Provincial Court
Supreme Court

Some terms in the Divorce Act will change on March 1, 2021

Effective March 1, 2021, the federal Divorce Act will use terms similar to those in the BC Family Law Act.

  • The term decision-making responsibility will replace custody to describe the responsibility for making important decisions and getting information about the children after separating.
  • The term parenting time will be used to describe the time that a spouse spends with their child and is responsible for supervising and caring for the child.
  • The term contact will be used instead of access to describe the time children spend with a person who isn't a spouse. This includes grandparents, aunts and uncles, and others.

The word custody is only used in the federal Divorce Act. It's not used in BC provincial family law.

If you're not sure which law applies to your situation, see Parenting apart. It also explains the different terms used in federal and provincial law.

You can use the word custody if you're:

  • applying for a divorce, and
  • applying for orders related to your children under the Divorce Act at the same time.

But even if you're applying for a divorce, you can apply for your parenting orders under the provincial Family Law Act and use the words guardianship, parenting time, and parenting responsibilities. That's the most common approach in BC.

Under the Divorce Act, having custody means:

  • the child lives with you at least some of the time, and
  • you have rights and responsibilities to make decisions about the child.

There are different types of custody:

  • Sole custody: one parent has the legal responsibility for caring for and making all the decisions about their children. The children live with that parent for most of the time.
  • Joint custody: both parents share the rights and responsibilities for their children. This means:
    • the children can live with both parents or mostly just one parent, and
    • both parents make decisions about the children.
  • Shared custody is a type of joint custody. It means each parent is responsible for the children for at least 40 percent of the time.
  • Split custody: You have to have at least two children for this option. One or more of the children live with one parent, and one or more of the other children live with the other parent (that is, the children are split up).

Custody arrangements can be quite flexible. The good thing about that is that you and the other parent can sort out what works best for you both.

But you have to be clear with each other about what you're agreeing so you both understand your plans.

Settle your issues out of court

If you think you and the other parent could sort out custody without going to court, see Making an agreement after you separate and Who can help you reach an agreement? for some helpful information about how to do this.

For online help writing a parenting plan that's best for your child, you can also try MyLawBC's online Family Resolution Centre. In the Family Resolution Centre, you can work with the other parent to make decisions about your parenting arrangements, and get a free mediator to help settle any issues that you don't agree on.

You could also look at the question and answer pathways on MyLawBC to help you sort things out. They take you to personalized action plans for dealing with separation, getting court orders, or dealing with family law forms.

Custody and child support

Your custody arrangements can affect your child support payments. See Child support for more about this.

How is custody decided?

Under the Divorce Act, a judge makes decisions about custody based on the best interests of the children. This means:

  • the judge puts your children's needs first, and
  • you might not like what they decide.

See Best interests of the child for more about this.