Parenting After Separation: “Custody” and “Access” Explained

How you parent your children after separation is often described in terms of "custody" and "access". What do they mean?

When you separate, you will need to give careful consideration to how you and your newly separated spouse will care for your children. In this post, University of Ottawa law student and Fresh Legal summer intern, Kayla Sanger, explains the basics of custody and access post-separation.    


Custody is the legal ability to make important decisions regarding your child.  Such decisions include your child’s legal name, where they will live and attend school, decisions relating to medical care and related matters.  It is important to know that custody itself does NOT refer to who your child will live with or how much time they will spend with each parent. 


Access refers to the right of individuals to have contact with the child - in other words, who your child lives and spends time with.  In most circumstances, it is best for your child to maintain bonds with both parents and anyone else who has had a hand in raising them. If the child lives primarily with one parent, access is usually granted to the other. Sometimes grandparents apply for access. 

How are custody and access decided?

The law presumes that unless otherwise indicated, both parents are equally entitled to custody and access.  A Court Order obtained under the Children's Law Reform Act is one way that custody can be established contrary to this presumption.  One of the express purposes of the Children’s Law Reform Act is to ensure that a child’s best interests are adequately considered when determining who is granted custody and access.