Custody & Access


Custody is the right to make important decisions about how to care for and raise a child.

For example:

  • the child’s school and educational programs,
  • the child’s religion,
  • where the child will live,
  • other activities for the child, such as sports, tutoring, and music lessons,
  • the child’s legal name, and
  • health care decisions for the child.

Custody is not about which parent the child lives with or how much time a child spends with each parent. For example, even if only one parent has custody, the child might spend equal time living with each parent. On the other hand, the child might live mainly with one parent, but both parents have custody and share the decision-making.

What are the different types of custody?


Joint custody

Joint custody means that both parents must agree on major decisions that affect their child. One parent cannot decide these things without the agreement of the other. If they disagree, they must find a way to resolve it.

Courts do not like to order joint custody if parents are unable to make these decisions together. Joint custody works best when parents share similar ideas about how to raise their child. It takes a lot of co-operation.

Sometimes parents with joint custody divide up the decision-making. For example, one parent may make medical decisions, while the other makes educational decisions.

Sole custody

If one parent has sole custody, this means he or she can make all of the important decisions about the child, even if the other parent disagrees. Sometimes the parent with sole custody must talk to the other parent before making the decision.

Some people assume that if a parent with sole custody dies, the other parent gets custody. This is not always true.

A parent with sole custody can choose who will have custody of their child for the first 90 days after their own death. The person they choose, or anyone else, can apply to court to have custody after that.


Access refers the amount of parenting time each parent has with their child.

A parent with access also has the right to ask for and be given information about their child’s health, education, and well-being from the other parent or places, such as schools and hospitals. But for some health information requests, such as hospital records, the parent with sole custody may need to give their written consent first.

What are some of the different types of access?

Reasonable access

If the parents are able to co-operate, access arrangements can be left open and flexible instead of having a detailed schedule. This is sometimes called reasonable access or liberal and generous access. This allows the parents to informally make arrangements that can easily be changed if the situation changes.

Fixed access

Sometimes the terms of access include a specific and detailed schedule. This is often called fixed access or specified access. The terms may cover things like holidays, long weekends, children’s birthdays, and religious occasions. They may include where access will take place, who is responsible for dropping them off, or other conditions.

Supervised access

In some situations, access may need to be supervised by another person. For example, supervised access might be ordered if the parent with access:

  • has a drinking or drug problem,
  • has abused the child in the past, or
  • has threatened or tried to take the child away from the other parent.

The person who supervises might be a relative, a friend, a social worker, a worker at a supervised access centre, or a children’s aid worker.

No access

In the most extreme cases, a parent might not have any access to their child. For example, this could happen when serious child neglect or abuse has been proven, or where a child’s safety cannot be protected.