access information from third parties outlined in their court order or agreement.

Parenting order

A court order that sets out details about a parenting arrangement, such as each parent’s decision-making responsibilities, the time the children will spend with each parent, and how the children will communicate with one parent when spending time with the other parent.

Standing in the place of a parent

A person who has taken on, or wishes to take on, parenting responsibilities for the care and upbringing of a child.

Relocation

Please see the section on moving a child’s residence here

Removal

A court may make an order to prohibit the removal of a child from a community, city, province or country without the written consent of a specified person or without a court order authorizing the removal.

Shared parenting time (formerly referred to as shared custody)

Term used for child support purposes that means the child spends at least 40 percent of the time with each parent over the course of a year.  These terms are not used to describe who will make decisions for or about a child.

Split parenting time (formerly referred to as split custody)

Term used for child support purposes where each parent exercises the majority of parenting time with at least one of the children when there is more than one child. In other words:

  • one or more children spend more than 60 percent of the time in a year with one parent; and

  • one or more children spend more than 60 percent of the time in a year with the other parent.

Supervision

Under the Divorce Act there may be a provision to require a parent’s or other person’s time with the child, or transfer of the child from one person to another to be supervised. Sometimes this is referred to as ‘supervised parenting time, and/or supervised exchange’. This arrangement is also permitted under the Parenting and Support Act.

Variation order

This is a new agreement or court order to replace an existing court order. The variation order may be made to update child support, and/or the parenting provisions of an existing order. A variation order may be made by an agreement between the parties that, if acceptable, is approved by a judge, or reflect the decision of a judge after a trial.