One of the most important factors in a custody dispute is the status quo. If the current custody arrangements for the child are not working, a judge will alter the custody situation, leaving one parent to be the custodial parent and the other the access parent.
While representing clients in divorce or family law proceedings, the other complicated and emotional issue is child access. If you are a parent divorcing or separating, you need a skilled family lawyer or divorce lawyer to make sure your custody rights are protected.
With my over 20 years of experience as a family lawyer in Toronto and as a mother of two children, I have an understanding of the needs, emotional and financial implications divorce or separation can have on families.
What is Child Access or Visitation Right?
Child Access, or Visitation Rights, is when a child who lives with one parent goes to visit the other parent for a few hours, a weekend, or for longer, such as during a winter or summer vacation. Just because a parent only sees the child for access visits does not necessarily mean that they do not have custody rights. However, if a parent does not have custody of their child, they may still have access visits with the child, so as to continue to have a good relationship with the child.
Access visits can either be unsupervised or supervised, depending on what is felt to be in the best interests of the child. Unsupervised is the usual kind of access, where the child goes to visit the parent, and no one else needs to be present while the child and parent are together. Supervised access is only ordered by the court where there is a concern that it is not in the best interests of the child that the parent be alone with the child, and requires that the child visitations take place in the presence of a third party, either in the presence of a trusted person such as a friend or relative, or at an access centre.
These access centres are set up and run by the government which allows parents and children to spend time together in a safe, neutral environment. There are trained volunteers to assist with matters that arise, and the safety of all parties involved is better protected this way. They charge a fee, but if a family cannot afford it, a lower rate may be negotiated.
Supervised access is ordered in cases where there are concerns about the safety of the child and/or one of the parents through an act of domestic violence, the non-custodial parent has a drug or alcohol problem or a psychiatric disability, there has been a lengthy separation between the parent and child, or there is a risk of abduction. Again, the court is focusing on serving the best interests of the child by ensuring that they are able to maintain reasonable visitation with the parent, while still maintaining a safe situation for everyone involved.
The most commonly used supervised access centre is Access for Parents and Children in Ontario, commonly referred to as APCO. This is the link http://www.accessforparentsandchildren.on.ca/ to the Government of Ontario’s website on supervised access; you may visit here if you wish to obtain more detailed information or find out the address of the access centre nearest you. The other supervised access facility is called Brayden Supervision Services Inc.
A person who has been granted child access rights has the right to be kept informed of the child’s health, welfare, education, and religion. Without child custody rights, however, that person does not have the right to make any decisions on behalf of the child with regard to these matters. They also have the right to be informed of a child’s name being changed at least 30 days before the change is made, although without child custody rights, their written consent need not be obtained.
Please visit our Child Custody and Child Access FAQs section for further information or contact us.