Varying Custody or Access Orders in Family Law
Custody and access to children are complex issues requiring consideration of which circumstances would best benefit the interests of the child. Often, one or both parents may desire a change in custody or access. This can be accommodated so long as they can prove that a material change in circumstances has occurred since the last order was made.
A change can be said to be “material” if the situation presently in force would have resulted in a different order originally being made. Requests for variation are resolved entirely based on what will benefit the child, rather than what either of the parents want (Gordon v. Goertz, 1996 CanLII 191 (SCC)).
Variation is permitted under section 17 of the Divorce Act, which further stipulates that a parent’s newly developed terminal illness or critical condition qualifies as a change of circumstance. A child’s increased age and expressed wishes to spend less time with a parent can also constitute a material change ( M. (S.M.) v. H. (J.P.), 2016 BCCA 284). Intensified and more frequent conflict, if egregious enough, can also serve as a material change (Friedlander v. Claman, 2016 BCCA 434).
Section 47 of the Family Law Act also gives authority for a court to change an order of custody or access. Section 216 of the Family Law Act allows the court to address interim orders (K. (B.) v. B. (J.), 2015 BCSC 1481). Again, the parent desiring the order’s variation must prove a material change in circumstances. The change cannot be one that was contemplated and addressed in the prior order (Gordon v. Goertz, 1996 CanLII 191 (SCC)), such as a foreseen adjustment to a child’s extra-curricular soccer schedule. Material change can be shown through, for example, a parent becoming mentally ill, a child desiring to have less or more time with a parent, or a parent successfully completing counseling and improving their ability to be a guardian.
Although less frequently invoked, the court also has jurisdiction to change an interim order even if there has neither been a change in circumstances or new evidence. The court may only do so if a change would be in the best interests of the child (R. (R.) v. L. (S.), 2016 BCSC 1230. If you have concerns about your family matters, please contact Heath Law LLP to book a consultation.