Children have a right to spend time with the parent they do not live with. When a child lives most of the time with one parent the other parent will typically have access to the child unless access would not be in the child’s best interests. Access is sometimes called parenting time. Our family laws reflect the belief that a child should have as much contact with both parents as is consistent with their best interests. A parent who is opposed to the other parent having access must be able to establish that access would not be in the child’s best interests.
Although access doesn’t include the right to make decisions regarding the child or the right to be consulted, access parents do have a right to make inquiries and be kept informed of decisions regarding their child’s health, education and welfare.
Access is not tied to child support. Access cannot be refused because a parent fails to pay child support. Similarly, child support cannot be withheld because access is being refused or denied.
As well as stating what access a parent will have court orders or agreements concerning access may also cover things such as whether the child can be taken out of the province, how the access exchanges should take place and communication between the parents.
Access arrangements can be very specific and detail the exact days and times the access parent can see the child and how and when the exchange between parents will take place. This is sometimes referred to as specified access.
Arrangements may also be very general and simply allow for what is called reasonable access, meaning the details are left for the parents to work out themselves. Reasonable access has the advantage of being flexible but, of course, requires parents to cooperate and focus on the best interests of the child.
If there are particular concerns about an access parent the access could be conditional, meaning that certain conditions must be met before access is allowed. For example, conditions could include not using alcohol or drugs before or during access periods, not smoking in the presence of a child, or not having a particular person present during access periods.
The court can order that a parent’s access time with the child be supervised. This means the child will not be alone with that parent. Access can be supervised by a third party, for example a relative or friend of the family. The court will not order a third party to supervise access unless they agree. Access can also be supervised in supervised access centres provided through the Supervised Access/Exchange Program. This program only operates Saskatoon and Regina.
Supervised access is only ordered if there is a concern for the child’s safety or well-being, or a concern about the parent not returning the child after access or abducting the child. Cause for concern could include situations where the access parent has…
- a history of alcohol and/or drug abuse
- a history of mentally, physically or sexually abusing child(ren)
- had no contact with the child(ren) for a long period of time
- limited parenting skills
Supervised access is only ordered in unusual cases and even when it is ordered it is not something that is considered a long-term solution. If supervised access visits go well the court may decide to allow unsupervised visits after a period of time.
The court can also order that access drop-off and pick-up times be supervised. This is called supervised access exchange. The access exchange can be supervised by a third party or in Saskatoon or Regina by the Supervised Access/Exchange Program. The court may order that the access be supervised if there is violence or a lot of hostility between the parents or if one parent has a restraining order against the other parent. Parents can also agree to have the exchange supervised by a third party or in a supervised access centre.
Other Persons of Sufficient Interest
Sometimes parents of a child may agree on, or a court may order, access for someone other than a parent. This might happen when a child has a close and meaningful relationship with someone like a grandparent or other extended family member who cannot otherwise get time with the child. If the matter does go before the courts a person who is not a parent must be able to satisfy the court that an order allowing access would be in the child’s best interest. In many cases the courts will leave it up to each parent to use their discretion as to whether or not to allow access to someone such as a grandparent. That way either parent can simply arrange visits with their extended family members during times when the child is in their care.