Tuesday July 9, 2019

Changing the Language on Parenting

Authored by: Terrance G. Sheppard Posted in: Family Law

The federal government is changing the language on parenting, with hopes of changing the conversation. Bill C-78 has introduced a number of amendments to the Divorce Act, which have generally been welcomed by lawyers and scholars across the country. 1

Changing the Conversation

Perhaps the most obvious change is the shift in terminology. The amendments have essentially done away with the terms “custody” and “access.” Instead, parents will be granted “parenting time” and “decision making responsibility.” Substantively, these changes will not affect parents’ rights or responsibilities under the Act. Instead, the amendments have a more child-focused goal.

One objective of the amendments is to ensure the law better promotes the best interests of children. Academics have noted for years that the terms “custody” and “access” can bolster conflict between parents. These terms have connotations of ownership and seem to imply a winner and loser in every proceeding.2 Hopefully, the new terminology will help parents focus on the interests of the children and reduce conflict between parties.

Additional Changes

The amendments have introduced a number of other terms as well. “Parenting plans” are documents that parents will jointly submit to the Court to organize their parenting responsibility. Courts will generally respect parents’ own agreements. This system acknowledges that parents are often in the best position to know what exactly is in the best interests of their children.

“Contact time” describes the time that non-spouses may spend with children. Grandparents and other family figures may be granted contact time.

Nova Scotia Ahead of the Trend

While these changes are new to the federal Divorce Act, Nova Scotia’s provincial legislation has been using the updated terminology since 2017.

For parties who are involved in a divorce, parenting responsibility is dealt with under the federal Divorce Act. The provincial Parenting and Support Act governs parenting proceedings where parties are not divorced or undergoing a divorce (generally this means parents who were never married, or parents who are still married during the proceedings).3 Parents falling within the jurisdiction of the Parenting and Support Act have already been using terms like “parenting time” and “decision making responsibility” instead of “custody and access.”

Nova Scotia is not the only province ahead of the trend. Alberta and British Colombia have also incorporated the updated terminology into their provincial legislation.

Lawyers at BOYNECLARKE LLP understand the importance of resolving conflict in cases of parenting responsibility. If you are looking for legal advice on a parenting issue, please call 902-469-9500 to schedule your free 30-minute consultation with a member of our Family Law team. For more information on the Divorce Act amendments, keep up to date with our blog.


1 Bill C-78, An Act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act, 1st Sess, 42nd Parl, 2019 (assented to 21 June 2019) [Bill C-78]; Divorce Act, RSC 1985, c 3, (2nd Supp).

2 House of Commons, Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access, For the Sake of the Children, (December 1998) (Chairs: The Honourable Landon Pearson and Roger Gallaway).

3 Parenting and Support Act, RS 1989, c 160.

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