On separation, a couple must decide how they will share time with their children and what responsibilities they will have in respect to each child. The implications to the couple will depend on whether legal proceedings are under the federal Divorce Act or the BC Family Law Act. A couple may only proceed under the Divorce Act if they are married; however, anyone can proceed under the Family Law Act for most matters dealing with children.


Under the Divorce Act, the proper terms to describe parenting rights and responsibilities are “custody” and “access”. The term “custody” refers to with whom the child will live and the rights and responsibilities regarding the care of the child. The term “access” refers to the time a parent without custody, or another relative, is entitled to spend with the children.

Under the Family Law Act, the proper terms are “parenting responsibilities” and “parenting time”. The term “parenting responsibilities” refers to the ability to make decisions for the child. Guardians may share these responsibilities or one guardian may have these responsibilities on his or her own. The term “parenting time” refers to the amount of time that a guardian spends with a child and may also include smaller, or day-to-day, decision making while the child is in the care of that guardian.

Determining Parenting Time and Responsibilities

Parents may reach an agreement as to how they will share responsibilities and how much time they will spend with the children or they may apply to Court to receive an Order. A Court will determine these issues by considering what is in the best interests of the children. A Court may determine that it is in the best interests of the children to give shared rights and responsibilities to both parents, to only one parent or a combination of both. How these issues are divided may affect the amount of child support that each party is responsible to pay.

In many communities, before a parent can go to Court, he or she must attend a Parenting After Separation Course. This course discusses the effect of a couple’s separation on the parents and the children.