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Understanding guardianship in British Columbia

Family law matters often have unique terminology that can change as family advocates strive to use language that most accurately describes the circumstances. Understanding these terms is important, especially if you have children and your family situation is in flux. For example, British Columbia laws are moving away from using the word "custody" to describe the relationship between a parent and child following a divorce or separation. Instead, the law describes this as guardianship.

If you are going through a divorce, are the parent of a child out of wedlock or are a concerned relative of a child in a difficult family situation, you may wish to gain as much information as possible about your rights and options related to the guardianship of the child.

Changes for the better

Fortunately for children, laws related to families in British Columbia and across Canada focus on the best interests of the children before all other considerations. Since so many reports from recent research points to the benefits children gain from having as much contact with both parents as possible, the courts tend to promote a more cooperative and equitable sharing of parental duties. The terms related to these issues must reflect this way of thinking. This is why you may hear the word "guardianship" used instead of "custody".

As a parent, you are the guardian of your children, or you and your former partner may share guardianship when you lived together even if you were not married. When the children are in your care, the law refers to this as parenting time. Parental duties are your duties related to the children. You may share all parental responsibilities with the other parent, or the court may specify that you have certain parental responsibilities, such as:

  • Choosing where the child will go to school
  • Deciding where the child will live
  • Making medical decisions
  • Raising the child in a particular faith
  • Making day-to-day decisions for the wellbeing of the child

The court may order a schedule of time you and any other guardians may spend with the child, which is now called "parenting time," but you and other guardians may be able to work out a schedule together that the court will approve and that is more beneficial for everyone involved.

More than words

While it may seem confusing to learn the new terminology related to child custody and parenting, the changes are important because they represent a more positive way of thinking about the roles of parents who do not live together. Whether you are a parent who has guardianship concerns or you are seeking guardianship of a child, an experienced lawyer can evaluate your unique situation, answer all of your questions and carefully guide you through this often complex process.

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