Child Access in Family Law

Child Access

People often confuse the concepts of custody, access, and primary residence. Custody refers to decision-making authority when it comes to important decisions about a child’s education, health, and religion. Access to a child means the right to spend time with the child when they primarily live with the other parent. Primary residence means which parent the child will live for at least 60% of the time.

Depending on the circumstances, there are different types of access arrangements that will be discussed below: access on a flexible and reasonable basis, fixed access, supervised access, and in extreme circumstances, no access. Usually it is in the best interests for the child to have a relationship with both parents and courts will endeavor to encourage that relationship with both parents.

Before going into detail about access arrangements, it is important to note that the residency of the child will play a major role in access arrangements. When the parents live relatively close to each other access issues are generally not difficult to resolve. However, if a parent plans on relocating to another city, province or country with the child, this can significantly impact the frequency and quality of access. You can read this article on parental mobility rights in Ontario to learn more about this topic.

Flexible and Reasonable Access
In this type of arrangement there is usually no fixed or pre-arranged access schedule. The access parent will usually be required to give advance notices of the timings and days of access. For example, in some case the access parent may have the right to exercise access on two weekdays after school provided they confirm they will exercise access at least 48 hours in advance. This often requires the parents to be cooperative as they will be expected to communicate regularly to organize and schedule access visits.

Fixed Access
What is most common is a fixed schedule access. The access schedule for this type of arrangement is usually agreed to by the parties in a parenting agreement. In cases where parties are unable to agree on a fixed schedule, the parties may need to go to court to have a judge make this decision. The fixed schedule is often very detailed and includes holidays and summer vacation schedules.

Supervised Access
If there are safety concerns regarding a parent’s behavior with a child, or if the parents are concerned about exchanging the child at their respective homes, supervised access may be necessary. Supervised access occurs at supervised access centers, with fees that vary depending on which access center is used. The access parent can only visit their child at the access center. The access parent cannot take their child away from the supervised access center.

No Access
In extreme cases, a parent might not have any access. This is very rare and would likely only arise where the child’s safety cannot be protected.

Does Child Support affect Access?
A parent cannot be denied access because they have not paid child support. Similarly, a parent might still have to pay child support even if they do not have access rights.

Rights of an Access Parent
Access parents have the right to request information about their child’s health, education, upbringing and general well being. Such information can be requested directly from the school or doctor.

Other Articles to Read
Step-Parent’s Obligation to Pay Child Support
Imputing Income In Family Law

Helpful Resources:

Divorce and Separation
Family Justice Services
Child Custody and Access
Spousal Support
Child Support
Division or Equalization of Family Property
Treatment of a Matrimonial Home
Enforcement of Support Payments
Child Protection
Child Adoption