Parenting apart

Provincial Court
Supreme Court

Some terms in the Divorce Act changed on March 1, 2021

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

  • The terms decision-making responsibility and parenting time replaced "custody."
  • The terms contact and parenting time replaced "access."

If you and the other parent divorce or separate, or you’ve never lived together, you have to decide how you’re going to care for your children. It's a good idea to make a parenting agreement or plan that sets out how you'll raise your children.

The federal Divorce Act and provincial Family Law Act both talk about parenting. While they use similar words, there are some differences in the way the words are used and how each law looks at parenting. It’s possible that one set of laws might be more suitable for your situation. That’s why it’s a good idea to understand the differences between them and learn what words to use.

Click the blue title below to see:

  • the words each law uses, and
  • what the words mean under that law.

Family Law Act

Divorce Act

Contact with a child

The time that a parent who isn't a guardian, or any other person who isn't a guardian (such as a grandparent or other relative), spends with the child.

A person who isn't a guardian can apply for contact under the Family Law Act.


The time that a child spends with a person who isn’t one of the divorcing spouses (such as a grandparent or other relative).

A person who wants to apply for a contact order must get permission from the court.


Guardians are people (usually parents) who:

  • spend time with and care for a child, and
  • are responsible for making decisions that affect the child.

When a child's parents live together, they're both the child's guardians (they both have guardianship).

When they separate, they're still both guardians until they agree to change that or a court orders a change.

Guardians have parenting time and parental responsibilities (see below).

[The term is not used in this law]

Parental responsibilities

The decisions that guardians are responsible for making about their children. These can include day-to-day decisions as well as major decisions about things like health care, education, or religious upbringing.

Guardians who separate or divorce can share or divide parental responsibilities in whatever way works best for the child.

Decision-making responsibility

The responsibility for making major decisions about a child’s well-being, including about their:

  • health;
  • education;
  • culture, language, religion, and spirituality; and
  • significant extracurricular activities.

This term does not include day-to-day decisions, or decisions about relocation/residence, travel, association, and other consents that are found in the Family Law Act.

Parenting time

The time that a guardian spends with the child.

During parenting time, a guardian is responsible for the care and supervision of the child and making day-to-day decisions about the child.

Parenting time

The time that one of the divorcing spouses spends with the child.

The time that a person with a court order for parenting time spends with the child.

Each person with parenting time can make day-to-day decisions about a child, such as meals and bedtimes, when the child is in their care.

Parenting arrangements

The arrangements made for parental responsibilities and parenting time in a court order or an agreement between guardians.

Parenting orders

A court may make a parenting order about parenting time and decision-making responsibilities.

If there’s a parenting plan, a court must include its terms in a parenting or contact order. If the plan isn’t in the best interests of the child, the court can omit or change the plan.


Member of a same-sex or opposite-sex couple who are married or in a marriage-like relationship (you might call it a common-law relationship).


Member of a same-sex or opposite-sex couple who are or were married.

Which words should you use?

  • If you’re separating or you’ve never lived together, you can use the words in the BC Family Law Act.
  • If you’re divorcing and making parenting arrangements, you can use the words in either the BC Family Law Act or the federal Divorce Act.

In BC, most of the time, judges and lawyers use the Family Law Act and the words in that law: parenting time, guardianship, and parental responsibilities. So it's probably easiest to use the words in the Family Law Act in your forms and documents.

To find out more, see:

Updated on 24 November 2021