Under the BC Family Law Act, guardians are the people responsible for:
- caring for and raising a child, and
- making decisions about that child.
There are two parts to guardianship:
- parental responsibilities, and
- parenting time.
Who can be a guardian?
When parents live together, they're both guardians of their children. This means they're equally responsible for their children's care and upbringing. It doesn't matter if they're married or not.
If the children's parents stop living together, both of them are still the children's guardians. It doesn't matter who moves out or who the children live with.
A parent who's never lived with their children is a guardian if:
- they've taken care of the children regularly,
- there's an agreement or court order that says they're a guardian, or
- the other parent dies and they're named as a guardian in the will.
Usually children's parents are their guardians, but other people can be guardians too.
A person who's not a parent can become a guardian by a court order or by being named in a will. To find out more about applying to become a guardian by court order, see How can you become a child's guardian?
The law says guardians have "parental responsibilities" for their children.
Here are some examples of parental responsibilities:
- making daily decisions that affect your children (for example, about their meals)
- carrying out all the daily chores that come with looking after your children (for example, getting them to school, making sure they have clean clothes)
- making the big decisions that affect your children (for example, where they go to school, if they go to religious events, what leisure activities they do)
- deciding where your children will live
- deciding who your children will spend time with (this also means which of your friends your children spend time with)
- applying for passports
- getting information from other people about your children (for example, speaking to teachers about their education)
When you separate, you can share or divide parental responsibilities in whatever way works best for your children.
Parenting time is the time each guardian spends with the children.
During parenting time, a guardian:
- makes the daily decisions about what the children are doing, and
- is responsible for caring for and supervising the children.
The law says that decisions about parenting time have to be in the best interests of the child. This could mean that:
- parenting time is equally shared between the guardians,
- the children live only with one guardian all the time, or
- the guardians work out something in between.
What happens if you separate?
If you and the other parent lived together with your children, you're both still their guardians after you separate. You'll need to decide how to divide or share parenting responsibilities and parenting time (that is, care for and make decisions about your children).
The law says that:
- what you decide after you separate has to be in the children's best interests, but
- courts can't assume (take for granted) that means equal parenting time or equal allocation of parental responsibilities.
What do you need to put into an agreement about guardianship?
You and the other parent can make an agreement about parenting.
When you make parenting arrangements you must only consider what's in the best interests of your children. See Best interests of the child for more information about what that means.
You can do whatever works best for your children:
- you can share all the parental responsibilities, or
- you can each take full responsibility for certain decisions.
Here are some examples of how you could share your responsibilities:
- Each parent has the same amount of parenting time but is responsible for different types of decisions or responsibilities. For example:
- one parent deals with the children's sports or other leisure activities and the other deals with school, or
- one parent is responsible for doctor's appointments and the other is responsible for dentist's appointments.
- One parent has most of the parenting time and parental responsibility, and the other parent has limited parenting time and parental responsibilities.
- Both parents share responsibility for all major parenting decisions for two children, but:
- one parent has most of the parenting time and daily care of one child, and
- the other parent has most of the parenting time and daily care of the other child.
Can a parent stop being a guardian?
A parent can only stop being a guardian (sometimes called having their guardianship removed):
- by a court order, or
- if both parents agree that one of them will no longer be a guardian.
A court will terminate (end) guardianship only as a last resort and if there's no other way to protect the child's best interests.
Before they take away a person's guardianship, a judge will look at other ways to protect a child's best interests. For example:
- limiting a person's parenting time
- ordering parenting time to be supervised
- limiting the types of decisions a parent can make
Can you go to court to sort out your parenting issues?
You can apply to the court for an order that sets out parental responsibilities and parenting time for each parent. The court will look at the best interests of your children before it makes any decisions.
To find out more about court orders, see Final and interim court orders. But going to court takes time and money. And it's stressful. Try to work things out yourselves if you can.
Get legal help
It's a good idea to get some legal help before you use this guide. If you can't afford a lawyer, you can get legal help in other ways, including:
- Lawyer Referral Service
- free (pro bono) legal clinics
- family duty counsel
- family advice lawyers
- family justice counsellors
Staff at Justice Access Centres in Nanaimo, Surrey, Vancouver, and Victoria can also answer your questions and help you fill out forms.
For information about legal aid, see the Legal Aid BC website.
This page talks about parenting arrangements (guardianship, parenting time, and parental responsibilities) that married and unmarried spouses can make under the BC Family Law Act. Married spouses may choose to make parenting arrangements under the federal Divorce Act instead. For more information, please see Decision-making responsibility and parenting time.