What’s the difference between Custody and Access?

You often hear people talking about seeking or getting custody of the children.  This makes it sound as though custody is a win or lose game: one parent gets custody and the other doesn’t.  The parent with it is the ‘real’ parent and the other parent is just a visitor or a babysitter.  This does not accurately reflect family law in Ontario.

Illustration by, Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber

Illustration by, Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber


What Does Custody Mean In Family Law?

Custody largely means making major decisions for your children.  Parents usually have joint custody of their children, which means that they make important decisions regarding the children together.  There are other custody options as well, such as when each parent makes different types of decisions.  For example, one parent may choose the children’s doctor, while the other parent chooses the children’s school.

Sometimes one parent will have sole custody of the children, which means that only parent will make all of the major decisions for the children, but this usually happens when the parties cannot communicate with each other or one parent cannot make reasonable decisions for their children.

What Does Access Mean In Family Law?

Unless you’re in a lawyer’s office, you rarely hear people talk about Access.  Access essentially means making a schedule for your children which outlines when they will spend time with each parent.  Detailed Access Schedules, sometimes called Parenting Time Schedules, can be very important to ensuring consistency for children, and for parents as well.  

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