When a married or common-law couple with children separates, the ongoing welfare of the children involved must be the top priority. Emotive issues such as where the children will live, how parenting decisions will be made, and how much time each parent will spend with the child all have to be addressed. Against this backdrop, the separating couple also have a host of separate issues to be resolved, adding to the stress and confusion surrounding this challenging time.
To help bring clarity to the issue of visitation rights, this week’s blog is devoted to parenting arrangements, and how BC Family Law Courts decide on the issue of visitation rights.
The Laws that Govern Visitation Rights in BC
In British Columbia, the federal Divorce Act, and BC’s Family Law act both cover parenting arrangements and child support. Which law applies in a particular situation depends on whether the separating couple was married, or in a common-law relationship. Whichever legislation applies to your situation, the analysis will be quite similar – recent amendments have been made to the Divorce Act with the intention of bringing the provincial and federal legislation more in line with each other. References to sections of the legislation, and the wording of provisions, will vary.
How are Living Arrangements and Parenting Time Decided in BC?
When it comes to visitation rights, BC Family Law Courts will always prioritize the best interests of the children involved. The separating parents have an active role in how this decision is reached. For starters, the parents have the option of negotiating a plan themselves that works for all parties, documenting it in a separation agreement or consent order. This sidesteps the need for litigation in court. Mediation and collaborative family law are two other methods this process can be carried out without the need for a judge.
If all else fails, the case will proceed to a Family Law Court where a judge will make a decision that meets the best interests of the child. Where it is not contrary to the child’s best interests, the law supports the continued involvement of both parents in the decision-making process respecting children, and substantial time for each parent to spend with the child. Sole guardianship will usually only be considered in extreme circumstances.
What Visitation Rights do Grandparents Have?
The BC Family Law Act gives grandparents a route to try and preserve the relationship between a child and grandparents; grandparents may apply for time with a child (called ‘contact’), and the analysis as usual will be whether it is in the best interest of the child for contact to be granted. Grandparents can apply to the court to be granted contact with the child, regardless of the guardianship arrangement that exists with the parents.
At this juncture, it’s recommended to consult with a family law expert like the team at Westside Family Law. They can advise you on the best course of action. Most individuals in this scenario will apply in BC Provincial Court under the Family Law Act.
Sometimes, in rare cases, a grandparent may be able to obtain guardianship of the child where the circumstances warrant. Again, it’s recommended to seek advice on this issue as it only applies to a small number of cases.
Here to Help
Need advice with any aspect of the visitation process? At Westside, we’ve helped countless clients navigate this difficult time. Contact us and we’ll be happy to assist.